Sanctioned torture of gang members who attack police in El Salvador

El Salvador's Minister of Justice and Public Security, Mauricio Ramírez Landaverde, released a video on August 18, showing conditions in solitary confinement cells where prisoners who have attacked the police or armed forces will be held.    The conditions are justified as part of the "exceptional measures" which the National Assembly has authorized to combat the epidemic of gang violence in the country.

As he narrates the video, Landaverde describes the cells where prisoners will be held in absolute isolation with no contact with the outside world.   There is no artificial lighting or ventilation in the cells.   There is only a small window about one foot square above the toilet covered by bars.   Beds are concrete slabs.

The next day the justice ministry issued a press release listing 26 gang members who would be placed in these cells for allegedly participating directly or indirectly in attacks on security forces.  From the press release, it appears that some of these gang members have not yet even been found guilty of the crimes with which they are charged.    Certain prisoners are listed as "detained" for an attack on police or "accused" of an attack.    (In El Salvador, defendants awaiting trial are usually held in prison along with those who have already been found guilty).

Extended solitary confinement in such conditions is viewed around the world as a form of torture and is condemned by the United Nations:
Every person deprived of his or her liberty has the right to exercise outdoors for a minimum of one hour daily in conditions that respect his or her right to privacy. Certain categories of prisoners may require special recreational training.

Detainees and prisoners shall have reasonable access to educational, cultural and informational material.

Although not unlawful as such, the use of solitary confinement should be limited to exceptional circumstances, in particular during pretrial detention.  The lawfulness of solitary confinement depends on an assessment of its purpose, length and conditions.

Solitary confinement should be used only when the security or well-being of persons or property are in danger, and should be subject to regular judicial supervision.

Solitary confinement should not be used as a punishment.
International Legal Standards for the Protection of Persons Deprived of Their Liberty, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2012.

The devastating psychological effects of solitary confinement in conditions less severe than those in El Salvador have been studied and documented:
Stuart Grassian, a board-certified psychiatrist and a former faculty member at Harvard Medical School, has interviewed hundreds of prisoners in solitary confinement. In one study, he found that roughly a third of solitary inmates were “actively psychotic and/or acutely suicidal.” Grassian has since concluded that solitary can cause a specific psychiatric syndrome, characterized by hallucinations; panic attacks; overt paranoia; diminished impulse control; hypersensitivity to external stimuli; and difficulties with thinking, concentration and memory. Some inmates lose the ability to maintain a state of alertness, while others develop crippling obsessions.
But don't expect anyone to weep for the gang members in solitary confinement in El Salvador where the public supports ever more repressive measures.  

Inside a solitary confinement cell