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This public forum, entitled "The Outer Limits of Solitary Confinement,"
held at UC Hastings College of the Law, in San Francisco on April 6,
2012 was organized by the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3,
and co-hosted by the Hastings chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and
the Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal.
The keynote speaker was Robert H. King, of the Angola 3, released in 2001 when his conviction was overturned, after 29 years of continuous
solitary confinement. King says today that "being in prison, in solitary was
terrible. It was a nightmare. My soul still cries from all that I witnessed and
endured. It does more than cry- it
Since his release, Robert H. King has worked tirelessly to
support the other two members of the Angola 3, Herman Wallace and Albert
Woodfox, who have been in solitary confinement since April 17, 1972. This
coming April 17, which marks the 40th
anniversary of their solitary
confinement, King will be joined by Amnesty International and other supporters
at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge to present Amnesty
International's petition to Governor Bobby Jindal demanding that Wallace and
Woodfox be immediately released from solitary confinement. Read more about
Amnesty International's Angola 3 campaign, here
At the UC Hastings event, King spoke about the Amnesty
International petition demanding transfer from solitary and the broader
struggle to release Wallace and Woodfox from prison altogether. Interviewed in
a recent video by Amnesty International
King says about Wallace and Woodfox: "All evidence shows that they were
targeted simply for being members of the Black Panther Party. There is really
no evidence, forensic, physical, or otherwise, linking them to the crime. When
I think about the ten years in which I've had time to be out here, that is ten
more years that they are there."
In their investigative report
Amnesty International similarly concluded that "no physical evidence links Woodfox
and Wallace to the murder." Even further: "potentially favorable DNA evidence
was lost. The convictions were based on questionable inmate testimony"it seems
prison officials bribed the main eyewitness into giving statements against the
men. Even the widow of the prison guard
has expressed skepticism, saying in 2008, "If they did not do this -- and I
believe that they didn't -- they have been living a nightmare for 36 years!'"
Currently held inside California's notorious Pelican Bay
State Prison, Hugo "Yogi Bear" Pinell, of the San Quentin Six, has now been in
continuous solitary for at least 42 years.
A participant in the recent statewide prisoner hunger strike, Pinell was
a close comrade of Black Panther and prison author, George Jackson. Having been
continually denied parole despite a clean record for the last 27 years, Pinell
is, in the words of the Angola 3's own Robert H. King, "a clear example of a
political prisoner." His next parole hearing is scheduled for this May.
The stories of the Angola 3 and Hugo Pinell are the most
extreme examples of a widespread human rights crisis in US prisons, where
prolonged solitary confinement has become routine. According to www.solitarywatch.com
, there are "at
least 75,000 and perhaps more than 100,000 prisoners in solitary confinement on
any given day" in the US.
On March 20, several human rights organizations jointly
filed a petition to the United Nations Group on Arbitrary Detention, the United
Nations Human Rights Council, and United Nations General Assembly on behalf of
prisoners throughout California's Security Housing Units (SHU) and
Administrative Segregation Units (ASU).
The petition calls for UN action against California's prison
administration and deplores the conditions of thousands of California prisoners,
"being detained in isolated segregated units for indefinite periods or
determinate periods of many years solely because they have been identified as
members of gangs or found to have associated with a gang."
The petition states further that "as a result of the
policies and practices that leave California with the largest population of
prisoners in isolated segregation anywhere in the world, these prisoners suffer
extreme mental and physical harm, including mental breakdowns, extreme
depression, suicidal ideation, and breaks with reality, such that their
treatment may be considered torture or degrading treatment illegal under
well-established international norms and obligations of the United States and
the State of California under, inter alia, the United Nations Convention
Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
("CAT') and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Fueled by the racist "War On Drugs," and the broader
criminalization of poverty, the US prison population has exploded from less
than 300,000 prisoners in 1970 to over 2.4 million today. This 40-year policy
of mass incarceration has turned the US into literally the world's #1jailer
--with the world's highest incarceration rate and total number of
Feb. 20 "Occupy San Quentin" protest. Photo by Alex Darocy, Indybay.org
We declare that this human rights atrocity known as the
"criminal justice system" has now reached its outer limits. This cannot
continue! It is becoming increasingly clear to the public that prolonged
solitary confinement is nothing other than state torture.
The recent collaboration of prison activists and Occupy Wall
Street, Occupy 4 Prisoners
marks a renewed linking of economic justice activism to a critique of mass
incarceration and the criminalization of poverty. As Robert H. King said in his
message to Occupy 4 Prisoners, "the same people who make the laws that favor
the bankers, make the laws that fill our prisons and detention centers. We have
to continue to make the connection between Wall St. and the prison industrial
complex." The upcoming "Occupy the Justice Department
" action in Washington DC
on April 24
is calling for the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners.
The strength of the 99% is in our numbers. Our only hope is
to unite against the 1%. A newly-formed multiracial coalition of hunger
strikers throughout California's prisons (most recently at Corcoran State) has
demanded an end to prolonged solitary confinement and many other inhumane
policies. These freedom fighters are on the frontlines of the struggle and they
badly need our support. Our event is being held to give voice to their struggle
and to present the audience with opportunities to show their support.