Solitary confinement is a punishment or a special form of imprisonment in which a prisoner has no contact with anyone except for the prison staff. The most dangerous or most unruly prisoners can also be isolated, or, on contrary, those with the highest risk of being attacked by other prisoners because they are important witness, pedophile, or celebrities. A solitary confinement may also be decided for reasons of national security, such as terrorism.
This mode of incarceration is considered by some as a form of psychological torture, especially when the isolation period is more than a few weeks or renewed indefinitely.
College students writing their research papers on the topic must understand that European law calls solitary confinement a specific measure to put the prisoner out of harm or to protect other prisoners (e.g., a media person). This measure is not to be confused with punishment cell (that inmates call “pound”) that it is indeed effective in isolation of the prisoner, but punitive and limited to 30 days duration. The regime under the designation of “isolation” has no maximum duration.
The prisoner in solitary confinement has an individual cell and has no contact with other inmates without permission of the warden. Unlike inmates held in disciplinary area, there is no private TV or shopping canteen or the relative comfort of ordinary cells.
The prisoner in solitary confinement is reviewed at least twice a week by a doctor who may recommend to end isolation, but unlike for the disciplinary cell it sends a recommendation, not a decision.
Isolation is decided by the head of the institution. A first placement for a period not exceeding five days may be decided in an emergency without applying the usual procedure.
The warden can fix the duration not exceeding 3 months. Upon expiry of this period, he may decide to extend the isolation, always for a period not exceeding three months.
At the end of the first extension of isolation (that is to say after 6 months or less), only the inter-prison governor may extend a second time and again for more than 3 months, then third time always for the same period.
The fourth possible extension (usually at the end of a year of isolation) and the following are being decided by the Minister of Justice himself, always for 3 months.
The law allows aforementioned authorities to end the isolation at any time and forces them to a number of notifications before making their decision.
Article 726-1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure allows the detainee concerned to address the administrative judge and mandate a “review” of “judicial authority” when isolation is extended beyond one year.
Isolation cannot be extended beyond two years except in exceptional circumstances, if solitary confinement is the only way to ensure the safety of persons or property. In this case, the decision to extend must be specially motivated.
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