Excessive use of solitary confinement in prisons is becoming an increasing concern. Globally, short-term isolation from the wider prison population is used as a punishment for breaches of prison discipline. In some countries, solitary confinement is used routinely and for long periods.
Solitary confinement refers to the confinement of prisons for 22 hours or more a day without ‘meaningful human contact’. Prolonged solitary confinement refers to a time period in excess of 15 consecutive days. This definition is laid out in the UN Nelson Mandela Rules. The denial of meaningful contact can cause an illness termed ‘isolation syndrome’ by medical researchers. Symptoms include anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, paranoia, psychosis, self-harm and suicide. Prolonged isolation can destroy personality and implicate mental health even after an individual has left solitary confinement.
In some circumstances, solitary confinement can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment. As a result of the isolation of solitary confinement there is a heightened risk of human rights abuses taking place. The UN Special Rapporteur states that if used for intimidation, punishment, coercion or obtaining information during a confession and the resulting pain and suffering are severe solitary confinement amounts to torture.
We work to eliminate the use of solitary confinement by raising awareness of the effects of its overuse, promoting legislative change and developing guidelines for prison staff on humane prison management in line with international standards.
Rehabilitation and reintegration