By Letitia Stein
(Reuters) - A triathlon promising athletes an opportunity to compete in a notorious Louisiana prison has been canceled after organizers said they had received threats over the event planned at a maximum security penitentiary on a former slave plantation.
The "Escape from Angola Triathlon," scheduled for March 20, drew criticism for appearing insensitive and sensationalizing a prison famed for its harsh conditions for prisoners, including some of the longest stretches in solitary confinement in U.S. history.
Organizers, who had worked with the state, defended the concept, noting in the statement that the site offered a tough course and "a way to showcase some beautiful Louisiana countryside."
But it drew outrage from critics over social media, as well as objections from prisoners' advocates, local media reported. The event was called offensive and insensitive given the history and present use of the institution.
"We are not equipped to handle this onslaught," event organizer Jonathan Dziuba said in a statement released on Wednesday, adding that "in light of recent events, we do not feel like we can offer a safe environment for our athletes coming to compete."
The competition on the 18,000-acre (7,300 ha) grounds of the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola had offered a package for athletes to spend the night inside former death row cells, with winners to be awarded retired prison keys, the Advocate newspaper reported. Athletes who had registered will receive refunds.
The facility is the state's oldest and only maximum security prison, according to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. About an hour's drive northwest of Baton Rouge, the prison is located on the grounds of a former plantation, and its early inmates were housed in one-time slave quarters.
The older part of the prison now acts as a museum, while current inmates are incarcerated in a newer building.
Albert Woodfox, the last of three black inmates who spent more than four decades in solitary confinement, was released from the prison last month. Woodfox served more time in solitary confinement than any prisoner in U.S. history.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla.; Editing by Alan Crosby)