Press Release

IACHR Welcomes Costa Rica’s Efforts to End the Use of Prolonged Solitary Confinement

November 16, 2016

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes steps taken by the State of Costa Rica to end the practice of prolonged solitary confinement at its “La Reforma” prison.

According to information provided by the State of Costa Rica, the prison’s “F” unit—a maximum security area with a capacity for 44 inmates—was shut down on October 28, 2016. In a press release issued March 11, 2016, during a visit to the country by the IACHR Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, the Inter-American Commission expressed its concern about the situation of inmates in that unit. Specifically, the practice at the “F” unit was to hold prisoners in prolonged isolation for 23 hours per day, with each inmate allowed one hour in the sunlight per day, Monday through Friday, by himself. The single-person cells, also referred to as “tombs,” measured 3 x 3 meters, and conditions were deplorable. Prisoners were also restricted from communicating with each other and found it difficult to be in contact with the outside world, as they were allowed only one four-hour visit every two weeks.

The information provided by the Ministry of Justice indicates that the “F” unit was closed permanently after the last prisoner being held there was transferred. Five of the 44 inmates were transferred to a semi-institutional, or semi-open, setting; the others were placed in other units at La Reforma and at the Pococí, Pérez Zeledón, San Carlos, San Rafael, and Gerardo Rodríguez prisons. The closing of this unit came in response to a decision made by the Ministry of Justice on August 25, 2016. The IACHR notes that Justice Minister Cecilia Sánchez said in that regard that the “F” unit was being closed because the detention conditions violated inmates’ “human dignity.”

In terms of the use of solitary confinement, the IACHR has received information through its various mechanisms indicating that the use of this measure in different countries in the region runs counter to international standards. In this context, the Commission welcomes the State of Costa Rica’s initiatives to uphold the rights of persons deprived of liberty, and reiterates that solitary confinement should be used only on an exceptional basis, for the shortest amount of time possible, and only as a measure of last resort. In addition, its use must be subject to strict judicial oversight, and the circumstances in which it is used must be expressly established by law.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 166/16