Torture and Isolation
The Convention Against Torture defines torture as “any
act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is
intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or
a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a
third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating
or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of
any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of
or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting
in an official capacity.”
Under international law, torture is governed by Article 5 of
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by Article 7 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states, “No one
shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
One of the most common punishments for infraction of rules
in prison is solitary confinement. At
least 32 states operate prisons designed for solitary confinement of all
inmates (entirely or in dedicated wings).
Prisoners are in cells for 23 hours with an hour daily for exercise in
an external cage.
The effects of sensory deprivation following even short
periods of isolation have been well documented since the 19th
century. Even in the absence of physical
brutality or a lack of hygiene, isolation can and does result in emotional
damage, a decline in mental function, hallucinations and delusions. These consequences are often longstanding,
sometimes permanent, and can occur after very short periods of isolation.
Oscar Lopez Rivera, a Puerto Rican political prisoner still
incarcerated in the US after 30 years, has spent at least 12 years in complete
This punishment is considered torture under international
For detailed information on solitary confinement and its
effects, one useful text is the Sourcebook on Solitary Confinement by Sharon Shalev (2008).