UNITED NATIONS, (Reuters) – The U.N. torture investigator called on nations yesterday to end lengthy solitary confinement in prisons, saying it could cause serious mental and physical damage and amount to torture.
Solitary confinement is practiced in a majority of countries for reasons ranging from punishment to protection of prisoners from fellow inmates but is subject to widespread abuse, said Juan Mendez, U.N. special rapporteur on torture.
“It can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pretrial detention, indefinitely or for a prolonged period, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles,” he told the U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee.
“Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular, lockdown, supermax, the hole, secure housing unit … whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by states as a punishment or extortion (of information) technique,” Mendez said.
Citing studies showing a significant number of people would experience serious health problems and that some lasting mental damage was caused by just a few days of isolation, he said all solitary confinement longer than 15 days should be banned.
He defined solitary confinement as an inmate being held in isolation from all except guards for at least 22 hours a day.
Mendez told reporters he conceded that short-term solitary confinement was admissible under certain circumstances, such as the protection of lesbian, gay or bisexual detainees or people who had fallen foul of prison gangs.