Solitary Confinement: A Hidden Damage


Solitary Confinement is a common practice and most important component of US prison system, where in early 1800s thousands of inmates were held in isolation. As Indian Criminal Justice System is influenced by Reformative Theories, Solitary Confinement is something less of reformation and more of a punishment, which raises constitutional and humanitarian concern as punishment is inhumane, unusual and violates standards of decency. In Solitary Confinement prisoner experience stressful condition which leads to harmful health effect, according to neuroscientific research social interaction and environmental stimulation are essential for physiological brain function.

Indian Constitution always aims to protect the rights of individual even behind bars. Solitary Confinement violates Article 21, as it talks about more of life and less of liberty.

Keywords- Solitary Confinement, Punishment, Constitution, Humanitarian, Reformative Theory.


The Solitary Confinement was first traced in late 18th century. In 1829, first experiment was done in United States at the eastern state penitentiary in Philadelphia. According to Quaker it is a means of separating the prisoners from the whippings and public humiliation back then. Quaker also beliefs that prisoners isolated with bible in cell would use their time to pray, regret and realise their mistakes and crime, but eventually they found committing suicide, getting insane and becoming socially dysfunctional. In 1934, in Alcatraz Solitary Confinement was again tried almost after a decade, as most dangerous and problematic prisoners were sent to block d where they were isolated. 

According to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoner[1], Solitary Confinement is confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without any sort of human contact or communication. As for the most part used as a variety of social control on the far but it’s kind of a paradox to criminal justice system.

Solitary Confinement is imposed for different reasons like breach of discipline, to manage prisoners who are difficult or dangerous, in serious infractions like fight with other prisoners, etc. According to Neuro-scientific research long term Solitary Confinement can leads to symptoms like Insomnia, increased risk of Suicide, Post-traumatic Stress disorder, Uncontrollable feeling of fear, etc. And there is no certainty that by giving Solitary Confinement punishment the individual wouldn’t commit such behaviour again, this only develop feeling of loneliness and stress in the individual.

Hidden Damages of Solitary Confinement[2]

Confined inmates often experience various physiological and physical symptoms, even after a short period in confinement. Scientific research shows that Solitary Confinement basically affects an individual’s brain, causing serious wellness issues and expanding abnormal and aggressive behaviour. A person in such a case just eats, sleep and repeat in very small place without fan and light, these places sometimes even lack sunlight which makes the prisoner sick.

Prisoner in Solitary Confinement may result in many medical consequences like-

  1. Visual and Auditory Issues.
  2. Insomnia.
  3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  4. Aggression.
  5. Suicidal Tendencies.
  6. Feeling of fear and death.
  7. Hypersensitivity to noise and touch and many other serious disorders.

They may also develop challenges in thinking, focus, memory, they become irritated & violent, they may also develop difficulty in sleeping and have nightmares, may also suffer dizziness, sweaty hands, etc. These symptoms may even stay after the expiry of the period of Solitary Confinement and may also leads to difficulty reintegrating into society.

Comparison between Indian and International Law-

Section 29of the Prisons Act, 1894deals with solitary confinement and says that no cell shall be used for Solitary Confinement unless it is furnished with the means of enabling the prisoner to speak at any time with Prison’s officer and every prisoner who is confined in a cell for more than twenty-four hours shall be visited at least once a day by the Medical Officer.

As per Section 73 of IPC, 1860 Solitary Confinement is permissible only when the perpetrator has committed such an offence under the code that’s punishable with rigorous punishment. The period scale of Solitary Confinement must be followed provided in the section. Therefore, in instances of imprisonment not exceeding six months, confinement shall not exceed one month, in cases of imprisonment exceeding six months but not exceeding one-year confinement shall not exceed two months, and in cases of imprisonment exceeding one-year confinement shall not exceed three months. The maximum period of confinement provided under this section is three months.

As per Section 74 of IPC, 1860 talks about limits of solitary confinement which states that in no case a prisoner should not be kept for more than 14 days at a time. This section empowers the judiciary that solitary confinement should not be given for more than three months and if it exceeds three months than in such case confinement shall not exceed seven days in a month.

Article 14 of the constitution says that the State will not deny to any individual with their balance under the steady gaze of law or the equivalent security of laws inside the domain of India. It is valuable for all residents and the reason for the jail specialists to decide the assortment of detainees in the jail.

Article 21 of the constitution says that No individual shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. Article 21 it is clear that it is available not only for the common people but also to those people behind the prison. The Article covers life and personal freedom protection.

The US is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)[3], which needs corrections authorities to respect the inherent dignity of every inmate[4]. International treaty bodies and human rights experts which includes the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture, and both have concluded that depending on the specific conditions, the duration, and therefore the prisoners on whom it’s imposed, solitary confinement may amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment that violates human rights.

Leading Case Laws-

In Kishore Singh Ravinder Dev v. State of Rajasthan[5]Supreme Court described solitary confinement as a confinement in which there is complete isolation of prisoners from other prisoners and separation and exclusion from the outside world of fellow prisoners. Supreme Court held that for security purposes only in exceptional cases can be kept in solitary confinement. Court was of the opinion that to keep prisoners in isolation for 8-11 months is a long period and regarded it as inhumane, cruel and breach of law.

In Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration[6]prisoner can be kept in solitary confinement only in rarest of rare case otherwise it would violate Article 21 of the Constitution. It also violates prisoner’s right under Section 30(2) and 56 of Prison Act, 1894 which are guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.

In Unni Krishnan &Ors.v. State of Andhra Pradesh &Ors.[7]Supreme Court held that Right against solitary confinement is one of the rights that falls under Article 21 of the Constitution. The court pronounces that the privilege against isolation will come under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

In Charles Sobhraj Superintendent, Central Jail[8]Supreme Court held that any barbarous isolation of a prisoner by cellular detention from other co-prisoners under Section 29 and 30 of the Prisons Act, 1894 is penal and it must be imposed only in accordance with fair procedure otherwise it would violate Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Conclusion and Suggestions-

Therefore, it can be concluded that solitary confinement is less of a nature of punishment and more of a torture. Section 73 and 74 of the code give legal recognition to it but put certain limitation due to its barbarous nature, debate over its legitimacy is never ending. It also violates certain rights provided under article 14 and 21. Solitary confinement should not be used on vulnerable groups such as those under age of 18, pregnant women, and those with mental illness or mental/physical disabilities.

Reduction of punishment as a reward for good behaviours and indulging the prisoners in spiritual knowledge is a positive alternative to solitary confinement.


  1. The Prisons Act, 1894.
  2. Indian Penal Code, 1860.
  3. V.N. Shukla, Constitution of India, 13thed 2019.
  4. McManus, M. (2017, February 28). How Solitary Confinement Works. visited Feb. 6, 2020)
  5. Scientific arguments against solitary confinement (2017).
  6. Ryan M. Labrecque, The Effect of Solitary Confinement on Institutional Misconduct: A Longitudinal Evaluation (2015).
  7. John F. Stinneford,Is Solitary Confinement a Punishment,Vol 115, University of Florida Levin College of Law (2020).
  8. India, L. (n.d.). Taking Prisoner’s Rights Seriously, visited Feb. 3, 2020).
  9. US: Look Critically at Widespread Use of Solitary Confinement, (last visited Feb 4, 2020).
  10. UN General Assembly, Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment: Note by the Secretary-General, 2008, p. 18-21.

[1]Nelson Mandela Rule, adopted on December 17, 2015 by the UN General Assembly.

[2]What are the effects of Solitary Confinement on health? (Last visited on Feb 25, 2020).

[3] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966.

[4]ICCPR, art. 10 requires officials to treat prisoners “with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.”

[5]AIR 1981 SC 625.

[6]AIR 1980 SC 1579.

[7]AIR 1993 SC 217.

[8]AIR 1978 SC 1514.

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