Solitary Confinement and Prisoners' Human Rights
Whilst the term ‘solitary confinement’ does not appear in Australian legislation, prisoners in all states and territories can be placed in isolation for periods of time that exceed United Nations standards. Solitary confinement is an embedded strategy used to manage ‘difficult’ prisoners, but legal and psychological research indicates that placing a person in solitary confinement, even for a short period of time, can result in serious psychological harm. Most prisoners will be released, and if they are disturbed and distressed, or so institutionalised that they are unable to reintegrate into society, they may pose an increased risk to members of the community. Courts in Canada, New Zealand, and Europe have condemned the use of solitary confinement on human rights grounds, particularly the right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty, the right to life, and the right to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. This paper considers how the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld) could be used to challenge decisions to place prisoners in solitary confinement in Queensland. It is argued that since there are a number of less restrictive alternatives available, placement in solitary confinement may not be a reasonable or justifiable limitation on prisoners’ human rights.