This Thursday (1 December) Clare’s Prisons (Solitary Confinement) (Amendment) Bill 2016 will be debated in the Dáil.
The Bill creates a definition of solitary confinement in Irish law for the first time, and, if passed, would place statutory restrictions on holding prisoners in isolation for long periods.
Currently in Ireland there is no definition of solitary confinement – instead, prisoners are held on ‘restricted regimes’ or ‘on protection’. The Minister for Justice stated last September that ‘there is no provision for solitary confinement in the Irish Prison Service’. But the reality is that prisoners being locked up for 22 to 24 hours a day and deprived of meaningful human contact – the internationally accepted definition of solitary – does happen in Irish prisons, and the State can’t ignore its human rights obligations in regard to the practice by pretending it doesn’t.
Data obtained in October by The Detail show that prisoners in Ireland may be held in solitary confinement for months, and in some cases over a year. Commenting on those figures, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, said: ‘There is no question to me that those people are suffering what constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and perhaps depending on the gravity of their suffering – even torture.’