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United Nations Official Says Connecticut’s Use of Solitary May Amount to Torture

“The [Connecticut] DOC appears to routinely resort to repressive measures, such as prolonged or indefinite isolation, excessive use of in cell restraints, and needlessly intrusive strip searches,” said Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. “There seems to be a state-sanctioned policy aimed at purposefully inflicting pain or suffering, physical or mental, which may well amount to torture.”

“These practices trigger and exacerbate psychological suffering, in particular in inmates who may have experienced previous trauma or have mental health conditions or psychosocial disabilities,” Melzer added. “The severe and often irreparable psychological and physical consequences of solitary confinement and social exclusion are well documented and can range from progressively severe forms of anxiety, stress, and depression to cognitive impairment and suicidal tendencies.”

Those comments were in response to a May 2019 letter from the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale University, which alleged Connecticut “systematically engages in psychological and physical torture of persons incarcerated at Northern Correctional Institution.”

While state and federal laws allow solitary confinement, international law, known as the 2015 updated Mandela Rules, hold that prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement cannot be a “lawful sanction.”

U.N. rules define solitary confinement as “the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact.” Such confinement can only be imposed in exceptional circumstances, and “prolonged” use of solitary confinement of more than 15 consecutive days is regarded as a form of torture.