UN’s “Mandela Rules” to Set New International Standards for Treatment of Prisoners, Including Limits on Solitary Confinement

The UN's new standards for the treatment of prisoners are named for Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years behind bars.

The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs) are being given several long-awaited revisions this year. Among them is a provision that solitary confinement “shall be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review.” The rules also prohibit […]

Voices from Solitary: Fly in the Ointment

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Peter Collins has been in prison for more than 30 years and is one of Canada’s longest-serving prisoners. He is currently incarcerated at Bath Institution near Kingston, Ontario. Collins is an award-winning human rights activist, writer, artist and peer health educator.  In 2008, he was awarded the Canadian Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human […]

Irish Court Blocks Suspect’s Extradition to U.S., Citing Risk of Solitary Confinement  

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An Irish court has blocked a U.S. extradition request because of the conditions of solitary confinement the accused could face if sent to the United States. Ireland’s High Court determined there was a real risk that Irish citizen Ali Charaf Damache would be incarcerated at the U.S. Penitentiary Administrative Maximum (ADX) in Florence, Colorado, and […]

London Calling

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For the next two weeks, Solitary Watch will be on hiatus while my colleague Aviva Stahl and I take a reporting trip to the United Kingdom. While there, we will be speaking with officials and inspectors of Her Majesty’s Prison Service, as well as prison reform advocates, scholars, and currently and formerly incarcerated individuals. We  also […]

UN Torture Investigator Barred from Visiting American Supermax Prisons

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More than two years ago, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, asked the U.S. State Department for permission to visit individuals in solitary confinement in supermax prisons and isolation units. He is still waiting for a response. Recently, our colleague Sarah Shourd interviewed Méndez for an article in the Daily Beast that describes his […]

In Canada, a Death in Prison Sparks Debate, Lawsuits Over Solitary Confinement

Protesters outside the headquarters of the Correctional Service of Canada in Ottawa in January 2013.

Ashley Smith was just 19 when she died in her solitary confinement cell at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario, in October 2007. As she had many times before, Smith tied a ligature around her neck and tightened it. For twenty long minutes, a crowd of prison guards stood watch from outside […]

UN Committee on Torture Questions U.S. Record on Solitary Confinement

Members of the UN Committee on Torture question a U.S. delegation at a hearing in Geneva last week.

Last Wednesday and Thursday, United States government officials met with representatives at the United Nations to discuss the country’s compliance with the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Every country that is a signatory to the CAT is required to submit a “Periodic Report” to the […]

Pope Francis Denounces Solitary Confinement, Calls for Prison Conditions That “Respect Human Dignity”

Pope Francis washes the feet of youth in a juvenile detention center in March 2013.

In a wide-ranging speech on Thursday, Pope Francis revealed himself as a passionate criminal justice reformer. His words also suggest that he is familiar with the controversies surrounding solitary confinement and supermax prisons, and strongly opposes their use. Speaking at the Vatican to representatives of the International Association of Penal Law, the Pope said: “All Christians and people […]

American Experts Urge British Not to Believe What They Hear About US Prison Conditions

The House of Lords is considering whether to recommend revisions to a US/UK extradition treaty that has landed British subjects in American supermax prisons.

In October 2012, five individuals were extradited from the United Kingdom to the United States to face terrorism charges. The transfer came after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that prison conditions at ADX Florence–where the suspects would likely be held if convicted–were not incompatible with Article 3 of the European Convention of […]

Seven Days in Solitary [5/25/14]

Solitary confinement news roundup: 7 Days in Solitary

The following roundup features noteworthy news, reports and opinions on solitary confinement from the past week that have not been covered in other Solitary Watch posts. • A Texas woman has filed a lawsuit alleging that in 2012, she was forced to give birth in solitary confinement without medical assistance, leading to her baby’s death.  […]