Progress in the
Penal System (PIPS)

26: Solitary confinement

Standard 26:

Solitary confinement is used as a last resort and only in exceptional circumstances. It is used for the shortest period possible, and for a maximum of 15 days. Reasons for and lengths of time a prisoner is held in solitary confinement must be recorded.


Solitary confinement has damaging physical and psychological effects on an individual. Medical research demonstrates that the denial of meaningful human contact can lead to ‘isolation syndrome’ [550] with a range of symptoms including anxiety, depression, anger, self-harm and suicide. As highlighted in IPRT’s (2018) report [551] on solitary confinement, “the exceptional and devastating harm to prisoners’ mental health that can be caused by extended periods of isolation means the practice of holding any category of prisoner on 22- or 23-hour lock up must be abolished”. [552]

Current context:

There were a number of positive developments in 2017 towards addressing the issue of solitary confinement, including: the introduction of the Prison (Amendment) Rules, [553] the development of a policy on the elimination of solitary confinement [554] by the Irish Prison Service, and the debating of the Prisons (Solitary Confinement) (Amendment) Bill 2016 (Private Members’ Bill) (PMB). [555] However, this Bill has not progressed any further in 2018.

Indicators for Standard:

Indicators for Standard 26

Indicator S26.1: The number of prisoners on 22–24-hour lock up: Census figures [556] provided by the Irish Prison Service show that 12 prisoners were being held in solitary confinement in April 2018.This compares to 44 in April 2017. [557] However, the most recently published census [558] figures show an increase, with 35 individuals currently held in solitary confinement. Of these individuals held on 23-hour lock up, two were between the ages of 18 and 20, one was aged between 21 and 24, and two were over 25. [559]

Indicator S26.2: The duration spent by prisoners on 22–24-hour lock up: In a recent PQ [560] it was stated that information on the duration of time prisoners spend on 22–24-hour lock up was not available.

Progressive Practice:

IPRT: ‘Behind the Door’: Solitary Confinement in the Irish Penal System

Following a review of initiatives 561 to reduce the use of solitary confinement internationally, some key conclusions can be drawn and should be reflected upon by the relevant changemakers:

Actions required:

Action 26.1: The Irish Prison Service must ensure that prisoners held in solitary confinement have at least two hours of meaningful human contact daily.
Action 26.2: Legislators should progress the Prisons (Solitary Confinement) (Amendment) Bill 2016, which provides for strict limitations on scope and the length of time for which solitary confinement can be imposed.
Action 26.3: The Irish Prison Service should reduce the number of prisoners being held in solitary confinement and develop and implement transition programmes for prisoners returning to (i) the general prison population (ii) the community.


IPRT Irish Penal Reform Trust


Copyright 2019 Irish Penal Reform Trust. CHY number: 11091

viewed here