The irreparable damage caused by solitary confinement cannot be justified;
therefore solitary confinement is considered by the United Nations as a form of
torture if it is used for more than 15 days at a stretch. However, this
overwhelming view is often ignored in jails and prisons, where solitary
confinement is often used as a "solution" to almost any problem that arises,
including insubordination, perceived threats, alleged gang affiliation, and even
allegedly for the protection of individuals.
As some prison officials leave many
people alone or with roommates in confined spaces 24 hours a day without
understanding the harmful effects of solitary confinement, changing these
practices is more important than ever.
The confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more per day without meaningful
human contact is called solitary confinement. Though various prison manuals
permit the officer-in-charge of prisons to award solitary confinement; according
to various Supreme Court directives, it can only be awarded by a competent
According to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners,
solitary confinement is defined as the confinement of a prisoner for twenty-two
hours or more per day without any human contact.
Solitary confinement of more than 30 days cannot be sanctioned without the
approval of a Judge of the Sessions Court. And in no case can the total period
of solitary confinement awarded by a court exceed three months.
There are provisions of Judicial Solitary Confinement as laid down in Chapter
XII of West Bengal Jail Code, Volume-1, Section 29 of the prisons Act, 1894 and
Sections 73 and 74 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
409 numbers of prisoners in toto were kept in Cells or solitary confinement in
the Correctional Homes of West Bengal as on 31.08.2019 out of which the maximum
number of prisoners (169) were lodged in cells in Dum Dum Central Correctional
Home followed by 58 in Presidency Correctional Home.
The frequent use of solitary confinement is often defended by prison officials
as an effective method of maintaining peace and order in the prison and
deterring violence and gang activity therein. But this reliance on solitude
ignores the plethora of studies showing the harmful and often long-term effects
it has on the human mind and body.
At the Thomas Jefferson University-sponsored International Symposium on Solitary
Confinement, researchers and formerly incarcerated people made it clear that any
"positive" benefits correctional institutions gain from the use of solitary
confinement are outweighed by the serious and often permanent harms caused by
long-term isolation. Recent studies show that time spent in solitary confinement
shortens life, even after release, and speakers at the international symposium
highlighted various other ways in which loneliness causes irreparable damage.
Reasons for Keeping Prisoners in Solitary Confinement
A prisoner is generally kept in solitary confinement or Cell on the following
- If the Court orders for solitary confinement.
- If the Prisoner is of high-risk nature.
- If the prisoner is of notorious nature.
- If the medical officer certifies the prisoner to be kept in solitary confinement for medical reason (contagious disease).
- As a punishment measure for violating discipline of the prison.
- If the prisoner is transferred to a prison from some other prison on administrative grounds.
- The condemned to death prisoner/political prisoner/Division-I Prisoner/Civil Prisoner are reportedly kept in solitary confinement.
- On discretion of the superintendent of the prison on special ground an inmate is kept in solitary confinement.
- A prisoner is kept in solitary confinement for segregation as per West Bengal Correctional Services Act, Section 32 (1).
- The process of keeping a prisoner in solitary confinement falls under Rule 736 of the West Bengal Jail Code Rules, Vol-1, followed by maintenance of Prisoners' Punishment Register & Prisoners' Ward Change Register.
- Prisoners are sometimes kept in Cell for better accommodation for all prisoners in case of shortage of accommodation in the Correctional Home.
- Cell Block of Malda District Correctional Home is reportedly used as a general ward for prisoners in order to deal with overcrowding population. Prisoners stay there like prisoners of other blocks of the Correctional Home.
- On the basis of a petition submitted by an inmate for the facility of his study, he may be kept in a Cell.
- On abnormal/violent behaviour of the prisoner in a Correctional Home where no Hospital (Mental Ward) facility is available, he/she may be kept inside the Cell.
- Sometimes, inmates are kept in a cell as per administrative urgency to maintain law and order inside the Correctional Home.
- Habitual/Confessing convict may be kept in a Cell.
- The escaped prisoner or the prisoner who made an attempt to escape is kept in a Cell for security reasons.
- Any inmate who is creating nuisance inside the correctional home may be put in a Cell for a time period as per the direction of the concerned Superintendent to ensure the safety & security of the other inmates.
- An approver may be kept in solitary confinement on the order of the concerned court.
Origin of Solitary Confinement
In the late 18the century the practice of solitary confinement originated when
it was used as a substitute for public punishment by the Quakers in
Pennsylvania. The possible psychological and physiological effects of
loneliness, according to research, dates back to the 1830s. When the new prison
discipline of segregated prison was introduced in 1829 at the Eastern State
Penitentiary as part of the "Pennsylvania" or segregated system, the system of
isolating prisoners in their Cells caused a high rate of mental breakdown as
noted by some commentators. Charles Dickens, described that the slow and daily
handling of the mysteries of the brain is immeasurably worse than any torture of
the body, when he visited a prison in Philadelphia during his trip to America.
Noting that the use of solitary confinement resulted in the diminution of mental
and physical faculties, the United States Supreme Court made its first comment
on the pernicious effects of solitary confinement in 1890. Records from Danish
prisons between 1870 and 1920 indicate that individuals in solitary confinement
there also experienced signs of acute mental distress, including anxiety,
paranoia and hallucinations.
In the 20th and early 21st centuries, Denmark and other Scandinavian countries
made extensive use of solitary confinement for individuals in pretrial detention
with the stated goal of preventing them from interfering with investigations.
Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik has been held in solitary confinement
since his conviction in 2012, in part to protect him from other incarcerated
people. In 2016, Breivik sued the Norwegian Correctional Service alleging that
the conditions of his solitary confinement violated his human rights, but his
appeal was ultimately rejected by the European Court of Human Rights.
The use of solitary confinement increased greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic
in response to the increasing prevalence of the virus in prisons. Many
correctional facilities were locked down for up to 23 hours a day, leaving
people confined to their cells without programming, phone access, or human
contact. In the United States alone, more than 300,000 people were held in
virus-related lockdowns during the first months of the pandemic.
Section 73 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
Section 73 of the IPC states that the court has jurisdiction to punish the
offender with rigorous imprisonment in respect of any person who is convicted of
such an offence; the court may order such offender to be kept in solitary
confinement for a specified period. The offender shall be kept in solitary
confinement so that:
- If the sentence of imprisonment does not exceed 6 months, the sentence
of solitary confinement does not exceed 1 month.
- If the sentence of imprisonment exceeds 6 months but does not exceed 1
year, the sentence of solitary confinement does not exceed 2 months.
- If the sentence of imprisonment exceeds 1 year, the sentence of solitary
confinement shall not exceed 3 months.
Section 74 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
When solitary confinement is imposed as part of a sentence, that period must not
exceed 14 days at a time, with breaks between periods of solitary confinement
lasting at least as long as the confinement itself, and if the total sentence of
imprisonment is more than three months, the total solitary confinement in any
month should not exceed seven days.
Section 29 of the Prisons Act, 1894
Solitary confinement. � No cell shall be used for solitary confinement unless it
is provided with means to enable the prisoner to communicate at any time with an
officer of the prison, and every prisoner so confined in a cell for more than
twenty-four hours, whether for punishment or otherwise, shall be attended at
least once a day by a physician or a subordinate physician.
Effects of Solitary Confinement
Most studies focus on the psychological effects of solitary confinement.
However, physical health problems may also be affected by psychological trauma
and loneliness. Social isolation increases the likelihood of death by 26�32%,
according to some studies.
Both living alone and feelings of loneliness are strongly associated with
suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts, according to research. Additionally,
many individuals who experience incarceration become unable to live around other
According to the book by Dr. Shalev's, 'A Sourcebook on Solitary Confinement',
noted physical health effects of solitary confinement include chronic headaches,
visual impairment, digestive problems, dizziness, excessive sweating, fatigue
and lethargy, genitourinary problems, heartbeat, hypersensitivity to light and
noise, loss of appetite, muscle and joint pain, sleep problems, shaking hands
and weight loss.
Lack of physical activity can also make it harder to manage or prevent certain
health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Long-term exposure to sunlight can cause vitamin D deficiency, which can put
older adults at risk for fractures and falls. These injuries are among the
leading causes of hospitalization and death in older adults.
People need social contact. Over time, the stress of isolation can cause a
number of psychological problems. According to Dr Sharon Shalev, who wrote 'A
Sourcebook on Solitary Confinement' in 2008, these problems can include anxiety
and stress, depression and hopelessness, anger, irritability and hostility,
panic attack, exacerbated pre-existing mental health problems, hypersensitivity
to sounds and smells, problems with attention, concentration and memory,
hallucinations that affect all the senses, paranoia, poor impulse control,
social exclusion, outbursts of violence, psychosis, fear of death and self-harm
Research shows that both living alone and feelings of loneliness are strongly
associated with suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts. Additionally, many
individuals who experience incarceration become unable to live around other
Court Judgments on Solitary Confinement
In its judgment in the case, Union of India & Others v. Dharam Pal
Appeal No. 000804-000804 / 2019, delivered on 24 April 2019, a 3-judge bench of
the Supreme Court comprising Justice N.V. Raman, Justice Mohan M. Shantanagouder
and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer, held that keeping an accused person sentenced to
death in solitary confinement before disposal of his mercy petition by the
President of India is itself illegal and constitutes a separate and additional
punishment not permitted by law.
The Supreme Court in this case held that by keeping the prisoners in separate
solitary rooms for a long period ranging from 8 to 11 months, shackled with
crossbars for several days on the flimsy grounds of loitering in the prison,
insolent and uncivilized behaviour in a way, the negligence of the precedent set
out in the Sunil Batra case is articulated. Hence, a prisoner should be kept in
solitary confinement only in rare cases, to stave off the violation of Article
21 of the Constitution of India.
In Sunil Batra (I) v. Delhi Administration
(1978) 4 SCC 494, Sunil Batra filed a
petition in the Supreme Court against the traumatic treatment by the prison
authorities. Batra, who was facing a death sentence, disputed that he was being
held in solitary confinement without judicial permission.
The court held that any hard isolation of prisoners from the company of fellow
prisoners under section 29 of the Prisons Act 1894 must be done only after fair
procedure; and in the absence of such, imprisonment would be contrary to Article
21 of the Constitution.
In Sunil Batra (II) v. Delhi Administration
AIR 1980 SC 1579, Mr. Batra was
sentenced to death and lodged in Delhi's Tihar Jail. He wrote a letter to the
Supreme Court alleging that the prison warden brutally attacked one of the
prisoners (Prem Chand) who was in solitary confinement with the motive of
getting money. The Supreme Court considered this letter to be a public interest
dispute under Article 32 of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court ruled that Prem Chand had been tortured illegally and the
court ordered the Inspector General to ensure that no corporal punishment or
personal violence was inflicted on Prem Chand. The court further said that
neither solitary confinement nor any other type of hard labor should be imposed
without the legal opinion of a Sessions Judge.
In Unni Krishnan & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh &Ors
1993 AIR 217, the
Supreme Court observed that the that the right against solitary confinement
falls under the right to life in Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
In State of Uttarakhand v. Mehtab, Sushil and Bhura
(Uttarakhand HC on remand)
Criminal Reference No. 1 of 2014 on April 27, 2018, the High Court ruled that
the practice of keeping a convict in custody/solitary confinement before
exhaustion of his constitutional, statutory and fundamental rights is
unconstitutional. Immediately after the verdict was pronounced, it nullified the
act of keeping death row inmates in solitary confinement, and declared solitary
confinement to be an anarchic and ruthless practice capable of causing immense
torture, agony and distress to prisoners. The High Court was of the opinion that
solitary confinement violates Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees
the protection of life and personal liberty.
Strong criticism from many organizations and individuals have been targeted
towards the practice of placing prisoners in solitary confinement.
The UN's "Mandela Rules" provide guidelines for the treatment of imprisoned
people around the world. These rules prohibit the use of solitary confinement
for indefinite or extended periods of more than 15 days and advise that prisons
and jails use it only as a last resort. They also prohibit isolation for people
Anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and psychosis are more likely to develop
in people who experience confinement. The practice also affects physical health,
increasing a person's risk for a number of conditions, including fractures,
vision loss, and chronic pain.
The United States uses solitary confinement more than some other countries, with
the practice disproportionately affecting blacks and Hispanics and those with
mental illness. Solitary confinement has faced strong criticism from
organizations around the world because of the harm it causes. In India too some
prisoners are allegedly harassed by putting them in solitary confinement.
Some prison officers have allegedly turned solitary confinement into a tool of
extortion by showing its fear to the rich prisoners and some misuse it against
the prisoners who voice dissent over the denial of their rights, though it is
also true that in some cases putting the prisoner in solitary confinement
becomes inevitable to protect a prisoner from self-harm or protecting other
prisoners from his violence.
Written By: Md. Imran Wahab
, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected]
, Ph no: 9836576565