Peak legal bodies have slammed the use of solitary confinement for extensive periods in Western Australia after NITV News revealed an inmate at Casuarina Prison had been kept in 23 hour 'lockdown' for a total of seven months.
The inmate was one of a number at the prison kept in solitary confinement under the disruptive prisoner policy (DPP), which is under internal review after legal action was launched against the state government over the use of the policy.
Curtin University associate professor and human rights lawyer Hannah McGlade was one of the lawyers behind the action, alongside solicitors at Roe Legal.
Dr McGlade said she was "shocked" when families of the inmates contacted about the extended time they had spent in solitary confinement.
NATSILS executive officer Roxanne Moore said this use of solitary confinement is "very concerning".
"It's absolutely horrifying that someone has been held in solitary confinement for this extended period of time," she told NITV News.
"Solitary confinement is archaic, and it's a human rights violation, especially prolonged solitary confinement."
'Cruel and counter-productive'
Human Rights Law Centre senior lawyer Monique Hurley said "inhuman and degrading practices" like solitary confinement must be consigned to the history books.
“Solitary confinement is a practice that brutalises people," she said. "It’s archaic treatment that is known to inflict long term and irreversible harm.
"Prolonged solitary confinement – subjecting people to isolation for 15 consecutive days or more – is strictly prohibited by International human rights law.
"A good government would not subject a human being to this type of cruel and counter-productive practice."
The prisoner, who does not want to be identified, said in a statement that the extended time in solitary had severely impacted his mental health.
"The extended time that I spent in solitary confinement has really f**ed with my head. It has made me depressed and angry. You just stare at the walls all day long," he said.
“Since being back in the mainstream population, I don’t like to mix with other inmates now. I stay most of the time in my cell even though we are allowed out.
“I have a cell mate but it is difficult for me to trust him having spent so much time on my own.
“It has made me paranoid and unsociable. I do not want this to happen to anyone else.”
Ms Moore said solitary confinement can lead to severe and irreparable psychological and physical damage for a person.
"The symptoms can look like severe forms of anxiety and stress and depression through to cognitive impairment and suicidal tendencies and self-harm," she said.
"That's why this severe mental and physical pain, which is caused by solitary confinement for prolonged periods can amount to torture.
"That's why it's so serious. It can have fatal consequences for people. That's why it's so important that this archaic practice has to end."