The practice of solitary confinement is internationally regarded as the physical isolation of individuals who are confined to their cells for 22 to 24 hours a day. Meaningful contact or interaction with other people is reduced to a minimum, with some prisoners only allowed out of their cells for just one hour of solitary exercise each day. In 2011, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture proposed a worldwide ban on prolonged solitary confinement (more than 15 days) as well as prohibiting solitary confinement from being used as a penalty, for persons with mental disabilities, and for juveniles. This is based on evidence that some of the harmful psychological effects of isolation can become irreversible after 15 days.
Despite this, solitary confinement is regularly used in Irish prisons both as a means of “protection” and as a punishment. The practice of isolating children is known as “single separation” while the use of 19+ hours lock up is generally referred to as a “restricted regime”. Worryingly, the numbers subject to a restricted regime in Irish prisons have shown an increase in 2016, from 339 in January to 424 in October (over 10% of the daily prison population in Ireland). Further, the published statistics do not tell us how long each of those prisoners actually spend in solitary confinement nor how often they are returned to solitary confinement, as the periods may be simply renewed.
In relation to children and detention, the Council of Europe has set out rules permitting separation only in very exceptional cases for security or safety reasons. Despite that, in 2015 HIQA reported that in the child detention school at Oberstown, Co. Dublin “single separation was used extensively and frequently for long periods of time” including 1,420 incidences of single separation between October and the end of May 2015.
IPRT has secured funding from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to pursue an evidence-based research and awareness campaign towards the abolition of the use of solitary confinement in Ireland.
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