From: The Right Honourable Lord McNally, Minister of State for Justice, UK Government.
26 January 2012


Thank you for your letter of 9 December 2011 to the Prime Minister about the international statement on solitary confinement and isolation of prisoners. I am responding as the Minister with policy responsibility for human rights.

I read your letter and the statement regarding prisoner isolation with interest. I welcome the growing awareness of these issues as shown by the latest United Nations General Assembly Resolution on torture that noted that the conditions of detention must respect the dignity and human rights of detainees and also noted concerns about solitary confinement, which can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or torture, depending on the circumstances. The UK Government supported the UN resolution and reflects this support in its own day to day policies and practices. While the Government holds the view that solitary confinement can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or torture, it would very much depend on the circumstances of the case in question.

Prisoners in England and Wales are never subject to solitary confinement. They may however be placed in segregation to await adjudication or as a punishment of cellular confinement up to a maximum of 35 days for adults and 16 days for young offenders for offences against prison discipline. They may also be segregated for reasons of good order and discipline or for their own protection, for an initial period of 72 hours and thereafter for periods of up to 14 days at a time. However, whilst segregated, prisoners will be provided with a regime which allows access to education, exercise and, where appropriate, association.

Segregation Review Boards are held at least every 14 days for each prisoner segregated for reasons of good order or discipline or for their own protection. These are chaired by a prison governor and are attended by healthcare and other staff who know the prisoner and his circumstances, where possible by a member of the Independent Monitoring Board and by the prisoner, unless there are security concerns that make this impracticable. The aim is always to return a prisoner to the normal location as soon as possible. Continued segregation for 3 months or more is subject to regular assessment and monitoring by the Governor and the Area Manager.

The segregation of prisoners is subject to specified safeguards which are set out in policy contained in Prison Service Order 1700. These include an initial assessment by a doctor or registered nurse, which considers whether any mental health, other healthcare or self harm issues advise against segregation. A prisoner at risk of self harm will be segregated only in exceptional circumstances and, if possible, will be located in a safer cell. A segregated prisoner will be visited daily by a governor, a member of the Chaplaincy and a member of the healthcare team. At least every 3 days they are seen by a doctor. Prisoners in segregation are also visited on each duty rota by a member of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB). Both healthcare staff and IMB members can advise regarding a prisoner’s continued segregation outside the routine review period.”

Given the current position the Government, therefore, sees no need for further legislation.

Solitary confinement is used in many countries as a way of offering protection to an inmate, as a punishment or for security reasons. Because of the negative impact it can have on a prisoner, it should be used only in the most serious cases and for a limited period of time. The manner in which a detainee is held depends on an objective assessment of the security risk posed by that individual, their health and their behaviour in prison. This must be justified by the detaining authority.

The conditions an individual is detained in must meet international standards. Conditions which fail to meet this standard, which may include long term solitary confinement, can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The transfer of prisoners from the UK is always considered on a case by case basis. However, transfer will not take place where the UK considers a prisoner is likely to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or torture on return.

As you will be aware, international action against torture has long been a priority for the UK. Last year the Foreign and Commonwealth Office launched a new Strategy for the Prevention of Torture”. This sets out the Government’s policy on torture prevention and explains the approach the FCO is taking to contribute to international efforts to prevent torture. The strategy, which sets out the FCO’s policy to 2015, offers guidance to FCO posts on how they can contribute to preventing torture overseas. This will primarily involve working in partnership with other countries and organisations to tackle the problem. Further information about the FCO’s work on torture prevention and a copy of the strategy can be found at

Yours Sincerely
Tom McNally

One thought on “Statement from UK Government on prisoner isolation

  1. As a disabled victim.of torture who as a innocent victim of crime I have been deprived of my liberty and mobility held in solitary confident for two years being subjected to psychological torture in a malicious prosecution that had no case to start with yet I have been left with brain damage after being refused access to serviced as a disabled person living in inhumane conditions as a disabled person since July 2011


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