Tuesday, March 3, 2020
A UN expert has warned that the excessive use of solitary confinement in US prisons is tantamount to torture. The warning was issued after a review of the Connecticut prison system. "For years, my mandate has raised concerns about the worldwide overuse of solitary confinement which is subject to widespread arbitrariness." These words came from Nils Melzer, UN Rapporteur on torture. Mr. Melzer went on to say that the Connecticut Department of Corrections "has appeared to routinely repress inmates through prolonged or indefinite isolation, excessive use of in-cell restraints and needlessly intrusive strip searches."
These dehumanising conditions of detention, sometimes euphemistically referred to as "segregation," "secure housing," the "hole" or "lockdown," are routinely used by US correctional facilities, particularly against inmates designated as "high risk" due to previous gang affiliations, behaviour abnormalities or mental conditions.
"These practices trigger and exacerbate psychological suffering, in particular in inmates who may have experienced previous trauma or have mental health conditions or psychosocial disabilities," Melzer noted.
"The severe and often irreparable psychological and physical consequences of solitary confinement and social exclusion are well documented and can range from progressively severe forms of anxiety, stress, and depression to cognitive impairment and suicidal tendencies.
"This deliberate infliction of severe mental pain or suffering may well amount to psychological torture," the Special Rapporteur said.
Inflicting solitary confinement on those with mental or physical disabilities is prohibited under international law. Even if permitted by domestic law, prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement cannot be regarded as a "lawful sanction" under the Mandela Rules which guides the appropriate treatment of prisoners.
The full UN statement may be read here.