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Solitary confinement is a form of
imprisonment Imprisonment (from , via French French (french: français(e), link=no) may refer to: * Something of, from, or related to France France (), officially the French Republic (french: link=no, République française), is a country primarily lo ...
distinguished by living in single cells with little or no meaningful contact with other inmates, strict measures to control
contraband Contraband (from Medieval French ''contrebande'' "smuggling") refers to any item that, relating to its nature, is illegal to be possessed or sold. It is used for goods that by their nature are considered too dangerous or offensive in the eyes of ...

contraband
, and the use of additional security measures and equipment. It is specifically designed for disruptive inmates who are security risks to other inmates, the prison staff, or the prison itself — but can also be used as a measure of protection for inmates whose safety is threatened by other inmatesBottos, Shauna. 2007. ''Profile of Offenders in Administrative Segregation: A Review of the Literature''. Research Report No. B-39. Ottawa: Research Branch, Correctional Service of Canada. or as a form of disciplinary
punishment Punishment, commonly, is the imposition of an undesirable or outcome upon a group or individual, meted out by an —in contexts ranging from to —as a response and deterrent to a particular action or that is deemed undesirable or unacceptab ...

punishment
. According to a 2017 review study, "a robust scientific literature has established the negative psychological effects of solitary confinement", leading to "an emerging consensus among correctional as well as professional, mental health, legal, and human rights organizations to drastically limit the use of solitary confinement." The
United Nations The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization that aims to maintain international peace and international security, security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international cooperation, and be a centre for har ...

United Nations
considers solitary confinement exceeding 15 days to be
torture Torture is the deliberate infliction of severe pain or suffering Suffering, or pain in a broad sense, may be an experience of unpleasantness and aversion associated with the perception of harm or threat of harm in an individual. Suffering i ...

torture
.


History

The practice of solitary confinement traces its origins back to the 19th century when Quakers in Pennsylvania used this method as a substitution for public punishments. Research surrounding the possible psychological and physiological effects of solitary confinement dates back to the 1830s. When the new prison discipline of separate confinement was introduced at the
Eastern State Penitentiary The Eastern State Penitentiary, also known as ESP, is a former American prison in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is located at 2027 Fairmount Avenue between Corinthian Avenue and North 22nd Street in the Fairmount, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Fairm ...

Eastern State Penitentiary
in Philadelphia in 1829, commentators attributed the high rates of mental breakdown to the system of isolating prisoners in their cells.
Charles Dickens Charles John Huffam Dickens (; 7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian er ...

Charles Dickens
, who visited the Philadelphia Penitentiary during his travels to America, described the "slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body". Prison records from the Denmark institute in 1870 to 1920 indicate that staff noticed inmates were exhibiting signs of mental illnesses while in isolation, revealing that the persistent problem has been around for decades. In the twentieth century, Scandinavian countries such as Denmark have extensively used solitary confinement for prisoners in
pretrial detention Remand, also known as pre-trial detention, preventive detention, or provisional detention, is the process of detaining a person until their trial after they have been arrested and criminal charge, charged with an offense. A person who is on r ...
with the stated goal of preventing them from interfering in the investigation. Norwegian mass murderer
Anders Breivik Anders is a male name in Scandinavian languages The North Germanic languages make up one of the three branches of the Germanic languages—a sub-family of the Indo-European languages—along with the West Germanic languages and the extinct East ...
was held in solitary confinement, partly to protect him from other inmates. However, his complaint was partially upheld by the
European Court of Human Rights European, or Europeans, may refer to: In general * ''European'', an adjective referring to something of, from, or related to Europe ** Ethnic groups in Europe ** Demographics of Europe ** European cuisine, the cuisines of Europe and other Western ...

European Court of Human Rights
in 2016. The first comment by the
Supreme Court of the United States The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States of America The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a cou ...

Supreme Court of the United States
about solitary confinement's effect on prisoner mental status was made in 1890 (In re Medley 134 U.S. 160). In it the court found that the use of solitary confinement produced reduced mental and physical capabilities. The use of solitary confinement increased greatly during the
COVID-19 pandemic The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing global pandemic A pandemic (from Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a c ...

COVID-19 pandemic
in order to avoid spread of the virus in prisons.


Use

The practice is used when a prisoner is considered dangerous to themselves or to others, is suspected of organizing or being engaged in illegal activities outside of the prison, or, as in the case of a prisoner such as a
child molester Child sexual abuse, also called child molestation, is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. Forms of child sexual abuse include engaging in sexual activities with a child (whether by as ...
or a
witness In law, a witness is someone who has knowledge about a matter, whether they have sensed it or are testifying on another witnesses' behalf. In law a witness is someone who, either voluntarily or under compulsion, provides testimonial evidence, ei ...
, is at a high risk of being harmed by other inmates. The latter example is a form of
protective custody Protective custody (PC) is a type of imprisonment (or care) to protect a person from harm, either from outside sources or other prisoners. Many prison administrators believe the level of violence, or the underlying threat of violence within prison ...
. Solitary confinement is also commonly used as a form of
punishment Punishment, commonly, is the imposition of an undesirable or outcome upon a group or individual, meted out by an —in contexts ranging from to —as a response and deterrent to a particular action or that is deemed undesirable or unacceptab ...

punishment
for violation of prison rules or other disciplinary infractions by an inmate. Solitary confinement is the norm in
supermax prison A super-maximum security (supermax) or administrative maximum (ADX) prison A prison (also known as a jail or gaol (dated, British, Australian, and to a lesser extent Canadian Canadians (french: Canadiens) are people identified w ...
s, where prisoners who are deemed dangerous or of high risk are held.


By country or region


Australia

Solitary confinement is colloquially referred to in
Australian English Australian English (AusE,AusEng, AuE, AuEng, en-AU) is the set of variety (linguistics), varieties of the English language native to Australia. Australian English is the country's national and ''de facto'' common language. English is the Lan ...
as "the Slot" or "the Pound".


United States

In the , upwards of 20 percent of state and federal prison inmates and 18 percent of local jail inmates are kept in solitary confinement or another form of restrictive housing at some point during their imprisonment. The period of confinement can last from a few days to several decades. According to Homer Venters, former Chief Medical Officer for the New York City jail system, "Solitary confinement is utilised for tens of thousands of people for years at a time.” As of 2021, there have been attempts in New York to ban the use of solitary confinement for periods of more than 15 days, in line with UN recommendations against the use of torture. Solitary confinement first arose in the United States in the 1700s among religious groups like the
Quakers Quakers are people who belong to a historically Protestant Christian Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be Criticism of the Catholi ...

Quakers
, who thought isolation with a
Bible The Bible (from Koine Greek Koine Greek (, , Greek approximately ;. , , , lit. "Common Greek"), also known as Alexandrian dialect, common Attic, Hellenistic or Biblical Greek, was the koiné language, common supra-regional form of Gree ...

Bible
would lead to
repentance Repentance is reviewing one's actions and feeling contritionIn Christianity, contrition or contriteness (from the Latin ''contritus'' 'ground to pieces', i.e. crushed by guilt) is repentance for sins one has committed. The remorseful person is s ...
and
rehabilitation Rehabilitation or Rehab may refer to: Health * Rehabilitation (neuropsychology), therapy to regain or improve neurocognitive function that has been lost or diminished * Rehabilitation (wildlife), treatment of injured wildlife so they can be returne ...
.


Europe

Solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for prisoners in Europe was largely reduced or eliminated during the twentieth century. The
European Court of Human Rights European, or Europeans, may refer to: In general * ''European'', an adjective referring to something of, from, or related to Europe ** Ethnic groups in Europe ** Demographics of Europe ** European cuisine, the cuisines of Europe and other Western ...

European Court of Human Rights
has three labels for solitary confinement: complete sensory isolation, total social isolation and relative social isolation. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, or CPT, defines solitary confinement as "whenever a prisoner is ordered to be held separately from other prisoners, for example, as a result of court decision, as a disciplinary sanction imposed within the prison system, as a preventive administrative measure or for the protection of the prisoner concerned". The CPT "considers that solitary confinement should only be imposed in exceptional circumstances, as a last resort and for the shortest possible time". In
Italy Italy ( it, Italia ), officially the Italian Republic ( it, Repubblica Italiana, links=no ), is a country consisting of delimited by the and surrounding it, whose territory largely coincides with the . Italy is located in the centre of th ...

Italy
, a person sentenced to more than one life sentence is required to serve a period of between 6 months to 3 years in solitary confinement during the daytime only.


United Kingdom

In 2004, 40 out of 75,000 inmates held in
England and Wales England and Wales () is a legal jurisdiction covering England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom, parts of the United Kingdom. England and Wales forms the constitutional successor to the former Kingdom of England and follows ...

England and Wales
were placed in solitary confinement cells. The use of solitary confinement on juveniles and children, as elsewhere, has been a subject of contention. Critics argue that, in the United Kingdom, the state has a duty to "set the highest standards of care" when it limits the liberties of children. Frances Crook is one of many to believe that incarceration and solitary confinement are the harshest forms of possible punishments and "should only be taken as a last resort". Because children are still mentally developing, incarceration also should not encourage them to commit more violent crimes. The
penal system A prison (also known as a jail or gaol (dated, British, Australian Australians, colloquially referred to as "Aussies", are the citizens, nationality, nationals and individuals associated with the country of Australia. Between 1788 ...
has been cited as failing to protect juveniles in custody. In the United Kingdom, 29 children died in penal custody between 1990 and 2006: "Some 41% of the children in custody were officially designated as being vulnerable". That is attributed to the fact that isolation and physical restraint are used as the first response to punish them for simple rule infractions. Moreover, Frances Crook argues that these punitive policies not only violate their basic rights but also leave the children mentally unstable and left with illnesses that are often ignored. Overall, the solitary confinement of youth is considered to be counterproductive because the “restrictive environment... and intense regulation of children” aggravates them, instead of addressing the issue of rehabilitation. Solitary confinement is colloquially referred to in
British English British English (BrE) is the standard dialect A standard language (also standard variety, standard dialect, and standard) is a language variety that has undergone substantial codification of grammar and usage and is employed by a populatio ...
as "the block", "The Segregation Unit" or "the cooler".


Venezuela

The headquarters for the
Bolivarian Intelligence Service The Bolivarian National Intelligence Service ( Spanish: ''Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional'', SEBIN) is the premier intelligence agency An intelligence agency is a government agency responsible for the collection, Intelligence analys ...
(SEBIN) in
Plaza Venezuela Plaza Venezuela (Venezuela Square in Spanish) is a public square located in Los Caobos neighborhood, Caracas Caracas (, ), officially Santiago de León de Caracas, abbreviated as CCS, is the capital and largest city of Venezuela, and the center ...

Plaza Venezuela
,
Caracas Caracas (, ), officially Santiago de León de Caracas, abbreviated as CCS, is the capital and largest city of Venezuela, and the center of the Metropolitan Region of Caracas (or Greater Caracas). Caracas is located along the Guaire River in the ...

Caracas
, have an underground detention facility that has been dubbed '' La Tumba'' (The Tomb). The facility is located at the place that the underground parking for the Metro Caracas was to be located. The cells are two by three meters that have a cement bed, white walls, security cameras, no windows, and barred doors, with cells aligned next to one another so that there is no interaction between prisoners. Such conditions have caused prisoners to become very ill, but they are denied medical treatment. Bright lights in the cells are kept on so that prisoners lose their sense of time, with the only sounds heard being from the nearby
Caracas Metro The Caracas Metro ( es, Metro de Caracas) is a mass rapid transit system serving Caracas Caracas (, ), officially Santiago de León de Caracas, abbreviated as CCS, is the capital and largest city of Venezuela, and the center of the Metropoli ...
trains. Those who visit the prisoners are subjected to strip searches by multiple SEBIN personnel. Allegations of torture in La Tumba, specifically
white torture White torture, often referred to as “white room torture,” is a type of psychological torture technique aimed at complete sensory deprivation and isolation. A prisoner is held in a cell that deprives them of all senses and identity. It is part ...
, are also common, with some prisoners attempting to commit
suicide Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one's own death Death is the permanent, irreversible cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living Living or The Living may refer to: Common meanings *Life, a condition t ...

suicide
. Those conditions according to the NGO Justice and Process are intended to make prisoners plead guilty to the crimes that they are accused of.


Effects

There is a scholarly consensus that solitary confinement is seriously harmful, which has led to a growing movement to abolish it.


Psychiatric

Physicians have concluded that for those inmates who enter the prison already diagnosed with a mental illness, the punishment of solitary confinement is extremely dangerous in that the inmates are more susceptible to exacerbating the symptoms. Research indicates that the psychological effects of solitary confinement may encompass "anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, obsessive thoughts, paranoia, and psychosis." A main issue with isolating prisoners who are known to have mental illnesses is that it prevents the inmates from ever possibly recovering. Instead, many "mentally ill prisoners decompensate in isolation, requiring crisis care or psychiatric hospitalization." It is also noted that if a prisoner is restrained from interacting with the individuals they wish to have contact with they exhibit similar effects. The lack of human contact, and the
sensory deprivation Sensory deprivation or perceptual isolation is the deliberate reduction or removal of stimuli A stimulus is something that causes a physiological response. It may refer to: *Stimulation Stimulation is the encouragement of development or the caus ...

sensory deprivation
that often go with solitary confinement, can have a severe negative impact on a prisoner's mental state that may lead to certain
mental illness A mental disorder, also called a mental illness or psychiatric disorder, is a behavioral or mental pattern that causes significant distress or impairment of personal functioning. Such features may be persistent, relapsing In internal medici ...
es such as depression, permanent or semi-permanent changes to brain physiology, an
existential crisis Existential crisis, also known as existential dread, are moments when individuals question whether their lives have meaning, purpose, or value, and are negatively impacted by the contemplation. It may be commonly, but not necessarily, tied to dep ...

existential crisis
, and death.Direct link to audio file
A 2013 systematic review published in ''
Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica The ''Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica'' is a Scandinavian Peer review, peer-reviewed medical journal containing original research, systematic reviews etc. relating to clinical and experimental psychiatry. According to the ''Journal Citation Reports'' ...
'' concluded that solitary confinement was "associated with negative effects on mental health."


Self-harm

According to a March 2014 article in ''
American Journal of Public Health The ''American Journal of Public Health'' is a monthly peer-reviewed Peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people with similar competencies as the producers of the work ( peers). It functions as a form of self-regulation by qua ...
'', "Inmates in jails and prisons attempt to harm themselves in many ways, resulting in outcomes ranging from trivial to fatal." Self-harm was seven times higher among the inmates where seven percent of the jail population was confined in isolation. Fifty-three percent of all acts of self-harm took place in jail. "Self-harm" included, but was not limited to, cutting, banging heads, self-amputations of fingers or testicles. These inmates were in bare cells, and were prone to jumping off their beds head first into the floor or even biting through their veins in their wrists. A main issue within the prison system and solitary confinement is the high number of inmates who turn to self-harm. One study has shown that "inmates ever assigned to solitary confinement were 3.2 times as likely to commit an act of self-harm per 1,000 days at some time during their incarceration as those never assigned to solitary. These inmates assigned to solitary were 2.1 times as likely to commit acts of self-harm during the days that they were actually in solitary confinement and 6.6 times as likely to commit acts of self-harm during the days that they were not in solitary confinement, relative to inmates never assigned to solitary confinement." The study has concluded that there is a direct correlation between inmates who self-harm and inmates that are punished into solitary confinement. Many of the inmates look to self-harm as a way to "avoid the rigors of solitary confinement." Mental health professionals ran a series of tests that ultimately concluded that "self-harm and potentially fatal self-harm associated with solitary confinement was higher independent of mental illness status and age group."


Physical

Solitary confinement has been reported to cause
hypertension Hypertension (HTN or HT), also known as high blood pressure (HBP), is a Chronic condition, long-term Disease, medical condition in which the blood pressure in the artery, arteries is persistently elevated. High blood pressure usually does not ...

hypertension
,
headaches Headache is the symptom of pain Pain is a distressing feeling often caused by intense or damaging stimuli. The International Association for the Study of Pain The International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) is an international l ...

headaches
and
migraines A migraine (, ) is a primary headache disorderThe International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICHD) is a detailed hierarchical A hierarchy (from the Greek: , from , 'president of sacred rites') is an arrangement of items (objects, na ...
, profuse sweating,
dizziness Dizziness is an imprecise term that can refer to a sense of disorientation in space, vertigo Vertigo is a condition where a person has the sensation of moving or of surrounding objects moving when they are not. Often it feels like a spinnin ...

dizziness
, and heart palpitations. Many inmates also experience extreme weight loss due to digestion complications and abdominal pain. Many of these symptoms are due to the intense anxiety and sensory deprivation. Inmates can also experience neck and back pain and muscle stiffness due to long periods of little to no physical activity. These symptoms often worsen with repeated visits to solitary confinement.


Social

Some sociologists argue that prisons create a unique social environment that do not allow inmates to create strong social ties outside or inside of prison life. Men are more likely to become frustrated, and therefore more mentally unstable when keeping up with family outside of prisons. Extreme forms of solitary confinement and isolation can affect the larger society as a whole. The resocialization of newly released inmates who spent an unreasonable amount of time in solitary confinement and thus suffer from serious mental illnesses is a huge dilemma for society to face. The effects of isolation unfortunately do not stop once the inmate has been released. After release from segregated housing, psychological effects have the ability to sabotage a prisoner's potential to successfully return to the community and adjust back to ‘normal’ life. The inmates are often startled easily, and avoid crowds and public places. They seek out confined small spaces because the public areas overwhelm their sensory stimulation.


Criticism


Ineffectiveness

In 2002, the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America, chaired by John Joseph Gibbons and
Nicholas Katzenbach Nicholas deBelleville "Nick" Katzenbach (January 17, 1922 – May 8, 2012) was an American lawyer who served as United States Attorney General The United States attorney general (AG) leads the United States Department of Justice, and is the chie ...
found that: "The increasing use of high-security segregation is counter-productive, often causing violence inside facilities and contributing to recidivism after release."


Torture

Solitary confinement is considered to be a form of
psychological torture Psychological torture or mental torture is a type of torture Torture (from Latin language, Latin ''tortus'': to twist, to torment) is the act of deliberately inflicting severe physical or psychological suffering on someone by another as a punish ...
with measurable long-term physiological effects when the period of confinement is longer than a few weeks or is continued indefinitely. In October 2011, UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, told the General Assembly's third committee, which deals with social, humanitarian, and cultural affairs, that the practice could amount to torture: "Considering the severe mental pain or suffering solitary confinement may cause, it can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles." In November 2014. the United Nations Committee Against Torture stated that full isolation for 22–23 hours a day in super-maximum security prisons is unacceptable. The United Nations have also banned the use of solitary confinement for longer than 15 days.


Political use

Solitary confinement has been used in
brainwashing Brainwashing (also known as mind control, menticide, coercive persuasion, thought control, thought reform, and re-education) is the concept that the human mind can be altered or controlled by certain psychological techniques. Brainwashing is sa ...
efforts and against
political dissidentsPolitical dissent is a dissatisfaction with or opposition to the policies of a governing body. Expressions of dissent may take forms from vocal disagreement to civil disobedience to the use of violence Violence is the use of physical force so a ...
in countries such as South Africa and Myanmar. In immigration detention centers, reports have surfaced concerning its use against detainees in order to keep those knowledgeable about their
rights Rights are legal Law is a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that act according to a set of rules to form a unified whole. A system, surrounded and influenced by its environment, is desc ...
away from other detainees. In the prison-industrial complex itself, reports of solitary confinement as punishment in work labor prisons have also summoned much criticism. One issue prison reform activists have fought against is the use of Security Housing Units (extreme forms of solitary confinement). They argue that they do not rehabilitate inmates but rather serve only to cause inmates psychological harm. Further reports of placing prisoners into solitary confinement based on sexual orientation, race and religion have been an ongoing but very contentious subject in the last century.


Access to healthcare

Research has shown that the routine features of prison can make huge demands on limited coping resources. After prison many ex-convicts with mental illness do not receive adequate treatment for their mental health issues, because health services turn them away. This is caused by restrictive policies or lack of resources for treating the formerly incarcerated individual. In a study focusing on women and adolescent men, those who had health insurance, received mental health services, or had a job were less likely to return to jail. However, very few of the 1,000 individuals in this study received support from mental health services.


Ethics

Treating mentally ill patients by sentencing them into solitary confinement has captured the attention of human rights experts who conclude that "solitary confinement may amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment" that violates rights specifically targeting cruel, inhuman treatment. Health care professionals and organizations recognize the fact that solitary confinement is not ethical, yet the segregating treatment fails to come to a halt. "Experience demonstrates that prisons can operate safely and securely without putting inmates with mental illness in typical conditions of segregation." Despite this and medical professionals' obligations, segregation policies have not changed because mental health clinics believe that "isolation is necessary for security reasons." In fact, many believe that it is ethical for physicians to help those in confinement but that the physicians should also be trying to stop the abuse. If they cannot do so they are expected to undertake public advocacy.


Legality

The legality of solitary confinement has been frequently challenged over the past sixty years as conceptions surrounding the practice have changed. Much of the legal discussion concerning solitary confinement has centered on whether or not it constitutes torture or cruel and unusual punishment. While
international law International law, also known as public international law and law of nations, is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between nation A nation is a community A community is a social unitThe term "level of anal ...
has generally begun to discourage solitary confinement's use in penal institutions, opponents of solitary confinement have been less successful at challenging it within the United States legal system. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other UN bodies have stated that the solitary confinement (physical and social isolation of 22–24 hours per day for 1 day or more) of young people under age 18, for any duration, constitutes cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. The documented psychological effects led one Texas judge in a 2001 suit to rule that "Solitary confinement units are virtual incubators of psychoses—seeding illness in otherwise healthy inmates and exacerbating illness in those already suffering from mental infirmities." In fact, as of 2016, there have been thirty-five U.S. Supreme Court cases petitioning solitary confinement.


International law

Throughout the twentieth century, the
United Nations The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization that aims to maintain international peace and international security, security, develop friendly relations among nations, achieve international cooperation, and be a centre for har ...

United Nations
' stance on solitary confinement has become increasingly oppositional. International law has reflected this change, and UN monitoring has led to a major reduction of solitary confinement. In 1949, the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is an international document adopted by the United Nations General Assembly The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA or GA; french: link=no, Assemblée générale, AG) is one of the six p ...
(UDHR) was adopted by the
United Nations General Assembly The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA or GA; french: link=no, Assemblée générale, AG) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations The United Nations System consists of the United Nations The United Nations (UN) ...
. Although the Declaration is non-binding, the basic human rights outlined within it have served as the foundation of
customary international law Customary international law is an aspect of international law International law, also known as public international law and law of nations, is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally recognized as binding between nation A nation is a ...
. The relevance of the Declaration to solitary confinement is found in Article 5, which states that "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Thus, if solitary confinement is believed to constitute torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, then the country practicing solitary confinement is violating the provisions set by the UDHR. The
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is a multilateral treaty A treaty is a formal, legally binding written agreement between actors in international law International law, also known as public international ...
(ICCPR), effective 1976, reiterates the fifth article of the UDHR; Article 7 of the ICCPR identically states, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Because the ICCPR is a legally binding agreement, any nation that is signatory to the covenant would be violating international law if it practiced torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. At the time that the UDHR and ICCPR were adopted, solitary confinement was not yet believed to constitute torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Its practice, therefore, was not believed to violate international law. This changed, however, after the UN definition of torture was outlined in detail in the 1984
Convention Against Torture The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (commonly known as the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT)) is an international human rights treaty, under the review of the United Nati ...
(CAT); Article 1.1 of the CAT states that torture is "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person" for any reason such as obtaining information or punishment, and Article 16 of the same convention prohibits "other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". Based on these provisions, many members of the UN began to believe that solitary confinement's detrimental psychological effects could, indeed, constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, if not, torture. In the years following the CAT, UN representatives "have publicly decried the use of solitary confinement as a violation of the CAT and ICCPR," as well as the UDHR. In more recent years, UN representatives have strengthened their efforts to stop solitary confinement from being used worldwide. The urgency with which representatives have undertaken these efforts is largely due to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture, and Juan Méndez. Nowak and Méndez have both "repeatedly unequivocally stated that prolonged solitary confinement is cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and may amount to torture". Nowak and Méndez have been especially critical of long-term or prolonged solitary confinement, which they define as lasting fifteen days or more. Their authority and explicit characterization of solitary confinement as cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment has led the UN to include long-term to indefinite solitary confinement in the group of practices that violate the provisions outlined in the UDHR, ICCPR, and CAT. Solitary confinement lasting for a short period of time, however, is allowed under international law when used as a last resort, though Nowak, Mendez, and many other UN representatives believe that the practice should be abolished altogether. According to a law review article by Elizabeth Vasiliades, America's detention system is far below the basic minimum standards for treatment of prisoners under international law and has caused an international human rights concern: "U.S. solitary confinement practices contravene international treaty law, violate established international norms, and do not represent sound foreign policy."


Opposition and protests

The
2013 California prisoner hunger strike Thirteen or 13 may refer to: * 13 (number), the natural number following 12 and preceding 14 * One of the years 13 BC, AD 13, 1913, 2013 Music * 13AD (band), an Indian classic and hard rock band Albums * 13 (Black Sabbath album), ''13'' (Black ...
saw approximately 29,000 prisoners protesting conditions. This statewide hunger strike reaching 2/3 of California's prisons began with the organizing of inmates at
Pelican Bay State Prison Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) is the only supermax facility in the state of California. This prison (which is ) is located in Del Norte County, California ), in California , seat_type = County seat A county seat is an administrative center ...
. On 11 July 2011, prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison began a hunger strike to "protest torturous conditions in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) there..." and to advocate for procedural and policy changes like the termination of the "debriefing process" which forces prisoners "to name themselves or others as gang members as a condition of access to food or release from isolation". Nearly 7,000 inmates throughout the California prison system stood in solidarity with these Pelican State Bay prisoners in 2011 by also refusing their food. Also in solidarity with the 2011 Pelican Bay prisoners on strike is the Bay Area coalition of grassroots organizations known as the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. This coalition has aided the prisoners in their strike by providing a legal support force for their negotiations with the
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is the agency of the government of California responsible for the operation of the California state prison and parole Parole is the early release of a prisoner who agrees to a ...
(CDCR) and by creating and running a media based platform to raise support and awareness for the strikers and their demands among the general public. Solitary confinement has served as a site of inspiration for protest-organizing against its use in and outside of prisons and conversely, as a response tactic for prisons to react to the protest-organizing of its prisoners. In March 2014, authorities at the Northwest Detention Center in Washington relegated multiple detainees to solitary confinement units after their participation in protests for the improvement of conditions within the facility and in solidarity with activist organizing against deportation escalations outside of the facility.


Alternatives and reform


Possible alternatives

Scrutiny of super-maximum security prisons and the institutionalization of solitary confinement is accompanied by suggestions for alternative methods. One alternative is to administer medical treatment for disorderly inmates who display signs of mental illness. The Correction Department of
New York City New York, often called New York City to distinguish it from New York State New York is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of ...

New York City
implemented plans to transfer mentally ill inmates to an internal facility for further help rather than solitary confinement in 2013. Dora B. Schriro, correction commissioner, said that treatment would help turn a “one size fits all” policy into a program to promote success in jail and the outside world. A second alternative is to deal with long-term inmates by promoting familial and social relationships through the encouragement of visitations which may help boost morale. Carl Kummerlowe believes that familial counseling and support may be useful for inmates nearing the end of a long-term sentence that may otherwise exhibit signs of aggression. This alternative would help inmates cope with extreme long term sentences in prisons such as those harbored in Pelican Bay. A third alternative would involve regular reevaluation and accelerated transition of isolated inmates back to prison population to help curb long-term effects of solitary confinement. These alternative methods suggest a more
restorative justice Restorative justice is an approach to justice in which one of the responses to a crime is to organize a meeting between the victim and the offender, sometimes with representatives of the wider community. The goal is for them to share their expe ...
approach to handling high-security offenders.


Recent reform

Many states such as
Colorado Colorado (, other variants) is a state in the Mountain West The Mountain West Conference (MW) is one of the collegiate athletic conferences affiliated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association The National Collegiate Athletic ...

Colorado
,
Mississippi Mississippi () is a U.S. state, state in the Southeastern United States, Southeastern region of the United States, bordered to the north by Tennessee; to the east by Alabama; to the south by the Gulf of Mexico; to the southwest by Louisiana; a ...
, and
Maine Maine () is a U.S. state, state in the New England region of the United States, bordered by New Hampshire to the west; the Gulf of Maine to the southeast; and the Provinces and territories of Canada, Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Qu ...

Maine
have implemented plans to reduce use of supermax prisons and solitary confinement and have begun to show signs of reform. Joseph Ponte, Corrections Commissioner of Maine, cut supermax prison population by half. Colorado has announced reforms to limit the use of solitary confinement in prisons following a study that showed significant levels of confinement and isolation in prisons. Washington has also showed signs of decreased use of solitary confinement, low segregation of overall prison population, and emphasis on alternative methods.


See also

* Prison#Control units *
Isolation to facilitate abuseIsolation (physical, social or emotional) is often used to facilitate power and control over someone for an abusive purpose. This applies in many contexts such as workplace bullying Workplace bullying is a persistent pattern of mistreatment from ot ...
*
Prison abolition movement The prison abolition movement is a network of groups and activists that seek to reduce or eliminate prisons A prison (also known as a jail or gaol (dated, British English, British, Australian English, Australian, and to a lesser extent Hur ...
* Single-celling *
Box File:Box with cover MET DP241878.jpg, alt=A small, elaborate box, featuring a hinged lid, two swing doors at the front and a small pull-out drawer; the interior is entirely red and features small items that seem to be part of a toilette set, An el ...
(form of torture involving solitary confinement in an overheated room) *
List of abnormal behaviours in animalsAbnormal behaviour in animals can be defined in several ways. Statistically, abnormal is when the occurrence, frequency or intensity of a behaviour varies statistically significant In statistical hypothesis testing, a result has statistical signif ...
* Solitary Watch


References


Bibliography

* Birckhead, T. R. (2015). Children in isolation: The solitary confinement of youth. Wake Forest Law Review 50(1), 1-80.


External links


6×9: A virtual experience of solitary confinement
''The Guardian''. {{Authority control Forensic psychology Penal imprisonment Penology Torture Human rights by issue