The Medical Role in Solitary Confinement

British Medical Association (BMA) | Updated 2018-04-18 | see for full resources and downloads

Guidance for doctors on the use of solitary confinement in the youth secure estate

View looking through security inspection window to a detained prisoner in a modern UK prison cell with locked door (photo source: BMA)

Isolation, segregation, separation, removal from association, single unlock: these names are used, often interchangeably, across detention settings to describe the practice of solitary confinement, where an individual is physically and socially isolated from others for a prolonged period of time.

Its use is widespread in the youth justice system in the United Kingdom, where it is estimated that up to 38 per cent of boys in detention have spent time in solitary confinement, with stays of over 80 days being reported. Compounding this is a growing practice of holding children in conditions of solitary confinement in their own cells or rooms for upwards of 22 hours a day – largely as a result of staff shortages and increased violence in the youth justice system.

There is clear evidence that solitary confinement can have a profound, and lasting, adverse impact on health and wellbeing. As a result, we do not believe that its use can ever be sanctioned on children and young people.

It is clear, however, that as long as the practice continues, the youth justice system must ensure that the health needs of those in solitary confinement are met.

Read more (BMA website)