US urged to end ‘torture’ of prisoner

UN rights expert calls on US to release last member of Angola 3, says 40 years of solitary ‘clearly amounts to torture’

A cell block is seen alongside an inner levee protecting from the Mississippi River at Angola State Prison in West Feliciana Parish, La., Monday, May 9, 2011.
Patrick Semansky/AP

The United Nations' special rapporteur on torture criticized the United States' use of solitary confinement in prisons Monday.

Special rapporteur Juan E. Mendez called on the U.S. to end the indefinite solitary confinement imposed on Albert Woodfox, who has been in solitary for over 40 years after being convicted of murdering a Louisiana prison guard.

Woodfox and two others were moved to isolation units at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, where they came to be known as the "Angola 3."

"Keeping Albert Woodfox in solitary confinement for more than four decades clearly amounts to torture, and it should be lifted immediately," Mendez said.

"The circumstances of the incarceration of the so-called Angola 3 clearly show that the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. penitentiary system goes far beyond what is acceptable under international human rights law," he added.

Herman Wallace, another member of the Angola 3, died Friday, less than a week after being released after more than 40 years in solitary confinement. Wallace, 71, had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and stopped receiving treatment.

The third member of the Angola 3, Robert King, who was convicted of murdering a fellow inmate in 1973, was released in 2001 after his conviction was overrturned.  

Mendez has made similar statements over the years to both the U.N. and U.S. government regarding the U.S.'s employment of solitary confinement, but this year's condemnation comes in the middle of continuing controversy.

In September, California inmates ended a nearly two-month hunger strike over the use of isolation cells. Although by the end of the strike the number of participants had dwindled to 100 inmates, there were 30,000 prisoners on hunger strike in July.

The protests ended after two Democratic state legislators, Senator Loni Hancock and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, promised to hold public hearings this fall on inmates' allegations that gang leaders are often held for decades in isolation units.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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