Solitary Confinement: How to Preserve Humanity in High Security Settings

27 June 2016 18:30 - 20:00

On 27 June 2016, within the context of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the ICRC hosted a panel discussion to examine the increased use by States of restrictive detention regimes, in particular of solitary confinement.  The event, which was part of the Conference Cycle on "Generating respect for the law", took place at the Humanitarium in Geneva from 18:30 to 20:00.

Read the conference report on the Humanitarian Law & Policy Blog

On the backdrop of the recently adopted Mandela Rules, the panelists looked at the issue of solitary confinement from the perspectives of the penitentiary authority, the detainee, and academic research from the field of criminology.

Why have penitentiary authorities around the world increasingly turned to restrictive detention regimes, sometimes amounting to solitary confinement, to manage high security detainees? What are the humanitarian consequences of this form of detention, especially if applied over a long period of time? What measures can be put in place by the authorities in order to mitigate the negative effects of solitary confinement and respect the absolute prohibition of ill treatment contained in International Law and more specifically in the Mandela Rules?

To discuss these and other related questions, the panel gathered:

  • Sharon Shalev, Research Associate at the Centre for Criminology of the University of Oxford and founder of SolitaryConfinement.org;
  • Terry Waite, President of Y Care International and of Hostage UK, who was taken hostage in Lebanon and held in solitary confinement for almost five years;
  • Tom Enger, Director, Head of Regulations and Security, Norwegian Correctional Services.

The panel was moderated by Catherine Deman, ICRC Head of the Detention Unit.

 At the Humanitarium, participants were introduced to 6x9, a virtual reality experience developed by The Guardian to simulate solitary confinement.

The event was accompanied by the launch of the second part of the exhibition at the Humanitarium on the ICRC's efforts to generate respect for the law, "1950-1989: Humanitarian law during the Cold War".

(Photo credit: The Guardian)