Back Council of Europe anti-torture Committee: solitary confinement in prisons should be minimised

In its annual report, which was published today, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) urges States to minimise the use of solitary confinement of prisoners. This measure should be applied only in exceptional circumstances and for the shortest possible period of time.
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“Solitary confinement can have an extremely damaging effect on the physical, mental and social health of prisoners, and that damage is likely to increase the longer the measure lasts and the more indeterminate it is. An indicator is that the suicide rate of prisoners under this regime is higher than that among the rest of the prison population. This practice raises serious issues with regard to the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment”, said Lətif Hüseynov, President of the CPT.

In most countries courts can order that a person remanded in custody be held for a certain period in solitary confinement in the interests of a criminal investigation. These decisions should be made in open court, through a fully reasoned judgment, be separately appealable and be reviewed on a frequent basis. The CPT considers that solitary confinement should never be imposed as part of a court´s sentence, which is still possible in some countries.

Solitary confinement can also be used as a disciplinary sanction. The trend in Europe is towards lowering the maximum period for which it can be imposed for this purpose. The CPT considers that the maximum possible period of solitary confinement as a punishment should be no higher than 14 days, and preferably lower.

Solitary confinement for preventive purposes of prisoners considered to be especially dangerous is of particular concern. It is potentially the longest lasting type of solitary confinement and in practice often the one with the fewest safeguards. The Committee emphasises that this measure must be subject to stringent controls, so that it is not used too readily, extensively or for too long. The safeguards in place must include a detailed review procedure and a right of appeal to an independent authority.

In the report the CPT also calls on states to guarantee the right to access to a lawyer from the very outset of a person’s deprivation of liberty, irrespective of the category of the alleged offence. The CPT acknowledges that it may be exceptionally necessary to delay for a certain period of time a detained person’s access to a lawyer of his choice, but emphasises that this should not result in the right of access to a lawyer being totally denied; arrangements should be in place for the appointment of a replacement lawyer in such cases.

During the period covered by its 21st annual report - between August 2010 and July 2011 – the CPT made 14 visits to examine the treatment of persons held in a broad range of institutions throughout Europe.

  • Read the 21st annual report