[Pnews] Concern over 'political' use of solitary confinement in European prisons

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 3 18:33:40 EDT 2016


  Concern over 'political' use of solitary confinement in European prisons

Aviva Stahl

Monday 2 May 2016 05.34 EDT

European prisons are increasingly resorting to solitary confinement to 
counteract the threat of terrorism, despite warnings about its impact, 
defence lawyers and human rights advocates say.

France, Belgium and the Netherlands 
<http://www.theguardian.com/world/netherlands> are all deploying 
solitary and “small-group isolation” on suspected and convicted 
terrorists to prevent radicalisation of prisoners.

In Belgium <http://www.theguardian.com/world/belgium>, about 35 people 
are placed on isolation measures, spending 23 hours a day in their cell 
and one hour in a small recreation yard, also alone. Four individuals 
are in solitary confinement on the recently opened de-radicalisation 
units in the country, with more expected to arrive in the future.

In France, an unknown number of terrorism suspects are being in held in 
isolation blocks. Over the past year or so, France has also established 
several dedicated units for deradicalisation, but an apparent lack 
of rehabilitative or therapeutic programming means prisoners remain in 
their cells most of the day.

In the Netherlands, where terrorist wings have nearly reached their 
capacity, men are being strip and cavity searched each time they have 
contact with a third party or go to court.

“I’m very concerned about political pressures to isolate terrorists and 
to build special units to isolate them,” said Sharon Shalev, a research 
associate at Oxford University’s faculty of law and an expert on 
solitary confinement. “The public, our politicians, and our prison 
administrations, should keep a cool head,” she added.

Despite the increase, the number of people held in solitary confinement 
in Europe is tiny compared with the US, where as many as 100,000 people 
are kept in segregated cells. That number sets the US apart from most of 
the rest of the world and exceeds the entire prison populations 
of countries such as the UK, France and Germany.

Last week the Guardian reported 
on how the Obama administration is pressing individual states to join 
its mission to cut back on the use of solitary confinement in the US.

Human rights <http://www.theguardian.com/law/human-rights> lawyers point 
to the psychological and physical consequences of isolation, and say 
that its use may amount to torture or ill-treatment. Additional concerns 
have been expressed about the big rise in the use of small-group 
isolation in Europe, in which people are segregated from the general 
population, although not necessarily from each other.

Prison isolation may not only be inhumane, but also ineffective. Critics 
say the practice may make people more vulnerable to extremist ideas, and 
stress that eliminating communication among prisoners is often impossible.

Solitary is not new to Europe 
<http://www.theguardian.com/world/europe-news> nor is it used 
exclusively for terrorists. Yet the Charlie Hebdo attacks of January 
2015 – where at least two of the gunmen were said to have been 
“radicalised” on the inside – left Europeans fearful, angry and hungry 
for action. Almost immediately, officials and prison administrations 
identified isolation as a key tool in preventing future violence.

An internal memo issued by the director general of the Belgian prison 
service in the months after Charlie Hebdo stressed the importance of 
taking action to stem the spread of radicalisation. The memo said: 
“Every prisoner who is incarcerated for terrorist acts must be placed 
immediately under MSPI” – an isolation status that can last for a month.

Nicolas Cohen is a lawyer who has represented terrorism suspects and is 
also vice-president of the International Observatory of Prisons (OIP) in 
Belgium, which studies whether conditions comply with international 
norms and human rights laws.

Cohen read from a psychiatric evaluation of one of his clients in 
isolation since last July, in which the prisoner is described as 
agitated and observed to be speaking to the walls.

A majority of the men held in the 10-cell high-security unit in Bruges 
are terrorism suspects, according to Cohen.

When a prisoner is placed in isolation in an ordinary jail, they can 
still hear sounds from the cells around them. “In Bruges there is no 
such noise and feeling,” Cohen said in an email. “You have to be 
handcuffed through a hole in the door before getting out.” The unit, 
known as the QMSPI, has been fiercely criticised by human rights groups 
in the past.

A Belgian prison spokeswoman, Kathleen Van De Vijver, said there were 
protections in place for prisoners in isolation, including the 
requirement to renew their classification at regular intervals. She also 
said that prisoners received regular visits from doctors and 
psychiatrists, who could submit recommendations to prison authorities 
for ameliorated conditions, although Cohen said these were almost always 

“They’re applying the strictest measures against them,” said Marie 
Cretenot, a French lawyer for OIP, when asked about the conditions on 
the inside for alleged terrorists, adding that long-term isolation could 
amount to inhumane and degrading treatment under article 3 of the 
European convention on human rights. The UN special rapporteur on 
torture, Juan Méndez, has called for an absolute ban on isolation in 
excess of 15 days.

Lawyers in Belgium and France <http://www.theguardian.com/world/france> 
also said that people had been subject to sleep deprivation because of 
frequent nightly checks by guards. The French ministry of justice did 
not respond to requests for comment.

André Seebregts, a defence lawyer, said the constant strip and cavity 
searches on the Netherlands’ two terrorist units were humiliating and 
counter-productive. “I do have some guys who go in there, not too angry 
at the Dutch government, and when they come out they’re a lot more 

Jaap Oosterveer, a press officer for the ministry of security and 
justice, said prisoners had exaggerated claims of mistreatment for 
political purposes.

Isolation may, in any case, be futile. Charlie Hebdo attacker Amedy 
Coulibaly is said to have been radicalised by alleged al-Qaida recruiter 
Djamel Beghal 
while the two were in solitary confinement in a prison south of Paris. 
One of their cells was below the other, and they allegedly passed 
through their windows using drink bottles tied to sheets.

Other countries have used different approaches to managing 
radicalisation. The UK disperses suspected and convicted terrorists 
across high-security facilities, a policy that some say prevents 
potentially dangerous friendships or hierarchies from forming. A pending 
government review into extremism in British prisons, however, may 
overhaul the approach to terrorist prisoners.

Arun Kundnani examined counter-extremism policies in the US and the UK 
in his recent book, The Muslims are Coming 
“The underlying assumption of most radicalization models is that 
terrorism is caused by ideology spreading like a virus from person to 
person,” he told the Guardian, adding that this was flawed.

Others say governments should do more to address the social 
inequalities, and foreign policy decisions, that help shape people’s 
sense that violence is the answer.

“They’re taking these measures which are just political posturing, and 
that are not very useful in the end,” Seebregts said of the security 
measures in Dutch prisons. “It’s just to show the people that they’re 
doing something.”

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/ppnews_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20160503/e0e4a2aa/attachment.html>

More information about the PPnews mailing list