Wednesday, 7 December 2011
Long-term solitary confinement: a method of torture
Medical evidence has shown that long-term solitary confinement is a form of torture. Dr Joost J den Otter, Medical Director at the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), adds that while there is no doubt about the damage caused by long periods of isolation, solitary confinement for a short period may also cause psychological harm.
Dr den Otter highlights the fact that many qualitative and quantitative scientific studies have documented how solitary confinement in prison has damaging health effects. He asserts that the scientific debate on solitary confinement as a method of torture has been settled for many years, but that it seems there is still confusion among policy makers, prison authorities, and the general public.
A recent commentary published by the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law about solitary confinement and mental illness in U.S. Prisons, the authors, Jeffrey L. Metzner and Jamie Fellner, support Dr den Otter’s judgment.
“Isolation can be psychologically harmful to any prisoner, with the nature and severity of the impact depending on the individual, the duration of confinement, and particular conditions (e.g., access to natural light, books, or radio). Psychological effects can include anxiety, depression, anger, cognitive disturbances, perceptual distortions, obsessive thoughts, paranoia, and psychosis”.
In August 2010, Physicians for Human Rights published a report (Experiments in Torture) which added to the growing body of evidence that solitary confinement causes psychological harm consistent with torture. In an interview with ‘Life’s Little Mysteries’, Dr Scott Allen, one of the authors of the paper, said that solitary confinement “can lead to anxiety, depression, certainly disorientation, [and] it can even lead to thought disorders including psychotic thoughts.” He added "The consequences can be significant."
This backs up researcher Peter Scharff Smith, of The Danish Institute for Human Rights, who years ago stated that “solitary confinement reduces meaningful social contact to an absolute minimum: a level of social and psychological stimulus that many individuals will experience as insufficient to remain reasonably healthy and relatively well functioning”.
For sources and more information:
Solitary Confinement and Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons: A Challenge for Medical Ethics
Is Suspected Wikileaks Source's Solitary Confinement Torture?
Solitary confinement - An introduction to The Istanbul Statement on the Use and Effects of Solitary Confinement