Solitary confinement was the norm in Australian prisons during the 19th century. In recent decades, its use is expanding, justified by prison administrators as in the best interests of prison management. The rights of prisoners are not a popular human rights issue in Australia today, but since Australia now has membership of the Human Rights Council, such rights as defined by the United Nations ‘Mandala Rules’ should be given closer consideration.
This article assesses the use of solitary confinement in the Victorian prison system today and examines how it is currently justified according to legislation, sentencing practice and departmental prison regulations. The use of different forms of isolation within the prison population is seen to be expanding year by year, including administrative segregation, disciplinary segregation and protective custody.
While prison authorities have justified such practices, this paper asks whether its extensive use throughout Australia may be interpreted as a further punishment other than that imposed by the courts and a breach of our human rights obligations. This question is examined in the light of relevant Victorian case law and recent international human rights treaties.