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Know Your Rights

Solitary confinement

Prolonged Pre-Trial Isolation

The UN Committee Against Torture recognises the harmful physical and mental effects of prolonged solitary confinement and has expressed concern about its use, including as a preventive measure during pre-trial detention.

The effects of solitary confinement on pre-trial detainees may be worse than for other detainees in isolation.

"The wide use of solitary confinement in prisons and other places of detention has long been a source of grave concern to those involved with the international protection of human rights. Never more so than in recent years, which have seen a marked increase in the use of strict and often prolonged solitary confinement across the world...

Solitary confinement has a well documented negative impact on mental health and wellbeing and may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, particularly when used for a prolonged time."

Prof. Dr. Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

Preface to: 'A Sourcebook on Solitary Confinement' by Sharon Shalev - Mannheim Centre for Criminology

Solitary confinement for an indefinite period

The use of solitary confinement should be reserved for extreme cases, for as short time as possible, but usually no more than a matter of days.

Solitary confinement should never be imposed indefinitely and prisoners should know in advance its duration.

Uncertainty about the expected duration of solitary confinement is likely to increase its adverse effects...

The UN Human Rights Committee has stipulated that use of prolonged solitary confinement may amount to a breach of Article 7 of the ICCPR.

The UN Committee against Torture has made similar statements, with particular reference to the use of solitary confinement during pre-trial detention...

Isolation without access to legal council

Suspects may be held in isolation without being charged whilst their interrogation is ongoing.

In most jurisdictions such pre-charge detention is limited by law to a few hours or a few days...

In some cases detainees are isolated without access to legal counsel. This form of detention, called ‘incommunicado’, may be illegal under international law and is subject to special provisions.

The UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) has been critical of practices involving prolonged solitary confinement and has stated that these may amount to treatment in violation of the prohibition against torture or inhuman treatment.

The Importance of Family Visits

a) Solitary confinement is an extreme and potentially harmful measure;
b) Its use should be reserved for a handful of exceptional cases;
c) Periods in solitary confinement should be as short as possible, and;
d) Where prisoners are isolated they must be held in decent conditions and offered access to meaningful human contact and to purposeful activities. The deprivations inherent in solitary confinement should not be made worse by further restrictions on family visits...

On December 9th 2007, a working group of 24 international experts adopted the Istanbul Expert Statement on the Use and Effects of Solitary Confinement, calling on States to limit the use of solitary confinement to very exceptional cases, for as short a time as possible and only as a last resort...

The right of prisoners to be treated in a manner respectful of their human dignity and the prohibition against all forms of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are reaffirmed in a large number of human rights instruments, including two international treaties, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) which are legally binding on all signatory parties to them, and parallel regional instruments.

Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) stipulates that: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence.

Sarah Shourd, one of the '3 US hikers', was held in solitary confinement in Evin Prison, Iran, for nearly 14 months.

Iran was one of the first countries in the world to ratify the ICCPR, in 1975 (it entered into force in 1976).

Ref: 'A Sourcebook on Solitary Confinement' by Sharon Shalev - Mannheim Centre for Criminology