Doctors have called upon the government to abolish solitary confinement of children and young people in the youth justice system, stating it will have “profound” impact on their health.
Almost 40 percent of boys in British jails are estimated to have spent at least some time in solitary confinement. This is the confinement of prisoners for “22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact”, which amounts to international human rights breaches such as inhuman and degrading treatment under several treaties the UK is party to. Three major medical organisations have recommended and urged to abolish the practice and that it be prohibited immediately, as it leads to increased risk of suicide and self-harm.
The UN’s special rapporteur on torture has previously stated that “the imposition of solitary confinement, of any duration, on juveniles” breaches UN principles. Dr John Chisholm, BMA Medical Ethics Committee chair said there was “no place” for solitary confinement in a youth secure estate and that alternatives should be found “immediately” to replace the current practice. Dr Alison Steele, child protection officer of the RCPCH, warned that the risk of underlying issues being left unaddressed could have “devastating consequences”.
The British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) medical organisations released a joint statement, stating that there is evidence of the profound impact on health and wellbeing. The statement read:
“Various studies indicate an increased risk of suicide or self-harm amongst those placed in solitary confinement. As children are still in the crucial stages of developing socially, psychologically and neurologically, there are serious risks of solitary confinement causing long-term psychiatric and developmental harm.”
Until the practice is completely abolished, it must be ensured that the health needs of those in solitary confinement are sufficiently met.
This followed after a watchdog report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons revealing shocking conditions of child prisons. Many 18-year-olds were locked in cells for nearly 24 hours a day, and had poor access to showers and telephones. It was often a result of widespread staff shortages. There have also been increasing levels of violence, with 40 percent of prisoners reporting they felt unsafe.
The Ministry of Justice claims there is no such thing as solitary confinement within the prison system, and that:
“the safety and welfare of young people held in custody is one of our highest priorities. When young people in custody are putting themselves or others at risk, segregation can be used as a last resort for limited periods of time when no other form of intervention is suitable”.
They are also apparently recruiting more than 100 new staff across the estate, to help the rehabilitation of youngsters.