European Committee for the Prevention of Torture
and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment


Solitary confinement of prisoners
Extract from the 21st General Report of the CPT,
published in 2011

Solitary confinement of prisoners is found, in some shape or form, in every prison system.
The CPT has always paid particular attention to prisoners undergoing solitary confinement, because
it can have an extremely damaging effect on the mental, somatic and social health of those
This damaging effect can be immediate and increases the longer the measure lasts and the
more indeterminate it is. The most significant indicator of the damage which solitary confinement
can inflict is the considerably higher rate of suicide among prisoners subjected to it than that among
the general prison population. Clearly, therefore, solitary confinement on its own potentially raises
issues in relation to the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In
addition, it can create an opportunity for deliberate ill-treatment of prisoners, away from the
attention of other prisoners and staff. Accordingly, it is central to the concerns of the CPT and, on
each visit, delegations make a point of interviewing prisoners in solitary confinement in order to
examine their conditions of detention and treatment and to check the procedures for deciding on
such placements and reviewing them. In this section of its General Report, the CPT sets out the
criteria it uses when assessing solitary confinement. The Committee believes that if these criteria
are followed, it should be possible to reduce resort to solitary confinement to an absolute minimum,
to ensure that when it is used it is for the shortest necessary period of time, to make each of the
solitary confinement regimes as positive as possible, and to guarantee that procedures are in place to
render the use of this measure fully accountable.
The CPT understands the term “solitary confinement” as meaning whenever a prisoner is
ordered to be held separately from other prisoners, for example, as a result of a court decision, as a
disciplinary sanction imposed within the prison system, as a preventative administrative measure or
for the protection of the prisoner concerned. A prisoner subject to such a measure will usually be
held on his/her own; however, in some States he/she may be accommodated together with one or
two other prisoners, and this section applies equally to such situations.


The research evidence for this is well summarised in Sharon Shalev’s “A Sourcebook on Solitary
Confinement” (Mannheim Centre for Criminology, London, 2008), available electronically at

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