David Fathi, who directs the ACLU’s National Prison Project and its Stop Solitary initiative, has been reporting from the U.N. Intergovernmental Expert Group Meeting on revising the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMR), held last week in Buenos Aires. Fathi reported that the United States delegation proposed some “concrete and positive changes to the SMR”–but fell far short when it came to limiting solitary confinement.
Unfortunately, the U.S. continues to defend the use of long-term solitary confinement. Several governments and NGOs endorsed a 15- or 30-day limit on solitary confinement, as well as an absolute ban on solitary for vulnerable groups like juveniles, pregnant women, and persons with mental illness. The U.S. delegation rejected all of these proposals. To be fair, the U.S. was not the only government resisting meaningful restrictions on solitary confinement, and the U.S. proposal did contain some positive elements, such as a provision that visiting shall not be restricted for prisoners in solitary absent security justifications. But it’s notable that the Chinese government endorsed without hesitation a 15-day limit to the use of solitary confinement.
In addition, Fathi reports today, the U.S. seems to have pulled a fast one at the last minute. “[A]s the meeting was drawing to a close,” he writes, “the U.S. suddenly insisted that the Draft Report be amended to state that none of the recommendations hammered out over the previous three days had actually been agreed to. Instead, the Draft Report now says only that ‘[t]he Expert Group identified for consideration the following issues and Rules for the revision of the Standard Minimum Rules’ (emphasis added).”
A related post, published on the ACLU Blog of Rights to mark the 64th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, discusses “The Human Rights Implications of Solitary Confinement in the United States.” The U.S. “was a leader in developing the declaration, but has fallen behind in translating it into domestic laws and policies,” the piece argues. “For example, when it comes to the punishment of criminals and the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty, the U.S. is an outlier, continuing to use practices that have become increasingly rare as the world moves towards compliance with human-rights norms”–including widespread and prolonged solitary confinement.