Solitary: Followup

There’s an update to the story about the two Louisiana prisoners who’ve spent 36 years in solitary confinement. It comes via an NBC News press release:

NBC News has confirmed that after 36 years in solitary confinement, inmates Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox have been moved out of solitary into a shared dormitory setting at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola with approx 17 other inmates. The rules and requirements of their new living situation are unclear but they are now allowed outside for a few hours a day in a group setting. Wallace and Woodfox are still appealing their original convictions and maintain their innocence but at least the issue of their “Cruel and Unusual punishment” in solitary confinement seems to be resolved for now. Wallace and Woodfox were moved into their new living quarters on Monday March 24, 2008. Their civil and criminal cases are still pending.

The press release came to me from my sister-in-law twice-removed (or whatever her kinship is) who produced the original story. Kudos to her for exposing this story to the light.

18 thoughts on “Solitary: Followup”

  1. I know the criminal case is going to trial later this year. I was wondering how the defense attorneys for the two inmates would define cruel and unusual punishment. I know under Furman v Georgia, Justice Brennan outlined a four part test defining the specifics of cruel and unusual punishment:

    The “essential predicate” is “that a punishment must not by its severity be degrading to human dignity,” especially torture.
    “A severe punishment that is obviously inflicted in wholly arbitrary fashion.”
    “A severe punishment that is clearly and totally rejected throughout society.”
    “A severe punishment that is patently unnecessary

    Is there any case that that is more up to date on this?

  2. “but at least the issue of their “Cruel and Unusual punishment” in solitary confinement seems to be resolved for now. ”

    what?!

    I don’t think you are the same coming out of solitary confinement for 36 years as you were when you first began the sentence. It is very possible that these men will be affected by this for a very long time.

  3. I agree ten fold with Karim. Immediately when I read this update I questioned whether the two prisoners would still have social skills after being alone without human contact for 36 years. Their time in solitary confinement will permanently affect their psychological well being and I am still shocked and appalled that anyone would be subjected to that cruelty.

  4. I just recently saw Shawshank Redemption and it makes me even more sympathetic for victims of solitary confinement. And I highly recommend the movie.

  5. I’ve seen the movie. It’s very interesting and sheds light on some very real and vital issues related to the life of prisoners.

  6. Undoubtedly, the impact of a 36 year solitary confinement will remain with the prisoners for the rest of their lives. Even if they are allowed outside now to interact “in a group setting” it will certainly take a great deal of time before they can function in a social environment. Still one of the most important issues that must be resolved is the proclaimed innocence of the prisoners. I was under the impression that it is better to let ten guilty men go free rather than to permit one innocent man to suffer.

  7. First, I am glad that NBC is shedding some light onto this story. Second, this press release really made me think about the effectiveness of solitary confinement being used as a punishment. From my experience of sitting in the corner as an unruly 7 year old, I know that I certainly did not learn my lesson by having to sit by myself with the only person to talk to being my internal dialogue. Instead, my mind was consumed with angry thoughts towards whoever punished me to time alone. Now this is not to say that my experience in timeout is in any way similar to what these two men experienced, but it makes me wonder whether these men have actually learned their lessons, or if the 36 years in solitary confinement have been 36 years of harboring hatred—especially if they truly are innocent.

  8. Wow. When I visited Alcatraz, a prison that’s now been turned into a tourist site, I remember walking inside one of the solitary confinement cells. It was scary in there, and also dehumanizing.
    Whenever I hear about cruelty in prisons, it’s hard for me to reconcile with the issues of how many prisoners are actually mentally ill, and how many prisoners have been wrongly convicted.
    I agree with the other comments about the lasting effects of 36 years in solitary confinement, and wonder how many cases like this go unexposed.

  9. I just watch the news story and they are not even sure that the two committed the murder! What is scary is that there could be others being locked in solitary confinement without certainty that they deserve it and its never brought to light and the prisoners cannot do anything to bring their case into the public eye because they are behind bars! I think prisoners should be allowed to be more vocal or prisons should allow more advocates to come in to ensure that there is justice. William Blackstone stated that “the law holds that it is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.” This was the reason for instituting “beyond a reasonable doubt” and this method should not cease after we throw the prisoner into the cell and throw away the key.

  10. 36 years is a long time! As it is, in prison , one is separated from the world. Solitary confinement means separating one from the community existing within the prison bars. Indeed, there have to be rules to follow to maintain order, but 36 years in solitude? Are there no laws existing about this sort of cruelty?

  11. This story is pretty amazing. Referring to previous statements about their ability to interact with people; I think it is even more impressive if they are not insane. I mean after being in solitary for 36 years, that has to play with your mind. Humans shouldn’t be locked up like that, in my opinion. I’ve watched some special reports about prisons on MSNBC and it seems to me that sometimes the way prisons are set up can lead to more anger and hostility by the inmates, which in turn causes more harm than rehabilitation. It would be even more upsetting if these two are found innocent.

  12. “I’ve watched some special reports about prisons on MSNBC and it seems to me that sometimes the way prisons are set up can lead to more anger and hostility by the inmates, which in turn causes more harm than rehabilitation.”

    I definitely agree with this statement. I believe that the US prison and judicial system has really been leaning towards retribution (an eye for an eye) rather than rehabilitation. This creates a bitter society and I do not believe it is an effective deterrent.

  13. Reading more about this story on other blogs and websites, I found a few facts saying that the guards believe the prisoners were put in solitary confinement for their own safety. This is understandable to a certain extent, but the average time spent in solitary confinement does not exceed 5 years. 5 years, then being transfered to a normal prison would make more sense to me morally. You can’t stick people in a cell by themselves for 36 years because you are scared of them.
    I also agree with Felix on the matter of retribution creating a bitter society.

  14. Plain and simple, this sucks. My all boys prep high school used to give students forty minute detention for forgetting to wear a belt, and I thought those forty minutes would be unbearable. I did all I could to ever avoid "Jug" as they used to call it. 36 years of solitary confinement for any behavior is tragic. I brought this case up with a friend just now because I was shocked to read it, and my friend, a Psychology major like myself, told me about a girl named Genie who was tied up in a bathroom for 12 years of her childhood. It was just the result of harsh parenting. She found it hard to socially adjust after that confinement and she had to move from foster home to foster home. She's considered to be an adult with disabilities now. In Psychology we learn about these things called "cognitive distortions" and I believe perception of time is one of them. An hour can go by quickly, or it can drag on (we've all been in both scenarios) and I literally can't imagine being in that kind of environment for about forty minute, let alone 315,360 hours. Again, plain and simple, that sucked. That's psychologically damaging and emotionally traumatizing.

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