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Call to end solitary confinement due to impact on prisoner mental and physical health

bail applications prison barsThe University of Queensland (UQ) has found a staggering impact on the mental and physical health of prisoners when they are kept in solitary confinement, also known as isolation. Consequently, researchers are calling for an end to the use of such punishment. Some prisoners are subjected to these conditions for years at a time, while prisoners with mental health conditions especially receive inadequate treatment.

Law school researcher Professor Tamara Walsh said that solitary confinement causes severe, sometimes permanent psychological harm and worsens pre-existing mental health conditions.

Several mental health conditions caused or exacerbated by isolation

“In solitary confinement, prisoners are isolated in their cells for at least 22 hours per day, with little to no contact with others and limited mental stimulation and access to fresh air and natural light,” Professor Walsh said.

“It’s not uncommon for these prisoners to show signs of psychosis, engage in self-harm and obsessive-compulsive behaviours, become hypersensitive to noise or develop a fear of open spaces. United Nations bodies have determined solitary confinement should only be used as a last resort for periods of 15 days or less, and courts worldwide have conceded these conditions may breach fundamental human rights”.

Solitary confinement conditions may not comply with international standards

This makes it evident that although there are minimum requirements for prisoners in solitary, such requirements don’t always comply with the international standards set. Based on that there is a clear disconnection between the law, policy and practice.

The conclusions are based on research found in the multidisciplinary report conducted by Professor Walsh, and director and Principal Solicitor of Prisoners’ Legal Service (PLS), Helen Blaber, and a team of UQ students and PLS volunteers. Their key recommendation was to abolish solitary confinement all together.

If you, or someone that you know, has suffered disproportionately because of solitary confinement, then please contact O’Brien Civil and Criminal Solicitors using our contact form or by calling 02 9261 4281.

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