What standards are important to reduce the use and harmfulness of
solitary confinement?
Solitary confinement can be broadly defined as the separation
of a detainee from the general prison population where the
prisoner is housed alone in a cell for most of the day (usually
22 hours or more).
In a prison setting, solitary confinement can be found as a form of
punishment for disciplinary offenses, as a protective measure for
detainees finding themselves in a situation of vulnerability (e.g. sex
offenders, LGBTIQ detainees, juveniles), as an administrative tool to
handle specific groups of prisoners or as a health instrument to prevent

Solitary confinement should be used as a measure of

-When an inmate is kept “segregated” from other

last resort and for the shortest possible time. Its use

detainees, s/he must always have at least two hours

should be exceptional and not the rule, it should not be

of meaningful social contact a day;

imposed on arbitrary grounds and it should be duly
regulated and subjected to judicial review. Effective

-The medical staff has the duty to check the mental

remedies against solitary confinement as a disciplinary

and physical health of the detainees prior to their

measure should be available. Additionally, the reasons

placement in solitary confinement as well as once per

for the imposition of the sanction should be recorded

day for the whole duration of the measure and advise the

along with its duration.

prison director on the termination of the measure if the

the spread of contagious diseases. It can also be imposed by a court

-Prolonged solitary confinement (i.e. the isolation of a

during pre-trial detention or as part of a prison sentence. Several

detainee for more than 15 days) should be prohibited;

mental or physical health of the inmate is worsening.

jurisdictions also offer the option of voluntary solitary confinement

Main issues related to solitary confinement:

1.

Prolonged isolation may
constitute inhuman or degrading treatment or even
torture in itself.

2.

The material conditions of
the cells and other spaces
are often severely degraded
compared to the rest of the

3.

It has detrimental effects
on the physical and mental
health of detainees.

5.

4.

It creates a greater risk of
violence and torture due to
the separation from the rest
of the prison population

6.

-2020 European Prison
Rules Rules (see sections
on solitary confinement
and segregation)

https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectId=09000016809ee581
https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectId=09000016809ee581

-The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the
Nelson Mandela Rules)
Rules 43-45

https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Nelson_Mandela_Rules-E-ebook.pdf
https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Nelson_Mandela_Rules-E-ebook.pdf

with special regimes, such

When does the use of solitary confinement amount to
torture or ill-treatment?
Solitary confinement can in itself amount to ill-treatment or torture. Whether
the purpose of the application of solitary confinement, the conditions, length and

https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=caselaw&c#n14597620384884950241259_pointer
https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=caselaw&c#n14597620384884950241259_pointer
https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=caselaw&c#n14597620384884950241259_pointer
https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=caselaw&c#n14597620384884950241259_pointer
https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=caselaw&c#n14597620384884950241259_pointer

-The CPT Standards on
https://www.coe.int/de/web/cpt/standards
solitary confinement
https://www.coe.int/de/web/cpt/standards

de-facto solitary confinement?

Good practice

2.

What are the root causes for the use of solitary confinement?

3.

Are isolated inmates getting at least two hours of meaningful social

reduce grey areas in the rights

contacts?

of detainees and allows the

4.

Keeping

good

isolation

sections

allegations of violence.

It is prohibited to isolate:

6.

Can health professionals advise the prison director on the termination of the measure?

7.

Do detainees have at disposal effective procedural safeguards?

8.

Are prison staff trained in international solitary confinement standards?

9.

Are prison staff involved in the consideration of alternatives to solitary confinement?

disabilities
It is recommended to find alternatives to solitary confinement:

helps

hours of meaningful social contacts to all isolated detainees?
Do health professionals monitor the mental and physical health of isolated detainees?

-Detainees with mental health problems or with intellectual and psychosocial

records

-To protect detainees in a situation of vulnerability
-As a response to suicide attempts or self-inflicted harm
-During pre-trial detention without a case-by-case assessment and as part of
the prison sentence
-For detainees in high-security regimes, who have caused, or are considered
likely to cause, serious harm to others or who present a very serious risk to the
safety or security of the prison. These regimes often entail isolation (or de-facto
isolation) and serious restrictions to detainees’ rights.

of
to

judge to check the validity of
Are there possible solutions to the need to provide at least two

5.

-Death-row detainees

https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=caselaw&c#n14597620384884950241259_pointer

Are there situations that might constitute solitary confinement or

effects of the treatment as well as the individual situation of each prisoner.

-Pregnant, breastfeeding mothers and mothers with small children

https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=caselaw&c#n14597620384884950241259_pointer

1.

this is the case should be assessed on a case-by-case basis, taking in consideration:

https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Nelson_Mandela_Rules-E-ebook.pdf
https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Nelson_Mandela_Rules-E-ebook.pdf

https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=caselaw&c#n14597620384884950241259_pointer

What should prison staff and administrations consider?

which may be combined

-Children under the age of 18

-The European Court of
Human Rights’ Factsheets and Jurisprudence
on solitary prison conditions

monitoring solitary confinement and reducing its use.

non-formalised isolation,

https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Nelson_Mandela_Rules-E-ebook.pdf
https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Nelson_Mandela_Rules-E-ebook.pdf

h ttps://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=press/factsheets&c
https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=press/factsheets&c
https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=press/factsheets&c
https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=press/factsheets&c
https://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=press/factsheets&c

examine factors that contribute to its occurrence. They can therefore play an important role in

The risk of a de-facto

What do international standards say?
Key standards

Torture (OPCAT), are mandated to visit places of detention to prevent torture and ill-treatment and

Lack of adequate procedural safeguards for the
person concerned.

as high security regimes.

institution.

National Preventive Mechanisms, established under the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against

To find out more about solitary confinement, please consult our Handbook:
https://bit.ly/32lZO4E
https://bit.ly/32lZO4E
“Monitoring Solitary
confinement: https://bit.ly/32lZO4E
A Handbook for

https://bit.ly/32lZO4E
National
Preventive https://bit.ly/32lZO4E
Mechanisms”.

For further information on other thematic issues, please refer to our publications on:

https://bit.ly/2Q5Ngfe
https://bit.ly/2Q5Ngfe
https://bit.ly/3dpxbdr
Prison violence, Persons
in a situation
of vulnerability, Complaint
procedures
https://bit.ly/2Qycv9R

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