Firm's Pro Bono Efforts Helped Secure the Release of Woodfox Who Served Longest Record of Solitary Confinement in U.S. History
WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- Attorneys at Sanford Heisler Sharp, who worked for years to achieve the release of Albert Woodfox from the Louisiana prison system that held him in solitary confinement longer than any other prisoner in U.S. history, and for more than half of his 75 years of life, are mourning his death yesterday from complications related to COVID-19.
Woodfox was released in 2016, after spending most of 44 years in seclusion 23 hours a day in a 6 foot by 9-foot cell for allegedly killing a prison guard in 1972, a crime he consistently denied committing. His release allowed him to receive the needed medical treatment that Louisiana prison officials had long prevented him from receiving.
"We are proud to have played a role in securing more than six and a half years of freedom for Mr. Woodfox, after his horrendous experience of being prevented from having any meaningful human contact for more than four decades for a crime he did not commit," said David Sanford, Chairman of Sanford Heisler Sharp. "No one should be subjected to such deprivation. As Woodfox once said, solitary confinement 'is a threat to humanity. . .[and] to an individual's dignity, pride and self-respect.'"
Woodfox earned worldwide notoriety as a member of the "Angola Three," a trio of men subjected to years in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary known as "Angola." The prison was built on the site of a former slave plantation. Woodfox was awaiting a third trial for a guard's alleged murder when Federal Judge James Brady ordered his release both because of Woodfox's failing health and Judge Brady's concern that he would never receive a fair trial as a prisoner.
The cruel and unusual punishment that Mr. Woodfox and the other two prisoners were subjected to drew international attention and scorn. He was the last of the Angola Three to be released, despite having an exemplary record of conduct in prison, and enduring the cruelty to which he was subjected.
During Woodfox's period of incarceration, attention was often directed to his plight by the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3, Amnesty International, and the Roddick Foundation.
Sanford Heisler Sharp became involved in Woodfox's defense in 2013. The firm collaborated with other attorneys on his legal appeals and successfully defeated Louisiana's plan to recharge him in the guard's death in 2015.
At the time of Woodfox's release, a member of his legal team at Sanford Heisler Sharp said, "The fact that Albert Woodfox served over four decades in solitary confinement shocks the conscience and is a national embarrassment. We should take advantage of the growing national consensus regarding corrections reform to ensure that, if our society were to be judged by entering our prisons, we would not be found lacking."
In 2019, Sanford Heisler Sharp and the Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem invited Woodfox to speak to members of the NDS. Kevin Sharp, Sanford Heisler's Co-Vice Chairman and former federal Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, introduced Woodfox after speaking about criminal justice reform. Woodfox spoke about prison reform and about his book, Solitary: Unbroken by Four Decades in Solitary Confinement. My Story of Transformation and Hope, which was a finalist for the National Book Award in Nonfiction and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction. Judge Sharp notes that "Albert was a wonderful human being. Although he had every reason to be bitter, he turned his experience into an opportunity to help others and teach the power of hope. I'm better for having known him."
Sanford Heisler Sharp is a national public interest class-action litigation law firm with offices in New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Atlanta, Baltimore, Nashville, and San Diego. The firm focuses on employment discrimination, Title IX, wage and hour, whistleblower and qui tam, criminal/sexual violence, financial services, and Asian American litigation and finance matters. Our lawyers have recovered over $1 billion for our clients through many verdicts and settlements. In 2022, The National Law Journal named Sanford Heisler Sharp Civil Rights Firm of the Year, and it recognized the firm in 2021 as both the Employment Rights Firm of the Year and the Human Rights Firm of the Year. The firm has devoted countless pro bono hours in representing Leonard Peltier. The United Nations Human Rights Council's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on the United States to "take urgent action to ensure the immediate release of Mr. Peltier," an indigenous rights activist who is a Sanford Heisler Sharp client that has been wrongfully incarcerated by the U.S. government for almost 50 years.
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