Friday, March 15, 2013

U.N. Expert on Torture Calls for Investigation of Use of Solitary Confinement

Today's International Law Prof Blog reports:

The United Nations expert on torture has called on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate the practise of solitary confinement and its harmful effects in the Americas, particularly in Latin America, and urged stronger regulation of its use. “I am concerned about the general lack of official information and statistics on the use of solitary confinement,” the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in its first-ever briefing on solitary confinement in the Americas. “The use of solitary confinement can only be accepted under exceptional circumstances, and should only be applied as a last resort measure in which its length must be as short as possible,” the Special Rapporteur added at the meeting in Washington D.C. 

 Mr. Méndez warned that there are insufficient safeguard mechanisms in the region for preventing, detecting, and responding to the use of solitary confinement, such as making sure that the prisoners held in solitary confinement retain access to legal counsel and medical assistance. He also called for the absolute prohibition of solitary confinement for juveniles and persons with mental disabilities and for an equally absolute prohibition on indefinite or prolonged solitary confinement lasting longer than 15 days.

 “It is important for States to advance in modifying their legislation, policies and practices that are not in accordance with these standards,” he urged. Mr. Méndez spoke to the Commission, which is part of the Organization of American States, in his capacity as an unpaid independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on thematic issues. In a 2011 global report to the UN General Assembly, Mr. Méndez called solitary confinement a “harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system.”

While getting U.N. attention is never a bad thing when human rights violations are involved, I am dubious that any sort of international censure is going to improve matters. American exceptionalism seems to have resisted it for many years with the death penalty. I wonder what sort of international pressure would make the U.S. receptive to critique - thoughts?

For more information on solitary confinement and its overuse/misuse in the California context, please join us this Tue for a viewing of a life-sized model of a SHU cell as well as a panel at 6:00pm. And of course, save some intellectual energy for our upcoming conference, California Correctional Crisis: Realignment and Reform.

Props to colleague Chimène Keitner for the link.

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