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Author: Bhagyashree Behera, II year of B.A.,LL.B. from National Law University Odisha


The practice of solitary confinement can be long traced back in United States of America during 1800s. It was initially experimented by the US prison officials under the assumption that it would be a practice where the accused would repent over the sins he had committed. However, this practice actually did not turn out to be as expected by the US officials. The prisoners in solitary confinement started to develop mental disorder which is also known as “prison psychosis”.

This practice had risen up to a large extent in western countries prison. However, let us know what solitary confinement mean in general terms. The word solitary confinement can be defined as the confinement or punishment where a person has minimal or no communication with other human beings or prisoners. There is complete isolation where they do not have any form of human contact with them. Kishore Singh Ravinder Dev v State of Rajasthan case had defined the term solitary confinement. It stated that, “solitary confinement as confinement wherein there is complete isolation of prisoners from other co-prisoners and isolation from the outside world.” UN standard minimum rule for the treatment of prisoners had also defined solitary confinement where it stated that “the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact.”[1]

Solitary confinement is itself is cruellest form of punishment which are still in practice by various nations irrespective of various laws and regulations. This was widely followed by western countries where they confined prisoners in order to discipline them or due to some risk of them getting freed from the prison. In early 1970s, it was observed that the US used this practice in order to brainwash the prisoners of war during the Korean War. It was also followed byScandinavian countries prisons as an internal part during the pre-trail period as a measure for smooth investigation since decades which is creating significant problem in recent time.


This paper aims at studying the history of solitary confinement and the way it was experimented by different nations to punish their prisoners. However, this practice resulted various negative impact on these prisoners which would be discussed further. Further, this paper aims at studying solitary confinement as a practice in Indian context, SC opinion on this and how it violated fundamental rights of a person.

This paper had also focused on studying this practice used by Myanmar government in order to punish its political prisoners. It had also been discussed that the prison condition is so pathetic that even if the prisoners try to raise the voice, they would be tortured to death. There had been a comparative analysis between both the penal code and their similarities and differences had been discussed.


1. To discuss the history of solitary confinement and that as a tool for experiment in various nation.

2. To discuss the history of this practice in Indian context and analyse its consequences on legal system.

3. To discuss Myanmar’s perspective on this practice and the situation at present.

4. To have a comparative analysis of both the penal codes.


The research for the project is conducted by using secondary data. The author has also analysed the findings of the various researchers who have conducted research on this subject. The method of the citation used in the project is OSCOLA.


In 1829, the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia launches the nation's first trial of solitary confinement. It supported the Quaker belief that prisoners kept in stone cells with nothing but a Bible would take advantage of the chance to confess their sins, pray, and seek forgiveness. The programme is gradually discontinued over time, though, since many of the inmates suffer from mental illness, kill themselves, or are no longer able to contribute to society.

Disengagement, SHU (special lodging units), official segregation, supermax prisons, the opening, administration control units, interchanges administration units, and security threat aggregate administrative entities, proactive or automated defence, special units such A steel door should be used as a barrier for 22 to 24 hours a day.

Numerous prisoners have very little or no contact with other people, including their family members; they rarely receive phone calls or non-contact family visits; they have very little access to rehabilitative training or educational programming; their access to adequate medical and mental health care is very rare; they are rarely given personal property; and they frequently endure physical abuse like forced cell extraction and restraint chairs.

Limitation of solitary confinement

If a person is sentenced to isolation as part of the death penalty, their confinement should not last longer than 14 days in any given month, with breaks not less than that length of time. If their detention period is longer than three months, their isolation should not last longer than 7 days in any given month of their entire detention period, with breaks not less than that length of time

  • Three months in total (Section 73).[2]

  • A total of 14 days, with at least 14-day intervals.

  • 7 days in a multi-month detention with less than 7-day interims if the detention allowed is more than 3 months (Section 74).[3]

Solitary confinement abolition

A punishment is anything that is delivered to a wrongdoer in order for them to recognise their error and flaws. Those sanctions should be administered in such a way that the offender does not repeat the offence. As a result, the punishment should be teachable and not cause the detainees to become mentally or physically weak or stressed. Many persons who have been subjected to the penalty have asked for it to be abolished.Several researchers have stated their study against solitary imprisonment in order to invalidate this punishment. Brodsley and Scogin also point out that social isolation is the root of the harmful mental health impacts of single-cell confinement. Brodsley tested the effects by enlisting the help of 69 inmates to complete the Isolation. The purpose of the test was to assess the inmates' mental health. He observed that 66 percent of the inmates have a mental disease, 45 percent have anxiety, and 36 percent have persistent depression, according to his research. He also demonstrated that solitary confinement had an impact on their sensory capacities. Solitary confinement, according to many academics, has negative consequences for the prisoners.

DanoldO.Hebb (1951) also wanted to express how incarceration, particularly solitary confinement, had affected his sensory perception. He also demonstrated that their sensory abilities were harmed as a result of the solitary confinement. Many researchers believe that solitary confinement has negative consequences for inmates.

Reason for abolition of solitary confinement

Prisoners who commit a number of offences, from major ones like fighting with another prisoner to minor ones like talking back to a guard or being caught with a pack of cigarettes, may be punished by being placed in solitary confinement. Sometimes inmates are kept in solitary confinement without obvious cause. Prisons have employed solitary confinement to combat gang activity by separating inmates who have just spoken to a potential gang member. Inmates who engage in political activities have also been sent to solitary confinement as a form of punishment.

There is certain effects which happens if there is long term solitary confinement. These are both physical and mental consequences. Visual hallucination, insomnia, post-traumatic stress order etc. are some of them.


Solitary confinement is allowed by Section 29 of the Prisons Act and Sections 73 and 74 of the Indian Penal Code. The court has the authority to mandate that an offender be confined in solitary confinement for a total of three months after receiving a heavy jail term under the Indian Penal Code.[4]

The use of isolation or solitary confinement as a form of punishment is constrained under Section 74. Given the severity of solitary confinement, lawmakers have made it plain that no prisoner can be kept for longer than 14 days at a time. According to the provision, solitary confinement may only be used for a maximum of three months at a time. If it is used for more than three months, solitary confinement may only be utilised for a maximum of seven days every month. In order to enforce these limits without violating the convicts' fundamental human rights, legislators employed section 74 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. This is because solitary confinement is harsh, brutal, and agonising.

According to the Prisons Act, a prisoner may be placed in isolation for two reasons: first, to discipline them; and second, if they are scheduled to receive the death penalty. It is crucial to stress that, in this context, the phrase “sentenced to death” has been understood to mean that a person has been handed a firm, enforceable death sentence. This indicates that it is against Article 21 if someone is placed in solitary confinement prior to having their mercy request refused.In Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, 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 if it is not in accordance with the Prisons Act.[5]

It has been determined that the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 includes the right to a life with dignity for humans as well as for animals.As a result, every act that violates one's human dignity can be considered to be undermining and depriving one's right to life. The same is true for prisoners; due to their responsibility and imprisonment, it is not permitted to violate their fundamental rights, and their human dignity must be respected at all times. Sunil Batra II v. Delhi Administration[6]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, because it causes bodily and mental suffering to individuals who are subjected to it. It was also noted that restricting the ability to move, mingle, and be in the company of other convicts, unless justified by law, breaches Article 21. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights promotes the recognition of every individual's dignity, even that of those facing criminal charges.

Constitutionality and judicial interpretation on solitary confinement

There was a lot of debate which was happening on the constitutionality of solitary confinement, whether it’s good or bad. However, from research it could have been inferred that many researchers had variety in opinions. Some discussed the benefits of solitary confinement whereas some viewed solitary confinement as the most inhuman punishment. Those who talked against this practice stated that it violated Article 21 of the constitution as it disrupts the basic concept of human dignity and therefore they are unconstitutional. It also violated human rights of the person and causes serious health concerns both physically and mentally.

In several instances this practices violates various types of fundamental rights of a person such as article 14, 19 and 21of the constitution.

According to Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, "no person should be denied equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India." As a result, Article 14 and its parts should be viewed as such. Article 14 is extremely beneficial for all residents and serves as a foundation for prison officials in determining the types of inmates in custody.[7]

All people of India are granted nearly six liberties under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. Because of the nature of these liberties, certain provided freedoms are not permitted to be exercised by inmates. However, the freedom of speech and expression as well as the freedom to join an organisation are permitted to be enjoyed by the inmates. [8]

Article 21 of India's Constitution states that "no one shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except in accordance with legal procedure." [9]In this article, the concepts of liberty and the right to life are defined. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution makes it clear that it is accessible to both the general public and people who are imprisoned. The rights of convicts listed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution are as follows:

  • To have protective homes.

  • To have free legal aid.

  • To have fair and speedy trail.

  • To have protection against any kind of custodial violence in police lock-ups.

In addition, the 1984 Prisoners Act grants these inmates a number of privileges. The first law controlling prisons in the nation was the Indian Prisons Act of 1894. This Act's main focus is on the rehabilitation of prisoners in light of the rights that have been granted to them. The Prisons Act of 1894's subsequent provisions address prisoner reform:-

  • Requirements for the medical examination of inmates by a licenced medical officer;

  • Requirements for the shelter and safe custody of the excess number of inmates who cannot be housed in any jail safely.

  • Arrangements for medical examinations of convicts by licenced medical officers.

  • Requirements pertaining to prisoner separation, such as segregating male and female detainees, criminal and civil inmates, and convicts with and without convictions.[10]

The Prisons (Amendment) Bill, which amends the Prisons Act, 1894, was enacted by Parliament in 2016 with the goal of providing protection, rehabilitation, and welfare to convicts.

There are certain case laws where the court had decided upon the solitary confinement and it legality. They are as follows:

Unni Krishnan &ors v. State of Andhra Pradesh &ors:[11]

According to the Supreme Court's order, “the right against solitary confinement is one of the rights protected by Article 21 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court of India has ruled that the right against solitary confinement falls under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution's Right to Life.”

Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration: [12]

The Supreme Court stated unequivocally that solitary or single cell detention is a prerequisite for the President of India's denial of mercy petitions, as in past cases, and that this is unconstitutional. Solitary imprisonment was imposed in this case under section 30 of the (2). Long periods of solitary confinement, according to the Supreme Court, are harmful to the physical and emotional health of people who are exposed to it. In this case, the court rules that solitary confinement is no longer used in the United Kingdom, yet it is still used in the United States. They claim that solitary confinement is used in some cases.

Kishore Singh Ravinder Dev v. State of Rajasthan:[13]

Supreme Court in this case held that in exceptional cases this punishment can be awarded to the convict. Furthermore, the court also opined that if the prisoner were being kept in isolations for a period of eight or twelve months, then would be enough to be regarded as torture and would lead to violation of laws which had been laid down by SC in Sunil Batra case.

State of Uttarakhand v. Mehtab

The debate over the legitimacy of the solitary confinement can be considered as old as the solitary confinement punishment itself. Advocates in favour of its abolition say that it is inhuman, barbaric and most torturous punishment as it violates basic human right. So, in the view of its increasing trend towards its abolition, Uttarakhand High Court delivered a judgment and held that to keep the inmate in solitary confinement before the exhaustion of his rights (constitutional, legal and fundamental) is violative of constitution. According to the Bench, solitary confinement is not a part of the punishment but it amounts to the additional punishment adopted by the jail authorities. What happens is as soon as the punishment of death penalty is confirmed, jail authorities put the convict in isolation in a solitary confinement which secludes him from any type of contact from the co-prisoners. Court in the above mentioned case abolishes this practice and held it unconstitutional. The convict shall not be isolated till the death sentence has become final, conclusive and indefeasible which cannot be challenged or further annulled or voided by any procedure. Further, court was of the opinion that the prisoner can be kept in solitary confinement for the shortest possible time. Court advocated that such treatment is barbaric, inhuman which causes immense pain and agony and violates Articles 20(2) and 21of the Indian Constitution. So, with this decision, High Court has abolished the practice to keep death row convicts in solitary confinement after the sentence is pronounced.


Section 73 of Myanmar Penal Code mentions solitary confinement [14]and section 74 mentions the limits this practice. Both the sections having the similar wording to that of section 73 and 74 of IPC. However they had been interpreted differently by Myanmar. [15]

This practice is used by the Myanmar government in several circumstances from case to case basis or as the circumstance might be against the political leaders who speak for their rights or rights of others.

All together there are three circumstances where the political prisoners had experienced solitary confinement. These circumstances are:

  • At the time of interrogation: During this time, solitary confinement of political prisoners are very common. Most of Burmese prisoners had experienced this. Torture is the most prominent activity during this practice. Solitary confinement lasts the same amount of time as the questioning, with the level of torture reducing as time goes on. Torture is aided by solitary confinement. The communication with the outside world for them is completely negligible, increasing the secrecy and impunity with which torture is carried out. It also restricts any kind of information being shared about the case, including specifics about the case and the individual involved. It's also suspected of being used to impede the sharing of anti-torture measures.

  • At the time of arrival in the prison: When these political prisoners were put into solitary confinement immediately after their arrival in the prison. This was due to the risk of them being dissident. This is used as a tool to punishment the more severely for the offences they have had committed. Solitary confinement is being used as a practice for sentencing in many cases and as a tool for additional punishment for the crimes committed outside the jails. The inmates were kept in dog cells which were used as a tool to punish

  • Solitary confinement as a punishment while being in the prison: During their time in prison, some of the inmates were kept in solitary confinement. This was usually done when they had spoken about their legal rights after they had been put in the prison. U Aung Aung, for example, was put in solitary prison after participating in a strike. After speaking up for a fellow political prisoner who he believed had been beaten, U Myo Ye was imprisoned in solitary confinement. They stood up for their rights in both cases and were sentenced to solitary confinement as a result. From the research it can be stated that this practice completely arbitrary and politically motivated. Some of these political prisoners had been staying in prison since numerous years which is against Jail manual of their prison system.

Who all were punished and put into solitary confinement and how were they treated?

In Myanmar, most of the political leaders are put into solitary confinement for their actions. Whenever they raised their voice against the unjust happening around, they were put into prisons to stop the demonstration. Political prisoners in the prison of Myanmar is very common. The inmates were held captive for political reasons, including defending their basic human rights. These were suppressed by arbitrary, politicised laws aimed at suppressing this form of opposition. The trial is unjust, unpredictable, and closed to the public. This is something we see in prison. If a political prisoner defends his or her rights, such as by striking, he or she may be treated unfairly and arbitrarily.

They were put in dog cells and they used to say that these cells were the death row of the prisoners. Clearly these cells were the most horrifying thing as these cells gave extra psychological stress to the prisoners. These cells had small windows or no windows.These political leader were not allowed to go out of the cells and even if they were allowed to go out then they could only go to have bath and they were not provided with towel. Instead they were provided with a sack of sand. And after few days the cell would be muddy and maggots would flood into the cell.

They were also put on heavy shackles and huge iron ones and there was complete restriction on their movement. "The use of shackles, irons, or other means of constraint that are intrinsically demeaning or painful shall be forbidden," according to UN Mandela rule 47(1). This restriction applies unless there is a transfer or a considerable risk of escape, which is not the case. Rather, it is a wasteful and humiliating activity.

Solitary confinement and torture are interlinked. Usually at the stage of interrogation these political prisoners were put in solitary confinement. This practice is used as a tool to repress the political prisoners. A separate section of the prison are being dedicated for these cells which are away from the other inmates. This was done in order for what happened to them, such as these beatings, to go unnoticed due to their solitary confinement. Again, this practice is being utilised by the officials to amplify the end result of torture while at the same time concealing them.

These all things violate human rights of these prisoners in many ways. The UN Universal declaration of human rights, 1945 protects the prisoners from any kind of torture in the prison. Article 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11 etc, does protect the rights of the prisoners. UN Standard Minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, 1955 laid down certain rules that would protect the human rights of the prisoners.


Chapter 3 of IPC talks about the punishments whereby section 73 and 74 talks about the solitary confinement and the limits for the same respectively. Both the jurisdiction has its own penal code however, it can be inferred from the bare reading of both the sections that they both have the same wording. Both Indian and Myanmar Penal Code uses Chapter 3 to prescribe its punishment and the sections wherein the punishment is prescribed is completelysimilar i.e. Section 73 and 74 of both the penal codes prescribe the punishment of solitary confinement and limits the same simultaneously.

From the code it can be inferred that, section 73 of IPC give the power to keep the convict in solitary confinement. However, this time period cannot exceed three months in total. The interpretation of this had been given in a wider way whereby it had been clearly stated time period of solitary confinement according to the term of imprisonment.

Section 74 of the code limits the solitary confinement whereby it states that the punishment of solitary confinement must not exceed 14 days at one go. That means if any authority is sending any convict to solitary confinement then that cannot exceed 14 days at a time. And as a whole this punishment cannot exceed 3 months. Even if it exceeds, then it must not exceed 7 days in a month.

The Supreme Court on this matter had discussed widely in several cases that complete isolation of a prisoner from the outer world is not acceptable and would amount to violation of basic human rights. Courts had interpreted that in some cases this practice is acceptable of this situation demands so. Otherwise, this practice may be avoided as this causes physical and emotional trauma to the prisoners. The legislator had also introduced laws for the protection of the rights of vulnerable prisoners who cannot even raise their voice due to fear.

The wording of both the sections are completely similar to that of Myanmar penal code. However, the courts of Myanmar had not interpreted in a proper manner. The reason being, that the constitution of Myanmar does not have any type of fundamental rights or civil liberties mentioned. Even if any political leader stand for the rights of the people, they get supressed by the existing government. These political prisoners can’t even raise their voice against the unjust done by the officials an even if they do, they were put into the solitary confinement. Then they were mistreated and tortured for no reason. Their basic human rights gets violated due to this. However, no proper course of action had been taken by the government officials of the Myanmar. Almost 32% of the prisoners were kept in solitary confinement during the interrogation stage of the case. Burma’s prisoners were kept in inhuman dog cells where there is only a small window or no window and there would be only one pot for the toilet. They were all chained with iron and were tortured if they raised their voice against the unjust caused by the officials.

Both might have the same section with the same wording, however, the interpretation by both the jurisdiction is completely different. The Indian courts and legislator had decided upon various issues pertaining to solitary confinement and introduced various laws in order to safeguard the rights of prisoners. Whereas on the other hand the Myanmar courts had not yet spoken on this issue. The political prisoners who are still in solitary for numerous years had not got any fair trial. Their human rights are getting violated. They are tortured both physically and emotionally. However, no concreate course of action had been laid out yet.


This practice of secluding prisoners from the outer world might be a type of rigorous punishment according to the officials. However, the mental and physical breakdown which they go through cannot be explained. The prisoners might not be able to raise their voice against this unjust but there is a state which must look for their rights and protecting the same. Indian courts and authorities had worked on this and took this matter seriously and restricted this practice to some cases as the judiciary and executive might fell right. The legislations had restricted this practice by imposing various limitation which had been discussed above. The courts with passing times had spoken that if the inmates are being kept in solitary before the exhaustion of their rights then that is the violation of fundamental right. But, the Myanmar prisoners are not getting any type of remedies from their government and for that international communities must join hands in order to preserve the rights of prisoners. There must be proper checks and balances in the prison so that this practice can be wiped out slowly.

[1] 1981 (1) SCR 995. [2] Indian Penal Code 1860, s. 73. [3]Indian Penal Code 1860, s. 74. [4] The Prisoners Act 1900, s.29. [5](1980) 2 SCR 557. [6] (1979) 1 SCR 392. [7] Constitution of India 1950, a 14. [8] Constitution of India 1950, a 19. [9] Constitution of India 1950, a 21. [10] The prisoners Act 1894, s. 18. [11] (1993) 1 SCR 594. [12] Sunil Batra (n 5). [13] (1981) 1 SCR 995. [14] Myanmar Penal code 1861, s. 73. [15] Myanmar Penal code 1861, s. 74.

1. ‘Solitary Confinement’ (association for prevention of torture 13 September 2014), accessed 2 April 2022.

4. Myanmar Now, ‘Jailed Myanmar Now reporter put in solitary confinement after starting fast for Ramadan’ (Myanmar Now, 6 May 2021), accessed 2 April 2022.

5. Nola Weerwag,‘Solitary Confinement as a Human Rights Concern: A Case study of Burma’s Political Prisoners’ (Munin, 11 November 2015), accessed 2 April 2022.


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