Solitary confinement of teens in British prisons ‘against UN torture rules’

Solitary confinement of teens in British prisons ‘against UN torture rules’
Prisons in the UK are keeping teenage offenders in solitary confinement despite the government denying the practice is still in use, an investigation has found.

Young offenders institutions (YOI), which imprison 15- to 18-year-olds, are allegedly using solitary confinement, which can cause mental health issues for inmates, according to the Independent.

Prison inspection reports found that teenagers are self-harming as a result of the distress caused by recurring and prolonged isolation. 

Solitary confinement could be infringing British law and Article 16 of the UN Convention Against Torture, under which governments must prevent prison officials from carrying out “acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Solitary confinement is defined under international human rights law as “the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact.”

Although the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) claims “segregation” of minors may occur for their own safety, but not for a significant time period, some lawyers have claimed such segregation actually amounts to solitary confinement.

Prison inspectors claim the government has been aware that solitary confinement is taking place in YOIs since at least 2015.

“We found examples of boys … who were locked up for too long with nothing to do and a few cases of boys who said that isolation brought about by restricted regimes had caused them to self-harm,” a report by government prison inspectors in 2015 following a visit to Feltham YOI said.

“The segregation environment remained grim and quite inappropriate for children, with no suitable facility for face-to-face interventions, such as education,” inspectors added.

One inmate’s mother told the Independent that her 16-year-old son, who already suffers from a serious mental health issue, was last year placed in solitary confinement in different jails across the country over a six-month period.

“He was on 23-and-a-half hours in the cell. He was allowed out for a shower or a phone call for half an hour every other day. The cell was disgusting, conditions were filthy,” she said.

“His education was very few and far between; he was slipped a piece of paper under the door – nothing meaningful for education.”

The woman, who spoke under condition of anonymity, claims that even though her son has presently returned to a mainstream cell, he struggles with human interaction because he is so “used to solitary now.”

“He can’t handle human interaction when we visit him with his siblings, he can’t bear to see the children moving about or making noise.”

She added that families are afraid of raising their concerns with officials for fear that they would make their children suffer even more.

“You can’t say anything, it’s a catch-22. No one seems to listen, no one seems to care.”

MPs have called on the government to investigate the findings, which could also be in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as they amount to “inhuman and degrading treatment.”

“These are incredible allegations that fly in the face of Britain’s obligations both domestically, at European level and internationally,” Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron told the newspaper.

“The use of solitary confinement should be kept to a bare minimum regardless of age, but is incomprehensible for juveniles,” he added.