Solitary confinement in India

Solitary confinement in India

Author: Ishita Jaiswal
II Year | Dr. D. Y. Patil Law College, Pune

Introduction to Solitary confinement in India:

Solitary confinement is a type of incarceration in which a prisoner is segregated from other inmates and is constantly monitored. The history of solitary confinement in the Indian Legal System can be traced back decades. For a variety of reasons, inmates are placed in solitary confinement. They are placed in solitary confinement as a form of punishment for what is deemed excessive behaviour, such as aggression against fellow inmates. They are usually forced to stay there for a set period of time as a disciplinary measure.

In some cases, jail officials impose solitary confinement on specific individuals or groups for an indefinite amount of time. Solitary confinement is employed in cases where the safety of prisoners may be jeopardised. It has been proven that such imprisonment is torturous. At the same time, it has a negative impact on the prisoner’s overall health, be it physical or mental.

Origin of Solitary confinement in India:

The idea of isolating criminals to control them was firstly proposed by Quaker in the late 1700s. He saw it as a humanitarian way to let evildoers see the mistake of their ways.[1] In 1790, the Walnut Street jail in Philadelphia became one of the first in the US to separate violent offenders.[2] Thereafter, Pennsylvania established the Eastern State Penitentiary in the 1820s when inmates were confined in solitary confinement.[3] Solitary confinement was also frequently employed in other countries, often to torture captives or prevent them from speaking out.

Back then, it was assumed that inmates in isolation would spend their time “repenting their crimes.” However, the outcomes were far from what they had planned. Solitary confinement led to the development of mental diseases, which are frequently referred to as “prison psychosis.” The risks of solitary confinement were recognised by US Supreme Court in 1890, and the practice was gradually phased out.[4]

Law on Solitary Confinement in India:

In Kishore Singh Ravinder Dev v. State of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court characterised solitary confinement as a brutal type of incarceration. It observed that in solitary confinement, inmates are completely isolated from their fellow inmates and separated from the outside world.[5] It is a drastic measure that should only be used in extreme circumstances of unimaginable brutality and atrocity. According to the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners[6], solitary confinement is defined as a confinement of a prisoner for twenty-two hours or more a day without any human contact.

Sections 73 and 74 of the Indian Penal Code[7], as well as Section 29 of the Prisons Act, provide provisions for solitary imprisonment. In case of harsh imprisonment under IPC, the court has power to order the offender be held in solitary confinement. However, it can not be for more than a total of three months.

Under the Prisons Act, a convict can be held in solitary confinement for two reasons: firstly, to discipline them, and secondly, if they are facing capital punishment. In this context, it’s vital to emphasise that the word “sentenced to death” has been interpreted to signify that a person has been given a definitive, executable death sentence. However, a person should not be put in solitary confinement before the denial of their mercy plea, lest it should violate Article 21.

Judicial View:

In Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration[8], it was established that prison authorities are not permitted to place detainees in solitary confinement, as this would be a violation of the Prisons Act. Only the courts have the authority to mandate that offenders be held in solitary confinement. As a result, in the current situation, convicts have a right to be released from solitary confinement.

In Sunil Batra II v. Delhi Administration[9], the court established that jails cannot deprive persons who are legally incarcerated of their fundamental rights. Solitary confinement has a demeaning and degrading effect on people. According to the court in Sunil Batra, it causes bodily and mental suffering to individuals who are subjected to it. It was also noted that restricting the right to move, mingle, and be in the company of other prisoners is unjustified. It violates Article 21 of such person, unless justified by the law.

Apex Court on Solitary Confinement in India:

The Supreme Court ruled in Unni Krishnan & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors.,[10] that the right against solitary confinement is one of the constitutional rights protected by Article 21 (Right to Life). In this case, the Supreme Court declared that the right against solitary confinement is protected by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution’s Right to Life.

The Supreme Court held in Kishore Singh Ravinder Dev v State of Rajasthan[11] that keeping the prisoners in separate solitary rooms for long periods of time ranging from 8 to 11 months, shackling them for several days on the feeble grounds of loitering in the prison, behaving insolently and in an uncivilized manner is the articulate negligence of the precedent set in the Sunil Batra case. As a result, the prisoner can only be held in solitary confinement in the most extreme of circumstances.

The Supreme Court observed in Union of India v. Dharam Pal[12] that the respondent, a death convict, had spent more than 25 years in prison, 18 of which were spent in solitary confinement, and that he was kept in solitary confinement in various jails during the time the President was considering his mercy petition, which is illegal and amounts to separate and additional punishment not authorized by law.

Conclusion and Suggestion:

Solitary confinement should only be utilized for a prisoner’s safety and protection. At the same time, it should also not be used as a form of punishment. Detainees in solitary confinement live in complete isolation, with the exception of prison staff, and are denied any sort of human interaction. Solitary confinement is legal under Sections 73 and 74 of the IPC, but it is subject to specific restrictions due to its severe character, which affects the prisoner both mentally and physically.

It has a negative impact on mental health and can also exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues. When detainees are held in solitary confinement, their physical health is jeopardized.

With the passage of time, the judiciary has begun to rule in favour of its repeal, ruling that keeping an offender in solitary confinement before his constitutional, legal, and fundamental rights have been exhausted is a violation of the constitution. Many initiatives among human rights organisations and mental health professionals are pushing for the practice of isolating inmates to be limited, if not abolished entirely, based on research on the risks of solitary confinement.

[1] Quakers Know Prisons from the Inside Out, The Friends Committee on National Legislation, July 25, 2022,  

[2] Id.

[3] A Historical Overview of Inmate Labor in Pennsylvania, Department of Corrections, July 25, 2022,

[4] Chrissy Packtor, History and Health Consequences of Solitary Confinement, Public Health Post, July 26, 2022  

[5] AIR 1981 SC 625

[6] Also Known as Nelson Mandela Rules.

[7] Indian Penal Code, 1860

[8]  (1978) 4 SCC 494

[9] AIR 1980 SC 1579

[10] 1993 AIR 2178

[11] 1981 SCR (1) 995

[12] Criminal Appeal No. 000804-000804 / 2019.

Editor: Ashish Ranjan

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