Warden of notorious US jail cancels Scottish visit after threats
A VISIT to Scotland by the man in charge of one of America's most notorious prisons has been cancelled after police were called in by organisers over "threats" from protesters.
Burl Cain, who runs Louisiana State Penitentiary, had been invited to speak to members of the Winning Entrepreneurs business network in Edinburgh today. But organisers cancelled the dinner at Prestonfield House Hotel after a flood of protests from campaigners.
On Friday, a series of penal reform campaigners, including Paddy Hill, one of the Birmingham Six, wrote to Belinda Roberts, managing director of the business network, to complain about the visit from the head of the jail that has been dubbed "Angola".
The trip was arranged after Edinburgh dentist Biju Krishnan visited the jail in April as part of a charity project.
The prison is renowned in the US for inmate violence and gang problems, but Mr Cain's leadership has seen a fall in violence.
Dr Krishnan had said it was "easy to see why people consider him as such an inspiration", adding that Mr Cain's achievements at the jail were "little short of miraculous".
But in a letter to Ms Roberts, Mr Hill and other campaigners – including John McManus, coordinator of Miscarriages of Justice Organisation Scotland, and John Watson, from Amnesty International – highlighted "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment at the prison.
"While Angola prison may now be less notorious, the prison can still be singled out for its cruelty and injustice, despite what your members may have witnessed during their limited recent visit," they said.
Ms Roberts yesterday told The Scotsman that it was two "threatening" calls made to her staff on Friday afternoon that led her to cancel today's dinner.
"There were two phone calls that came in which were basically threats. The message was, 'You had better look out'."
Ms Roberts said it was after speaking to a freelance journalist, who had also signed the letter, that she decided to cancel the dinner.
"She said she had put the word out at grassroots level. I was worried protesters were going to turn up at the dinner."
The prison has been notorious in recent years for its treatment of three black prisoners – Known as the Angola 3 – who endured more than three decades in solitary confinement.
Following widespread concern over their plight, one was freed and a second transferred to another jail. A third man, Albert Woodfox, a former Black Panther activist, remains locked up alone for 23 hours every day in a 6ft by 9ft cell, despite his conviction having been overturned last year by a federal court.
Ms Roberts said the main purpose of Mr Cain's visit to Scotland was for his wife to have dental work carried out at Dr Krishnan's upmarket private clinic in Leith. Mr Cain decided to cancel his trip to Scotland after Dr Krishnan told him the business network had cancelled the dinner.
Ms Roberts admitted she had "never heard of the Angola 3", adding that there were "two sides to every story". She said: "As far as I was concerned, he would have been a great person to speak – someone from outwith the corporate world."
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