Amnesty International reports that Iceland’s overuse of solitary confinement in pre-trial detention, violating the prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, with grave consequences for the accused and for their right to a fair trial.
In 2021, 61% of remand detainees were placed in solitary confinement. In the previous ten years, ninety-nine individuals were subjected to ‘prolonged solitary confinement’ for longer than 15 days, violating the international prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (other ill-treatment).
“Icelandic authorities have been aware of the harms that solitary confinement causes, and their overuse of it, for years. Yet still, every year on average over 80 people, including children and some people with intellectual disabilities, are locked in cells alone for over 22 hours per day. Icelandic authorities have been aware of the harms that solitary confinement causes. It has been an effort for preventing and eradicating ill- treatment and torture In Europe.
Under the international law, the use of solitary confinement can be permissible under international law with the exception for a minimum period possible time, and should be subjected to adequate safeguards to ensure its use is justified. There are no safeguards to protect those who are at high risk of harm from being placed in solitary confinement. This includes those with physical or intellectual disabilities which could be exacerbated by being isolated. This will include some people with neurodiverse conditions. The police do not screen people for health conditions prior to requesting solitary confinement. The safeguards to protect children from being placed in solitary confinement are also woefully inadequate. It is believed that the Judges trust the police and approve requests to isolate suspects with little scrutiny. However, holding a person in solitary confinement before trial can be considered a form of coercion even though the main justification put forward by the authorities for the use of solitary confinement in Iceland is for the ‘protection of the investigation’.
Risks of solitary confinement:
- The serious psychological and physiological effects of the use of solitary confinement have been documented to induce insomnia, confusion, hallucinations and psychosis, as well as other health issues. Those can occur after only a few days, and pre-trial detainees have an increased rate of suicide and self-harm within the first two weeks of solitary confinement. Health risks rise with each additional day spent in such conditions.
- Through the excessive use of solitary confinement, Icelanders violate, among other things, the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment with serious consequences for defendants and their right to a fair trial.
- This voice against such punishment warns the European Council, as a wakeup call for the Icelandic government who currently holds the Presidency of the Council of Europe, to commit itself to making important and immediate reforms, so that isolationism is never applied in the interests of research.