Amnesty Report: Iceland “Vastly Overusing” Solitary Confinement Skip to content
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Amnesty Report: Iceland “Vastly Overusing” Solitary Confinement

Iceland is “vastly overusing” solitary confinement in pre-trial detention a new report released by Amnesty International finds. The Director of the Icelandic Association of Betterment agrees with the report’s findings.

825 individuals placed in pre-trial solitary over past decade

On Tuesday, Amnesty International – an international non-governmental organisation focused on human rights – released a report on the harmful and unjustified use of pre-trial solitary confinement in Iceland.

The report, which is based on research and interviews with experts from across the justice system, along with individuals who have been subjected to solitary confinement, finds that “Iceland routinely applies solitary confinement for prolonged periods and even to people with pre-existing vulnerabilities, such as children and people with disabilities that would be exacerbated by solitary confinement.”

“Data obtained by Amnesty International shows that over the 10 years between 2012 and 2021, 825 individuals were placed in pre-trial solitary confinement in Iceland. Of these, 10 were aged between 15 and 17. In a small country with low rates of imprisonment generally, and pre-trial detention specifically, these figures are troubling,” the report notes.

The authors of the report state that solitary confinement is inherently problematic as far as the potential for human rights violations is concerned. International standards dictate that solitary confinement should be used only in the most exceptional cases and should always be subject to rigorous scrutiny. “Any use of solitary confinement can amount to torture,” the report notes.

Devastating effects of solitary confinement

Guðmundur Ingi Þóroddsson, chairman of Afstaða, the Icelandic Association of Betterment, agrees with the reports’ assessment. “We’ve seen devastating examples of how this affects people, even for a short period of time; some people don’t recover,” Guðmundur told RÚV this week.

Guðmundur, who has himself spent time in solitary confinement, stated that isolation amounted to nothing less than torture and that people often break on the first day.

“And it’s used on people who are mentally disabled or impaired, who face different kinds of problems, where this kind of detention only serves to exacerbate these problems, until they become completely out of control, and that’s what we’re seeing today. We have individuals in the system today who are worse off from being placed in isolation. But it is also because there are no other resources available in this country,” Guðmundur added.

A call for government action

One of the aims of Amnesty’s report is to catalyse a revision to the current legislation. The report concludes with a series of recommendations that the organisation urges the government to take.

These include:

  • Revising the Code of Criminal Procedure to remove the possibility of applying solitary confinement solely to prevent interference with, or protect the integrity of, a police investigation.
  • Identifying and introducing measures that would provide less restrictive alternatives to solitary confinement.
  • Prioritising urgent action to ensure that the application of solitary confinement is explicitly
    Prohibited on children; on persons with disabilities caused by physical, mental health or neurodiverse conditions that would be exacerbated by solitary confinement; for any longer than 15 days.
  • Introducing stronger safeguards to ensure that where solitary confinement is imposed, it is in line with human rights standards, including the prohibition of torture and the rights to fair trial and non-discrimination.

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