In the free world, something many of us take for granted is the ability to choose our housing. In America, we can live where we want, we can rent or buy a house or an apartment.
When you are found guilty and sent to jail, the luxury of choosing your accommodations disappears. Whether you are locked up for 25 days or 25 years, your housing assignment is not up to you. Prisoners cannot choose where they live. Instead, the decision rests with the management of the facility.
Which leads to today’s blog topic, in which we answer the question: How are cells allocated in prisons? In this article, I will cover the following topics:
- All prison inmates are sorted by prison staff
- Cell assignment based on classification
- Prisoners can ask to change housing
All prison inmates are sorted by prison staff
When prisoners are sent to prison for the first time, they go through a process called reception and orientation. This is called “R&O” at camp. Depending on the facility, prisoners can stay in R&O for a few weeks or as long as three months.
During this time, prisoners are sorted by prison staff. Classification is a method of assessing risk to inmates that balances security requirements and program needs. Prisoners will undergo a series of assessments, including medical and mental health checks and educational tests.
Prison classification specialists then create a personal profile for each prisoner, including their criminality, social background, education, job skills and work history, health and criminal records, including previous incarceration sentences.
Based on this information, prisoners are assigned to the most appropriate custody category and prison. This information also informs whether the prisoner is assigned to work or school. They may also need to participate in a rehabilitation self-improvement program and/or therapy.
After prisoners have served their sentences, if they obey prison rules, complete assigned work and participate in correctional programs, they are progressively served minimum minimum incarceration before release.
Believe it or not, all of this determines where prisoners are assigned to live. Roommates are typically selected by staff based on age, group (or gang) affiliation, work assignments, medical concerns, mental health concerns, protective concerns, history of violent behavior, and space availability.
I’ll also mention that during R&O screenings, the prison staff will literally ask you, “Who are you running with?” If you’re a gang member, you have to let them know. Often, facilities try to separate gang members, but they don’t always have the space to do so.
Cell assignment based on classification
Maximum security prisons usually house prisoners in single cells, but some prisons do have double cells. Lower security housing ranges from double cells to group warehouse-style dormitories.
Where I was incarcerated, we lived in university-style dormitories. Six prisoners are assigned to each room, and we have a key. We are confined to our housing units, not our rooms. This means we have access to the lounge, bathroom, showers and yard.
Housing assignments can also be determined programmatically. The facility will isolate inmates who are undergoing treatment, as well as honor dorm residents and working release inmates. There are also separate quarters for prisoners held for sex offences.
The most livable housing units are pre-release units. Here, you can prepare for release by taking classes and setting things up outside with family and friends. It also keeps you away from longer-serving inmates who might try to get into a fight to take your date away.
Facilities that house long-term prisoners will often have a single housing unit for inmates serving sentences of ten years or more.
Prisoners can ask to change housing
If prisoners don’t feel safe in their cells, they can ask for a change. However, there is no guarantee that requests will be accepted. If things get bad enough, prisoners can apply for protective custody. This will eventually force change. But this usually requires several days of solitary confinement.
While I was locked up, I went through over four years of roommate and housing changes. Each time, I have to pack all my stuff in a metal footed cabinet and lug it to my new room. This is the worst!
My best roommate story happened when I moved into a new room after I got a job at the commissary. I’m setting up my space and I turn on the TV.i was watching snap up And listen with my headphones.
In the process of hearing the case took place in Missouri, where I was incarcerated, I found out that the woman they were talking about who was convicted of killing her husband was my new roommate. Her name is Sandra Plunkett. It was one of the craziest experiences of my life, but it only lasted one day. She got into a fight the next day and was put in isolation. They moved her out immediately.
If you’ve been to prison, tell us your worst roommate story in the comments below.
Sources: Do Cellmates Matter? A Study of Prison Peer Effects under Essential Heterogeneity Where Inmates Live https://www.doc.wa.gov/corrections/incarceration/cells.htm#:~:text=Inmates%20have%20assigned%20rooms%20or,needs%20are%20the%20main%20concerns. Inmate Security Designation and Custody Classification