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Around 200 years ago, the mind-set to detainment facilities, prisoners, and punishment was brutal and boorish. Acknowledgement of the human being in the convicted offender is an idea that has been accepted after a long battle with the state. The Indian socio-legal framework depends on peacefulness, mutual respect, and the human respect of the individual. If an individual commits any crime, it does not imply that by committing a crime, he ceases to be a human being and that he can be denied those aspects of life which comprise human dignity. Indeed even the prisoners have human rights in light of the fact jail torment is not the last drug in the Justice Pharmacopoeia however a confession of failure to do justice to living man. For a detainee, all fundamental rights are an enforceable reality, however, restricted by the reality of detainment.


Solitary confinement can be defined as confinement of a prisoner which secludes him from the sight and communication of other prisoners. It is a form of punishment wherein a prisoner is isolated from any form of human conduct. In the case of Kishore Singh Ravinder Dev v. The State of Rajasthan[1], the Supreme Court described solitary confinement as confinement wherein there is complete isolation of prisoners from other co-prisoners and isolation from the outside world. As per the United Nations Standard Rules for the Treatment of prisoners[2], solitary confinement is the confinement of prisoner for twenty-two hours or more per day without any human contact.


Section 73 of the I.P.C[3] states solitary confinement is permissible only when the perpetrator has committed such an offence under the Code that’s punishable with rigorous imprisonment. The period of solitary confinement must follow the scale provided in this section. Therefore, in instances of imprisonment not exceeding six months, solitary confinement shall not exceed one month, in cases of imprisonment exceeding six months but not exceeding one-year solitary confinement shall not exceed two months, and in cases of imprisonment exceeding one-year solitary confinement shall not exceed three months. The maximum period of solitary confinement provided under this section is three months. But there have been situations where it has been held that in the case of simultaneous convictions, the award of separate terms of solitary confinement, which in the aggregate exceed three months, is legal. This, with respect, does not seem to be the correct position because the principle is that penal statutes are to be strictly construed. This means that punishment can be inflicted on an accused only when his conduct falls under the letter of the law. If a penal provision can rationally be so deciphered as to avoid punishment, it must be so translated. If there can be two or more reasonable constructions of a penal provision, the more lenient one shall be given effect to. Therefore, whether it is a case of one conviction or simultaneous convictions no one can be put to solitary confinement past a quarter of a year.

Section 74 of I.P.C talks about limits of solitary confinement which states that in no case a prisoner should not be kept for more than 14 days at a time. This section authorizes the judiciary that solitary confinement must not be given for more than 3 months and in a case that exceeds three months than in such case solitary confinement shall not exceed seven days in a month.

Section 29 of the Prisons Acts, 1894 states No cell shall be used for solitary confinement unless it is furnished with the means of enabling the prisoner to communicate at any time with an officer of the prison, and every prisoner so confined in a cell for more than twenty-four hours, whether as a punishment or otherwise, shall be visited at least once a day by the Medical Officer or Medical Subordinate.


· Sunil Batra (I) v. Delhi Administration [4]

Sunil Batra filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against the traumatic treatment by jail authorities. Batra, facing the death sentence, challenged his being subject to solitary confinement without judicial sanction.

The court has held that any harsh isolation of prisoners from the society of fellow prisoners under section 29 of The Prisons Act, 1894 must be inflicted only following the fair procedure; and in the absence of which the confinement would be violative of Article 21 of the Constitution.

· Sunil Batra (II) v. Delhi Administration[5]

Mr Batra was a convict under the death sentence and lodged at Tihar Jail in Delhi. He wrote a letter to the Supreme Court alleging that a Jail warden had brutally assaulted one of the prisoners (Prem Chand) who was in solitary confinement with a reason to extract money. The apex court treated this letter as Public Interest Litigation under article 32 of the constitution.

The Supreme Court held that Prem Chand has been tormented unlawfully and the court directed the Superintendent to guarantee that no corporal punishment or personal violence on Prem Chand will be perpetrated. The court further stated that neither the Solitary Confinement nor any other type of hard labour should be imposed without legal evaluation of the Sessions Judge.

· Unni Krishnan & Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors[6]

According to the order from the Supreme Court ―Right against solitary confinement is one of the rights that fall under Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution. In this case, the Apex court proclaims that the right against solitary confinement falls under the Right to Life in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

· Kishore Singh Ravinder Dev v State of Rajasthan[7]

The Supreme Court, in this case, held that by keeping the prisoners in separate solitary rooms for long periods ranging from 8 to 11 months, putting crossbar shackles 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 laid in Sunil Batra case. So the prisoner can be kept in solitary confinement only in rarest of the rare cases otherwise it would be a violation of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

· Union of India v. Dharam Pal[8]

The Supreme Court, in this case, observed that the respondent being a death convict has experienced imprisonment for an all-out time of more than 25 years out of which 18 years were in solitary confinement throughout the time of deciding his mercy petition by the President, he was kept in solitary confinement in various jails, which is as such illicit and sum ups to separate and additional punishment not approved by law.

· State of Uttarakhand v Mehtab, Sushil and Bhura (Uttarakhand HC On Solitary Confinement) [9]

The High court held that the practice to keep the convict in custodial isolation/solitary confinement before the weariness of his constitutional, legal and fundamental rights is unconstitutional. It subsequently nullified the act of keeping death row convicts in isolation immediately after the sentence was articulated, and the High court declared solitary confinement as an “anarchic and remorseless practice which can cause enormous torment, agony and anxiety” to Prisoners. The High Court was of the view that Solitary Confinement violates Article 21 of the constitution that guarantees protection of life and personal liberty.


Scientific research shows that solitary confinement essentially alters an individual’s brain, causing serious and sustained psychological wellness issues, and expanding abnormal and aggressive behaviours. Solitary confinement is damaging to the person in seclusion, as well as to the encompassing network, and it increases recidivism. There is a developing accord about the destructive and counterproductive effect of solitary confinement.[10]  A study[11] on prisoners held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay prison in California found that individuals held in isolation for long periods regularly experience the ill effects of a bunch of mental health issues, including depression, apathy, hallucinations, panic attacks, distrustfulness and hypersensitivity to external stimuli. They also may develop challenges with thinking, focus, and memory; become irritated and violent; experience difficulty in sleeping or have nightmares; and suffer from dizziness, heart palpitations, and sweating hands. These symptoms may stay longer after the person is released or returned in the general jail populace.[12]

The distressing symptoms suffered from time in isolation are accompanied by behavioural changes that directly counteract the purported intention of solitary confinement to reduce violence and conduct issues. Rather, lodging in solitary confinement increases the risk of both selves- and other-coordinated viciousness. States that transformed the use of solitary confinement have reported decreases in serious incidents and use of force in their prisons. As a result of the sustained medical and psychological impacts of this environment, individuals who spend time in solitary confinement are likely to have difficulty reintegrating into society and are more likely to re-offend, indicated by higher paces of recidivism for those who spent huge time in solitary, and significantly more so for those released directly out of solitary into society.[13]


It helps ensure prison safety- From its foundation, the purpose behind solitary confinement in prisons is to confine imprisoned people from being a danger to other people. If a particular individual is posing a danger to other inmates or staff, solitary confinement serves as a security measure for the rest of the prison population.

It gives prison guards another method to discipline inmates- Solitary confinement is an effective method for prison guards to control negative conduct. Punishment techniques allow guards to keep up a sense of order within the prison. Solitary confinement is not intended to be viewed positively by imprisoned people, and it dissuades them from acting in a way that warrants it.

It can reform an inmate’s character- An additional objective of solitary confinement is to give imprisoned people rehabilitation or reform their character. It is contended that a convicted individual left alone with their musings can get into their conscience, engage in internal reflection, and understand the gravity of his or her crime.


A punishment is something which was given to the wrongdoer to make them realize their mistake and faults. Those punishments ought to be given in such a manner that should make the individual not do any wrong again. So the punishment should be learnable, it ought not to make the detainees mentally and physically weak and get affected by stress. So many people who undergo the punishment were requesting to drop this kind of punishment. To nullify this punishment numerous researchers were stating their research against solitary confinement. Brodsley and Scogin (1988, P 279) likewise call attention to that social segregation is the primary cause of the negative mental health effects in single-cell confinement. Brodsley experimented with the impacts by taking 69 prisoners and requested them to finish the Isolation. The Test was to study the psychological condition of the detainees. In the research he discovered that 66% of the prisoners have a mental disorder, 45% of them were with the anxiety and 36% of them were with chronic depression. He also proved that their sensory abilities were affected after solitary confinement. Many researchers suggest that solitary confinement has bad ill effects on the prisoners. In Tamil Nadu, there are no people in the prison kept under solitary confinement. They took into consideration the illness, psychological impacts, and the mental effects that the prisoners suffer due to that kind of ill-treatment.[15]


The U.S. Supreme Court in Manna v. People of Illinois once said that life isn’t merely animal existence. The souls behind the bars cannot be denied the same. It is ensured to every individual by Article 21 of the Constitution and not even the State has the power to disregard that Right. A prisoner, be he a convict or under-trial or a detenu, doesn’t stop to be a human being. They likewise have all the rights which a liberated person has yet under some restrictions. Simply being in jail doesn’t deprive them of their fundamental rights. Even when lodged in the jail, he continues to enjoy all his Fundamental Rights. On being sentenced for a crime and deprived of their liberty by the procedure established by law, prisoners still retain the residue of constitutional rights. The significance of affirmed rights of each individual need no accentuation and, therefore, to deter breaches thereof becomes a sacred duty of the Court, as the custodian and protector of the fundamental and the basic human rights of the citizens.[16]

In a period of Solitary confinement, detainees live in complete confinement which denies them any type of human contact with the exception of prison staff. Section 73 and 74 of the I.P.C give lawful recognition to solitary confinement and puts certain limits due to its nature of being so brutal which affects the prisoner mentally as well as physically. It tends to be granted to those prisoners on whom the court has the power to sentence them rigorous imprisonment. With time, the judiciary is delivering the judgments in favour of its abolition and held that to keep the inmate in solitary confinement before the exhaustion of his constitutional, legal and fundamental rights is violative of the constitution.[17]

[1] AIR 1981 SC 625.

[2] Also Known as Nelson Mandela Rules.

[3] Indian Penal Code 1860.

[4] (1978) 4 SCC 494.

[5] AIR 1980 SC 1579.

[6] 1993 AIR 217.

[7] AIR 1981 SC 625.

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

[9] Criminal Reference No. 1 of 2014 on April 27, 2018.

[10] United States Court of Appeals For the 3rd District. “Williams v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections”. In: 14-1469 (2017).

[11] Grassian, S. (2006). Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement [Abstract]. Washington University Journal of Law and Policy, 22(Access to Justice).

[12]  McManus, M. (2017, February 28). How Solitary Confinement Works. Retrieved July 05, 2020, from

[13] Scientific arguments against solitary confinement (Rep.). (2017).

[14] B, M. (2020, April 03). Solitary Confinement: The Pros and Cons: Pappalardo & Pappalardo, LLP. Retrieved July 05, 2020, from

[15] A Study on Solitary Confinement as a Punishment [Abstract]. (2018). International Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics, 120(5), 863-878.

[16] India, L. (n.d.). Taking Prisoners Rights Seriously. Retrieved July 05, 2020, from

[17] Admin. (2018, September 07). Solitary Confinement. Retrieved July 05, 2020, from

Rohan - Lawcirca Author

Rohan Gupta


Rohan hails from Indraprastha University and he spends most of his time in reading and binging. His Interest area lies Feminist jurisprudence & Family laws. For any clarifications, feedback, and advice, you can reach him at


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