Written Submission of RFK Human Rights to the International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the context of Law Enforcement
The United States wields solitary confinement against Afro-descendent people in municipal jails, state and federal prisons, immigration detention centers, and care settings for foster youth. The below report details abusive solitary confinement practices against Black people in each of these settings in four jurisdictions in the United States: 1) abusive solitary confinement practices against Black people
Afro-descendant people, who are disproportionately harmed by U.S. carceral systems, face devastating mental, physical, and emotional harm from solitary confinement. More than a third (33%) of people held in solitary confinement become psychotic and/or suicidal within the first 15 days, and people who have been subjected to solitary confinement are 78% more likely to commit suicide within a year of being released from prison. The severe suffering caused by solitary confinement can amount to torture as defined under international law. According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, “Solitary confinement, when used for the purpose of punishment, cannot be justified for any reason, precisely because it imposes severe mental pain and suffering beyond any reasonable retribution for criminal behaviour.” The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Mandela Rules, explicitly prohibit indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement, or solitary confinement lasting longer than 15 days. International human rights law thus recognizes prolonged solitary confinement as torture and violative of the tenets of basic human dignity.
Disturbingly, the use of solitary confinement in the United States is on the rise. On May 25, 2022, President Biden issued an executive order directing federal prisons to reduce solitary confinement in their facilities. However, solitary confinement has increased 7% since Biden’s order went into effect. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, imprisoning close to 2 million people in jails, prisons, and detention centers. Nearly 80,000 people are currently held in solitary confinement. Within that number at least 6,000 have been subjected to this form of torture for a year a longer—in some cases, even for decades. Some states have either opted to enact state laws that ban or limit solitary confinement for groups like pregnant people and minors or to limit solitary confinement to 15 days, in accordance with the United Nation’s Mandela Rules. Yet despite new laws, limits on solitary confinement remain unenforced in most jurisdictions, leaving people to anguish under tortuous conditions.