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Why Would an Inmate be Moved to a Different Cell?

Why Would an Inmate be Moved to a Different Cell?

When you live in the free world, you may move to a new home for any number of reasons. People move because they get a new job, or get a raise and can afford a bigger house. Or, on the other hand, people may be laid off due to unemployment or retirement.

Others moved because they got married, had kids, wanted a fresh start, or their parents threw them out. I don’t need to detail every reason because I’m sure you get the idea.

When you are in jail, you can move the cell as many times as you want during your imprisonment. This might come as a surprise, but inmates never finish entire sentences in the same cell. At some point during their time in prison, every prison inmate moves from cell to cell at least once.

Which brings us to today’s blog post: Why do prisoners move cells?

In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • Transfer from R&O to general population
  • go to the “pit”
  • What is a polite gesture?
  • Special projects sometimes mean special housing

Transfer from R&O to general population

Prisoners may be moved to different cells for various reasons. When they first arrive, inmates are given reception and orientation (R and O) for the first few weeks until certain medical and mental health data are received and processed.

Prisoners in the R&O are completely separate from the general population. They live in their own housing units, they go to the cafeteria at special times, they do not participate in educational programs or do not work.

When prisoners are received, they go through a battery of educational tests, medical tests and are fingerprinted and swabbed for DNA. They also receive state-issued uniforms and toiletries, as well as a phone number to call.

Once an inmate completes the entire intake and sorting process—which usually takes about a month—they are removed from the R&O and into the general population, where they are assigned a specific housing unit, wing, room and bed.

If for some reason their circumstances change, their placement in the facility will also change.

go to the “pit”

Another common reason prisoners are transferred is when they violate one of the facility’s rules and they are placed in administrative or disciplinary isolation, also known as ADSEG or SHU. At the Women’s East Hospitality, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri, inmates called the building a “hole.”

“Offenders who violate institutional rules or are under investigation will be assigned isolation until their sanction is complete or the investigation is resolved,” said inmate Mistie Vance. “At that point, they will be reassigned to another housing unit and/or room. Sometimes, special circumstances allow offenders to return to their assigned residential area.”

What is a polite gesture?

For obvious reasons, not every room situation works in the long run. Since two to six criminals live in the same room/cell, several different personalities must exist within the same small area.

Especially with extremely dominant personalities, this isn’t always the case. In most cases, criminals can only work out their differences and must learn to adapt and find a way to get along. Sometimes, however, the only solution is to move one or all offenders to a different room, wing or housing unit.

Prisoners can ask to be politely moved if they don’t like their room, but prison staff don’t really honor those requests anymore. There are many changes in the way WERDCC is doing now than it was a decade ago when Vance first went to prison. She noticed that caseworkers relate to offenders differently in terms of life situations.

When she first arrived at WERDCC, the staff seemed to be more sensitive to the offender’s needs on an emotional level. However, Vance said most people don’t have the same level of empathy these days. For example, an elderly criminal or a person with a medical problem sitting on the top bunk may request the bottom bunk. Or, an offender may ask to be moved because they are being bullied.

In the past, these factors were considered when moving criminals. But now, Vance said, employees have become more apathetic. The standard response these days is that they don’t act politely.

Special projects sometimes mean special housing

Another reason offenders may be transferred is because they need to be housed in a wing or housing unit where they offer special procedures that are only accessible to those who live in the wing or unit.

Examples of this include Ash Christian Reentry Programs, Institutional Therapy Programs, CHAMP Dog Training Programs, MOSOP Sex Offender Programs, Release from Work Programs, and Pre-Release Programs for offenders whose release dates are approaching.

All of these projects require being in the community with others in the project and engaging with classes throughout the day. This makes it impossible to live elsewhere in the camp and still participate in the most effective and efficient way possible.

For most prisoners, room moving is a matter of course. During Vance’s ten years in prison, she “had hundreds of roommates”. The only certainty is change, and it is not the strongest or the brightest that survive, but the most adaptable.

Room moves happen every day. Prisoners can choose to accept their situation and experience the character growth that comes with it, or continue to fight it and persevere. The choice is theirs.

Can you bear living with someone you don’t know or don’t get along with? Let us know in the comments below.


Interview with Mistie Vance, inmate at the Women’s Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri.