Right Against Solitary Confinement

The main objective of this paper is to trace the history of Solitary Confinement. Since the emergence of penitentiaries in early 1800s, Solitary Confinement has been an important component of American prison. It helps us understand the advantages and disadvantages of living in Solitary Confinement. The paper clearly states that Solitary Confinement have affected the mental as well as physical health of man individuals living in Solitary Confinement. At last the paper is concluded by stating the reasons why Solitary Confinement need to be abolished.


Solitary Confinement can be defined as a form of imprisonment in which the prisoner is isolated from all the forms of human contact. Solitary Confinement goes by number of names i.e., isolation, the hole, Management Control Units (MCV), Security Threat Group Management units (STGMU), voluntary or involuntary protective custody or permanent lockdown. Inmates spend years in solitary with only contact from the prison staff. This contact is brief and may not happen but every 23 to 24 hrs.

Origin Of Solitary Confinement:

Late 18th Century

The use of Solitary Confinement was pioneered in US. It was believed that it protects inmates from indignities of crowded jails where public humiliation was norm. But, later it became very clear that it mostly harms their mental health leading them to suicide.

By Early 1900s

Practice was mostly abandoned then because they believed it was ineffective and in parts because it was costlier. But in 1980s and 90s, the US prison system again started to take place. After which, the federal and state prison system started to begin their construction of “Supermax” prison. In this, a unit of a facility is designed to hold hundreds of people in Solitary Confinement. The first Supermax prison to be opened was in California named Pelican Bay State Prison in 1983.

Limitations Of Solitary Confinement:

●3 months in entire period of punishment (Section 73)

●14 days on end with interims of at the very least 14 days.

●7 days in multi month with interims of under 7 days if the detainment granted is over in 3 months.

Reasons For Placing People Under Solitary Confinement:

There can be various reasons for putting prisoners in the isolation under the solitary confinement. Some of which are:-

●Serious Infractions, such as fighting with another inmate, to minor ones (like talking back to the guard or getting caught with a pack of cigarettes.

●Prisoners are sent to solitary confinement for not breaking any rules at all.

●Solitary Confinement is used as a tool to manage gangs, isolating those people who are suspected of talking about gang member.

●Solitary Confinement is also used as retribution for political activism.

Effects Of Solitary Confinement:

There are many prisoners who are directly released to streets after being isolated for years. Studies have shown that they suffer from many physiological effects, like

●Insomnia and many other sleeping sickness

●Hypersensitivity to noise and touch

●Distortions of time and perception

●Visual and hearing hallucinations

●Risk of suicide

●Post-traumatic stress disorder

●Feelings of fear and anger

●Dangerous Perception

Many researchers like Andersen (2000) claims that these physiological effects can only be seen in those prisoners who have been to solitary confinement as compared to normal prisoners.


In Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration,[1] Solitary confinement was given under section 30 (2). In this case the court declared that although Solitary Confinement is abolished in UK but it is still in practice in U.S.A. Here, they declared there are some practices of Solitary Confinement.

 Benefits of Solitary Confinement

It helps ensuring the prison safety as it restrict the incarcerated persons from being threat to others.

●It is an effective means for prisons guard to control the negative behavior. It helps them maintain sense of order within prison.

●It helps incarcerated people reform their character. As when they are in solitary confinement they can think about their action and can also think about needful acts to rectify it.

Negative Effects Of Solitary Confinement

●It deteriorates prisoner’s mental health. Individual in isolation start suffering from various mental disorder.

●It damages their physical health as well. Since they are not allowed to go outside even for a walk, they start suffering from wide range of illness which could be due to deficiency of Vitamin D.

●It is not always very effective as most of the time, incarcerated people start focusing on solitude itself or the harness of punishment.

●It also violates basic human rights. As in Solitary Confinement people suffer from various mental and physical illness leading to violation of their human rights.

Abolition Of Solitary Confinement

When we talk about punishment, it is usually given to those who had done something wrong. The punishment makes them realize their mistakes and also teaches them not to do the mistakes again. Thereby, stating that by the help of punishment the prisoners learn new things and it does not make them mentally or physically weak. Whereas, due to Solitary Confinement many prisoners get physiologically affected. Therefore, many researchers requested to cancel these kinds of punishment. They also suggested that Solitary Confinement have many ill effect on prisoners.

Danold O. Hebb (1951) proved in his research that the people who had gone through Solitary Confinement often get their Sensory affected. Brodsley (1988) in his experiment tooked 69 prisoners who were in Solitary Confinement. He did an Isolation Sentence-Completion Test in which he found out that two-third are affected by psychiatric syndrome, whereas 45% from anxiety and 36% from chronic depression.

These research proved that the Prisoners from Solitary Confinement suffers various health issues. Therefore, it was asked to abolish.


From the facts stated above, it can be concluded that there is a positive as well as negative effect of Solitary Confinement on prisoners. It can be said that sometimes it leads the person become better person in future whereas sometimes just the opposite happens and the persons suffers from great mental disorder. But, it is also very clear that there is definite evidence of negative effects of prisoners being held in Solitary Confinement for longer period of time. Therefore, Penitentiary system must take extra care to look after the health of the inmates regardless of their preexisting medical disease.



Q.1. What Is Meant By Solitary Confinement?

Solitary Confinement can be defined as a form of imprisonment in which the prisoner is isolated from all the forms of human contact.

Q.2. Who Gets Put In Solitary Confinement?

People those who are incarcerated are placed in complete isolation for months or years. These people are not only found doing violent act but also have untreated mental illness.

Q.3. What Are The Psychological Effects Of Solitary Confinement?

Solitary Confinement induces a psychiatric disorder characterized by hypersensitivity to external stimuli, hallucination, panic attack, obsessive thinking and other physical and psychological problem. Some of the psychological problem are- anger, violent fantacies, obsessive rumination, nightmares, dizziness, trouble sleeping, perspiring hands and heart palpitation.

Q.4. Are The People Who Are Suffering From Mental Illness Only Put In Solitary Confinement?

Yes, Research have proved that one-third to half of those who are held in isolation are later found suffering from mental diseases.

Q.5. Is Solitary Confinement Considered As Torture?

Yes, prison isolation perfectly fits the definition of torture as it has been stated in several International Human Right Treaties and therefore it contributes a violation of the human rights law.


  1. http://www.acadpubl.eu
  2. http://indiankanoon.org
  3. Solitary Confinement- Criminal Law Review; http://crlreview.in
  4. http://www.casemine.com

[1] 1980 AIR 1579

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