United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Méndez called for sharp new limits on the use of solitary confinement in prisons worldwide, including an absolute ban for juveniles and people with mental disabilities.
“Segregation, isolation, separation, cellular lockdown, Supermax, the hole, Secure Housing Unit (SHU)… whatever the name, solitary confinement should be banned by States as a punishment or extortion technique,” Mendez told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.
Citing studies suggesting that people develop long-term mental health problems within days of entering solitary confinement, Méndez called for an absolute end on the practice for longer than 15 days. The statements were made as Méndez presented his first interim report on the subject to the assembly since stepping into the position in November 2010, according to a UN news release.
“Social isolation is one of the harmful elements of solitary confinement and its main objective. It reduces meaningful social contact to an absolute minimum,” Méndez said. “A significant number of individuals will experience serious health problems regardless of the specific conditions of time, place, and pre-existing personal factors.”
“There is a broad consensus among mental health experts that long-term solitary confinement is psychologically harmful. Indeed, the damaging effects of solitary confinement, even on persons with no prior history of mental illness, have long been well known,” the ACLU stated.
There is no universal definition of solitary confinement, but the common definition is when an individual is confined alone for at least 22 hours a day.
In the United States, an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 individuals are being held in solitary confinement, some for years at a time. It is believed that a significant percentage of these individuals have serious mental illnesses.