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IPRT report calls for abolition of solitary confinement in Ireland
Featured, Press Releases | 2nd February 2018


Friday, 2nd February 2018

IPRT report calls for abolition of solitary confinement in Ireland

Holding prisoners in isolation in excess of 22 hours and for extended periods of time must be abolished due to the harm this can cause to prisoners’ mental health. That’s according to Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), Deirdre Malone, who was speaking today (02.02.18) at the launch of an IPRT report calling for the abolition of solitary confinement (22+ hours) and the gradual elimination of the use of restricted regimes (19+ hours) in Irish prisons.

The report, entitled ‘Behind the Door’: Solitary Confinement in the Irish Penal System, is the culmination of a major evidence-based research project led by the IPRT, and contains 25 key recommendations focusing on the use of solitary confinement and restricted regimes in Ireland. The research undertaken includes the analysis of law, policy and statistical information, as well as prison visits and interviews with prisoners, prison staff, and other respondents with relevant experience.

Ms Malone said: “Our goal is ambitious but achievable – the abolition of solitary confinement in Ireland in the short term and the gradual elimination of the use of restricted regimes with a minimum out-of-cell time at 8 hours per day and an ultimate target of 12 hours out-of-cell time daily for all prisoners across the prison estate.”

“We recognise the challenge for any prison service in balancing prisoner safety on the one hand, while at the same time providing prisoners with a reasonable and humane regime. At present, prisoners may be placed on ‘protection’ on the basis that they have asked for this to happen. Yet those regimes are significantly impoverished as prisoners face restricted access to education, physical activities and fresh air; limitations on family visits and phone contact; and difficulties in accessing health and addiction support. Such restrictions can have a serious negative impact on effective reintegration upon release.”

The report launch was addressed with a keynote by former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez. Mr Méndez is a Professor of Human Rights Law at the American University and has dedicated his legal career to the defence of human rights, primarily in the Americas. As a result of his representation of political prisoners, he was arrested by the Argentinean military dictatorship and subjected to torture and administrative detention for more than a year.

Speaking today, Mr Méndez said: “Human rights principles require prison regimes to be safe, respectful, purposeful and effective. It is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve these standards in situations where prisoners are confined in isolation for long hours, whether this is 22 to 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, or for more than 19 hours on restricted regimes.

“Social isolation is one of the harmful elements of solitary confinement and its main objective. It reduces meaningful social contact to an absolute minimum and as a result, prisoners in solitary confinement or on restricted regimes can experience serious health problems, regardless of specific conditions of time, place and pre-existing personal factors.

“Prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or even torture because of the mental pain it inflicts. In recognition of this, international law is developing a specific framework to regulate its use, mostly by way of the Nelson Mandela Rules, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015. Like the IPRT in Ireland, reform groups in countries around the world are working to achieve the abolition of solitary confinement and the elimination of restricted regimes in prison systems. I fully support the IPRT’s report and commend their excellent work in advocating for prisoners’ rights.”

Recommendations contained in the report, informed by fieldwork and literature, are grouped under four headings: elimination of the use of solitary confinement; segregation for reasons of protection; access to justice; and collection and publication of statistics. They include:

  • The placement in solitary confinement of adults with mental health difficulties or mental or physical disabilities should be prohibited.
  • Where a prisoner requests to be kept on protection for an extended period, this should be kept under constant review.
  • The Irish Prison Service should research and develop a range of initiatives to address violence in prisons. These may include, but should not be limited to, restorative justice approaches and weapons amnesties.
  • Prisoners on protection or other restricted regimes should be provided with meaningful access to work, training and education, as well as other activities and services. As far as possible this should be in association with other prisoners.
  • The Irish Prison Service should regularly collect and publish data relating to the length of time prisoners spend on restricted regimes in all prisons.

Ms Malone said: “It is our view that Ireland should be leading by example on this issue and set a high bar regarding the protection of human rights, especially for people in some of the most vulnerable positions – those who are detained.”

The event also included contributions from report authors, Dr Agnieszka Martynowicz and Dr Linda Moore, and Professor Barry Goldson, University of Liverpool, as well as a panel discussion with expert speakers, including Head of Legal Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Michael O’Neill; Director of Operations, Irish Prison Service, Martin Smyth; Clare Daly, TD; and Professor Ian O’Donnell, UCD.

For more information, visit www.iprt.ie.


Contact: Sebastian Enke, DHR Communications, Tel: 01-4200580 / 087-3239496

Note to Editors

  • Deirdre Malone and Juan Méndez are available for interview on request.
  • The IPRT report is available for download here.
  • An animated video calling for the abolition of solitary confinement in Ireland is available here.

About Juan Méndez

Juan E Méndez is a Professor of Human Rights Law in Residence at the American University – Washington College of Law, where he is Faculty Director of the Anti-Torture Initiative, a project to WCL’s Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. He was the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment between November 2010 and October 2016.

In early 2017, Professor Méndez was elected Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists, Geneva, Switzerland. In February 2017, he was named a member of the Selection Committee to appoint magistrates of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace and members of the Truth Commission, set up as part of the Colombian Peace Accords. He was an advisor on crime prevention to the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court from 2009 to 2011 and Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association in 2010 and 2011. Until May 2009 he was the President of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). Concurrent with his duties at ICTJ, the Honorable Kofi Annan named Mr Méndez his Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide, a task he performed from 2004 to 2007.

A native of Argentina, Mr Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defence of human rights, primarily in the Americas. As a result of his representation of political prisoners, the Argentinean military dictatorship arrested him and subjected him to torture and administrative detention for more than a year. During this time, Amnesty International adopted him as a “Prisoner of Conscience.” After his expulsion from his country in 1977, Mr Méndez moved to the United States. For 15 years, he worked with Human Rights Watch on human rights issues in the western hemisphere from 1982 to 1994 and, between 1994 and 1996, as General Counsel. From 1996 to 1999, Mr Méndez was the Executive Director of the Inter American Institute of Human Rights in Costa Rica, and between October 1999 and May 2004 he was Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. Between 2000 and 2003 he was a member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, and served as its President in 2002.

About the IPRT

Established in 1994, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland’s leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for rights in the penal system and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy. Its vision is one of respect for rights in the penal system, with prison as a last resort. IPRT is committed to respecting the rights of everyone in the penal system and to reducing imprisonment. It is working towards progressive reform of the penal system based on evidence-led policies and on a commitment to combating social injustice.

IPRT publishes a wide range of policy positions and research documents; it campaigns vigorously across a wide range of penal policy issues; and has established itself as the leading independent voice in public debate on the Irish penal system.