Category Archives: Solitary

Solitary Confinement posts.

Special Rapporteur on Torture Speaks to NPR about Ending Solitary Confinement in California Prisons

5 September 2015- On Saturday September 5, Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez spoke to NPR’s All Things Considered about the landmark settlement in the federal class action lawsuit of Ashker v. Governor of California, which will effectively end indefinite solitary confinement in California prisons. The Special Rapporteur explained that in California, solitary confinement “is used to punish or to isolate people who are deemed to belong to gangs . . . which inflicts the kind of mental pain and suffering that is associated with the prohibition on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in the international law. And in the most severe cases it can even be considered torture.” He praised the decision to place approximately 90 percent of the 3,000 or 4,000 people in solitary confinement into the general prison population as a “general trend towards recognizing that solitary confinement can be a very serious violation of constitutional and even international human rights.”

To listen to the full interview, please click here

Special Rapporteur on Torture celebrates a landmark settlement which will effectively end indeterminate, long-term solitary confinement in all California state prisons

September 4 2015- Special Rapporteur on Torture together with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and many others celebrates a landmark settlement in the federal class action Ashker v. Governor of California, which will effectively end indeterminate, long-term solitary confinement in all California state prisons. The Special Rapporteur, Professor Juan E. Méndez, in his capacity as an expert witness, provided expert testimony after visiting and interviewing eleven prisoners held in prolonged and indefinitely solitary confinement in Pelican Bay prison in December 2014. Professor Méndez also visited the premises of the Special Housing Unit (SHU) and the wing for Administrative Segregation at Pelican Bay, concluding that “the conditions of confinement at the SHU of Pelican Bay prison amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment according to customary international law rules codified in the Convention Against Torture.” You can read the expert report here

For more information about the settlement, please visit the CCR webpage

Special Rapporteur reiterates desire to make an official visit to United States following President Obama’s recent call for criminal justice reform

July 21, 2015 – Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez today called on the United States Government to facilitate his request to carry out an official visit to the United States. The call comes after President Obama’s visit last week to El Reno prison in Oklahoma and his statements highlighting the need for criminal justice reform in the US, particularly as regards unacceptably high rates of incarceration that have a disparate impact on racial minorities, overcrowding, and the extensive use of solitary confinement.

The Special Rapporteur added that he looks forward to “working with the US Department of Justice on the special study commissioned by the President on the need to regulate solitary confinement, which affects 80,000 inmates in the United States, in most cases for periods of months and years.”

The Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Seong-Phil Hong stated at the same time that the Working Group has also asked the Government for an opportunity to visit federal and state institutions where persons are deprived of their liberty.

“We hope the President’s recent actions will ensure concrete steps are taken to facilitate these visits to US detention facilities, including private interviews with detainees” the independent experts said. “We stand ready to provide any additional expertise to ensure that prison reforms are implemented in accordance with international human rights standards,” they concluded.

 See the full article here.

Special Rapporteur discusses Albert Woodfox’s case in new Amnesty International’s video

February 16, 2015 – In a new video created by Amnesty International, Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Mendez discusses the case of Albert Woodfox, who has been held in solitary confinement in Louisiana State Penitentiary since 1972. Mr. Woodfox was originally convicted for the murder of a prison guard together with Herman Wallace and Robert King, the so-called Angola 3. “Mr. Woodfox is being held in conditions that amount to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, if not torture,” the Special Rapporteur tells Amnesty, explaining that the conditions of his imprisonment, which involve spending 23 hours a day in an 8-foot-by-12 foot cell with no meaningful social interaction, inflict upon him “the kind of pain and suffering of a mental nature that is associated with torture.” The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern about the fact that while Mr. Woodfox’s conviction has been overturned three times no meaningful review of his continued isolation has taken place, and added that Mr. Woodfox should be considered innocent until proven guilty and convicted. You can watch the Special Rapporteur discuss the case in this video, and read a press release issued by the Special Rapporteur in October 2013 on Mr. Woodfox’s case.

Special Rapporteur Discusses Solitary Confinement in the United States in New Amnesty International USA Video

January 15, 2014 – In this new video created by Amnesty International USA, Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan E. Méndez discusses the extensive use of solitary confinement in US prisons, expressing particular concern about the lack of safeguards against its use, and its use for prolonged periods of time.”Solitary confinement truly does inflict the pain and suffering of a mental nature that is associated with the prohibition on torture and on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, [which is] absolute and unqualified in international law under any circumstances,” the Special Rapporteur states. The Special Rapporteur has in the past spoken publicly about his pending request to carry out a fact-finding visit to assess the use of solitary confinement in state and federal US prisons. The full video is available here. To learn more about Amnesty’s campaign on solitary confinement, please visit this page.

Spanish Language Version of Sourcebook on Solitary Confinement Features Introduction by Special Rapporteur on Torture

May 1, 2014 – The Special Rapporteur has written an introduction for the newly published Spanish-language edition of the Sourcebook on Solitary Confinement. The Sourcebook, which was initially published in English in 2008, is intended to serve as a guide to policy-makers and prison managers “to put in place safeguards and mechanisms to limit the use of solitary confinement and to mitigate its harmful consequences.”  The new Spanish-language edition of the Sourcebook, featuring the Special Rapporteur’s  introduction, is available here. The Sourcebook is also available here in English, Chinese, Russian, and French.

April 1, 2014 – The Special Rapporteur on Torture has  issued a statement in support of the NGO Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility’s (ADPSR) call for an end to designs that facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  In his statement, the Special Rapporteur endorses ADPSR’s petition to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to amend its Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct to prohibit the design of spaces intended for prolonged solitary confinement, explaining that such a prohibition would be “a welcome step in advancing respect for human rights within civil society.”  The Special Rapporteur explained that the design of prison environments can in general help meet human rights  standards but that in some extreme cases, design may actually facilitate abuse.  He elaborated that architects participate in shaping the experience of people in detention, and can therefore play a meaningful role in resolving the human rights problems caused by the practice of solitary confinement by  prohibiting the design of spaces that leading to such cruel, inhuman, or degrading conditions. The Special Rapporteur’s full statement is available here, and a link to the ADPSR’s ethics petition is available here and via

Senate Leaders, Lawmakers, New York State Echo Special Rapporteur’s Call for Limits on Solitary Confinement

February 27, 2014 – The Special Rapporteur attended and submitted a written statement for a Congressional hearing on solitary confinement, during which Senate leaders echoed his call for a ban of the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, persons with mental disabilities, and pregnant women. The hearing followed a February 19 settlement between the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and the New York State Department of Community Corrections (DOCCS), in which the state agreed to end the practice of solitary confinement for the same group of vulnerable persons barring exceptional circumstances. Prior to attending the hearing, the Special Rapporteur joined members of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, including family members, survivors, the ACLU, and other human rights activists for a press conference intended to shed light on the serious human rights abuses associated with the ongoing practice of long-term solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and detention centers. For more information, please visit our solitary confinement page.

Questioning Solitary Confinement for Adolescents at Rikers Island

February 21, 2014 – In this recent PBS Newshour segment, the Special Rapporteur discusses the solitary confinement of juveniles at Rikers Island prison in New York and throughout detention facilities in the United States. The Special Rapporteur explains that solitary confinement for young offenders is prohibited as a matter of international law and that medical and psychiatric literature demonstrates that young offenders suffer isolation in very different and much worse forms than adults. The Special Rapporteur reiterated that solitary confinement should never be used for juveniles, persons with mental disabilities, and women who are pregnant or feeding children, and should never be prolonged or indefinite in all cases. The full video segment is available on the PBS website.


Democracy Now Roundtable: Time for Compassion? Aging Prisoners Suffer from Illness, Decades in Solitary Confinement

December 23, 2013 – The Special Rapporteur joined other distinguished panelists for a roundtable discussion organized by Democracy Now.  The panelists addressed the growing numbers of aging political prisoners in the US who were convicted in the 1960s and 1970s and are increasingly seeking compassionate release, clemency, or pardon.  In this context, the Special Rapporteur addressed the growing use of solitary confinement in the US, as well as his recent efforts to visit prisons in the states of California, New York, and Pennsylvania.  For a vide of the roundtable, please visit the Democracy New website.