The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs) are being given several long-awaited revisions this year. Among them is a provision that solitary confinement “shall be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review.” The rules also prohibit indefinite solitary confinement and prolonged solitary confinement — defined as more than 15 consecutive days — as well as the solitary confinement of people with mental or physical disabilities where isolation would exacerbate their conditions.

The Mandela Rules emphasize that people in prison, like everyone else, are subjects of human rights, and so should be protected from torture or inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. Together with the Special Rapporteur on Torture’s report, this language has important implications for solitary confinement.

United Nations Solitary revisions and the Mandela Rules