UN torture sleuth urges end to long solitary terms

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.

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