The Human Rights Implications of Solitary Confinement, Extreme Sentencing, and the Death Penalty

In the past two years, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, has condemned the death penalty and solitary confinement, finding that the imposition of these punishments can constitute torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Mendez called for the absolute prohibition of the death penalty and solitary confinement on juveniles and persons with mental disabilities. He additionally recommended the implementation of alternative disciplinary sanctions, and called for the universal prohibition of solitary confinement exceeding 15 days.

In addition to these practices, extreme criminal sentencing, such as life without the possibility of parole and consecutive sentencing statutes that result in excessively long periods of incarceration, have led to over-incarceration in some States, most notably in the United States.  These sentencing schemes fail to uphold rehabilitation as the goal of incarceration. 

The ACLU, Human Rights Advocates, and Penal Reform International, with the co-sponsorship of the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN in Geneva, will host a side event at the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council on March 5 examining each of these issues related to sentencing, punishment, and incarceration in the context of accepted and evolving international human rights standards.  The panelists will provide recommendations for the future to promote and protect human dignity for incarcerated individuals and those facing the death penalty.

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