British prison authorities are holding child inmates in solitary confinement in possible violation of United Nations torture rules, according to an investigation.
Inspection reports have revealed that some children locked in solitary confinement have been driven to self-harm because of the severe emotional distress caused by harsh prison conditions, The Independent has uncovered.
In one case, a teenage inmate with a serious mental health condition suffered considerable psychological damage after being held in solitary confinement inside a number of British jails for six months, the report said.
Members of Parliament called for an urgent investigation into the findings, which may be in breach of the UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“These are incredible allegations that fly in the face of Britain’s obligations both domestically, at European level and internationally,” Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, told the newspaper.
“The use of solitary confinement should be kept to a bare minimum regardless of age but is incomprehensible for juveniles,” the MP added.
Lawyers for a boy who is currently being held in solitary have launched legal action against the British government in the High Court for a judicial review.
The UN special rapporteur on torture has stated that “the imposition of solitary confinement, of any duration, on juveniles is cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” which contravenes UN rules.
The Ministry of Justice denies that such practice is taking place in the UK, arguing that “segregation” of minors is only to ensure their own safety.
Lawyers refute the government’s account, saying “segregation” at some prisons meets the legal definition of solitary confinement.
The Independent’s investigation has found that the government has known since at least 2015 that “segregation” practices amounting to solitary confinement have taken place at some young offender institutions in the country.
The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the Mandela Rules, define solitary confinement as “the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact.”