Innovative Solutions

Correctional systems are challenged in the call to reduce or eliminate the use of segregation as, to date, there has been little guidance on how to implement segregation reform while also maintaining safe prisons. The following facilities across the country are implementing innovative strategies aimed at reducing movement into segregation, treating the inmates that are there, and maximizing chances of success upon release.

Inflow: Reducing Movement into Segregation

By looking at the pathways that lead inmates to be placed in segregation, an agency can begin to deter the behavior that leads to segregation placement and identify more effective responses.

  • Limited Privilege Housing Unit (LPHU)

    Limited Privilege Housing Unit (LPHU)

    SCI Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania

    Innovation: Are segregation alternatives effective at producing desired behavioral changes in non-violent inmates?  A groundbreaking pilot program at Pennsylvania’s SCI Laurel Highlands, will test that question by creating a new step in the facility’s disciplinary process.

    Instead of being placed in segregation, inmates with non-violent misconduct infractions that do not pose a security risk will be put in the facility’s Limited Privilege Housing Unit (LPHU). Unlike inmates in segregation, LPHU inmates will be permitted to leave their cells every day without restraints for scheduled activities such as meals, showers, programming, and time in the segregation yard with an additional inmate. All movements will be controlled and observed by the unit control center, and inmates will be subjected to weekly review by unit staff.

    Other conditions typical to restricted housing units, such as intake property processing and suicide risk assessments, will remain the same. When not participating in scheduled activities, inmates will be in their cell with the door secured.

  • Replacing Restrictive Housing with a Limited Privilege Unit

    Replacing Restrictive Housing with a Limited Privilege Unit

    Grafton Correctional Institution, Ohio

    Innovation: Ohio's Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is in the midst of reforming its entire disciplinary process and the types of sanctions used to address inmate misbehavior. As part of this process, Grafton Correctional Institution (GCI) recently converted half of its restricted housing unit cells into a Limited Privilege Unit (LPU). This area traditionally housed inmates convicted of offenses such as disobeying direct orders and positive drug tests, as well as inmates guilty of seriously disruptive offenses such as fights, threats, and assaults. The majority do not pose a significant threat to the safety and security of the facility.

    Inmates confined in the LPU are allowed significantly more out-of-cell time and access to telephones, email, and additional recreational activities. They are also able to work towards an early release by participating problem solving, community service, recovery, anger management, and wellness programs. Lastly, they can leave the unit to go to mental health and medical appointments, and even to continue programming in a general population setting.

    The net result of this reform has been that GCI consistently holds less than 1‰ of its population in segregation at any given time.

  • Mapping Pilot

    Incident Map

    SCI Forest, Pennsylvania

    Innovation: COMPSTAT is a law enforcement tool that uses maps to support crime control efforts. Pennsylvania's SCI Forest, plans to test the usefulness of a similar incident mapping program in reducing violence both in segregated and non-segregated housing.

    Using existing data, SCI Forest will develop incident location maps that pinpoint exactly where certain kinds of violence perpetrated against inmates or staff are most common. Staff at one half of sample facilities will be randomly selected to receive incident maps. After six months, the two groups of facilities will be compared. Does the use of incident maps to review and document institutional problems and routines lead to better risk assessment and responsiveness on the part of facility staff?

  • SCF Pod

    Swift, Certain, and Fair (SCF) Pod

    SCI Somerset, Pennsylvania

    Innovation: The Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution at Somerset has taken a new approach to managing inmates’ behavior through the use of Swift, Certain, and Fair (SCF) responses to misconduct.

    This began on January 1, 2016, when inmates assigned to one Custody Level 4 general-population housing-unit pod were given a list of nine behaviors that would no longer be addressed through the established misconduct process. Instead, the pod was informed that these behaviors would be addressed by staff on their unit, including the corrections officers, the unit sergeants, and the unit manager. Certain behaviors would be handled through the SCF process.

    The inmates were also informed of the consequences of these behaviors. They were given a progressive-discipline scale that provides for sanctions ranging from "Reprimand and Warning" to "Cell Restriction," which could be for the remainder of that day and up to the following five days, with several steps in between. These sanctions are certain (i.e., specified) with respect to how many times a specific behavior is observed in the previous 365 days.

    PADOC's preliminary review of results 90 days after the pilot began shows promising results. The SCF pod has had fewer misconducts, infractions, and grievances compared with other pods at SCI-Somerset. Somerset leadership notes that staff are reporting positive interaction between the unit staff and inmates, reduced stress levels, and an increased sense of security in their work environment. Based on the early positive results SCI-Somerset has been granted approval to extend the pilot for 90 days and to begin another SCF pilot on another pod in the facility; external researchers are conducting a formal evaluation of SCF at SCI Somerset.

Process: Treating Inmates in Segregation

Congregate programs can mitigate the experience of solitary confinement by offering inmates a way to think about their placement, use the time to work on problem behaviors, and practice prosocial interactions with others.

  • Food as an Incentive

    Food as an Incentive to Increase Out-Of-Cell Time for Mental Health Inmates

    SCI Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

    Innovation: State Correctional Institution (SCI) Pittsburgh is testing whether programming participation increases due to positive reinforcement. The facility’s Diversionary Treatment Unit (DTU), which houses inmates with serious mental illness who have committed disciplinary infractions, includes 14 beds; however, about half of the beds are occupied by constantly-returning inmates. In order to encourage DTU inmates to come out of their cells and participate in constructive programming, the facility is testing the use of food as an incentive. In addition to programming participation rates, the facility will also assess feedback from staff and inmates, DTU return rates, and misconducts after the study is completed.

  • Virtual Reality for Hospice Care

    Virtual Reality for Hospice Care

    SCI Muncy, Pennsylvania

    Innovation: Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that immerses users in an imagined or replicated world or simulates action in the real world. The VR experience allows one to be a player in a video game attend a public event, or experience new places and activities. Previous research investigated the use of VR for those with mental and physical health issues. For example, an evaluation of 12 studies using VR for stroke patients found that 11 of them resulted in significant benefits. In the mental health arena, exposure therapy using VR was found to be effective in helping decrease anxiety for those with social anxiety disorder (Vanni et al., 2013). In patients with PTSD, exposure therapy using VR demonstrates some of the strongest empirical support for effective treatment (Ready, Pollack, Rothbaum, & Alarcon, 2006).

    One innovative use of VR is being rolled out in Pennsylvania at the State Correctional Institution Muncy. An inmate recently housed in the hospice unit was provided the opportunity to tour foreign lands and to swim with dolphins. Recordings were selected to provide new experiences and to provide a level of comfort for the inmate. In the future, the program will tailor recordings offered to inmates in the hospice unit in order to match to interests and needs. Although preliminary input from the first VR participant indicates a high degree of enjoyment and related satisfaction, qualitative feedback from future inmates and care givers will be collected to determine whether the program will be expanded to hospice units at other facilities.

  • Reforming Conditions

    Managing the Most Dangerous - Reforming Conditions of ERH Confinement

    Ohio State Penitentiary

    Innovation: Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP) recognizes the need for Extended Restrictive Housing (ERH) to prevent violence against staff and inmates, and protect the community from those who pose the greatest risk of escape. However, the facility uses several means to improve conditions for those who must be kept there for long periods of time.

    One such means is a presumptive reduction standard, passed in the fall of 2015 by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. This policy indicates that inmates must be maintained at certain security levels within the ERH (in order of severity: 5B, 5A, and 4B) only for defined periods of time, unless there is good reason to keep them there longer.

    A few ERH inmates are not eligible for presumptive reduction due to committing severe offenses. For them, OSP has developed a separate management strategy. For example, 5A inmates can leave their cells for two daily recreational activities and possess other privileges such as daily telephone and email access, visitation, and maintaining personal items in their cells. If these inmates demonstrate good behavior, these privileges increase further.

    All ERH inmates are evaluated annually and meaningfully considered for a security reduction in light of the original offense, recent behavior, and programmatic involvement.

    The facility asserts that as a result of these changes, long term ERH inmates are arguably no longer in segregation at all based on professional ACA definitions of restrictive housing.

  • Programming Security Chair

    Programming Security Chair

    Washington State Penitentiary

    Innovation: Programming for inmates is an integral part of their rehabilitation. Historically, cell-front delivery was the only safe programming method available for inmates in the Washington State Department of Corrections' Intensive Management Units (IMU).

    However, Washington State Correctional Industries (CI) has designed an alternative to cell-front delivery. IMU and segregated inmates are now able to receive programming in a classroom setting while sitting in "security chairs." These chairs allow inmates to engage safely with facilitators and each other. Inmates can relax, open up, and behave in ways that are not typically seen in high security settings, such as participating in programming without obligation to racial or gang bias. The chairs allow inmates to see the world from a different viewpoint, in addition to allowing staff to see the inmates in a different light, and the classroom environment incentivizes good behavior and facilitates engagement with the material. Correctional officers report that inmates who attend sessions become easier to work with in their housing units.

    "inmates that transition to lower custody levels and pursue programming opportunities have a greater chance of breaking out of the cycle of criminal thinking, violent behavior, and self-destructive behavior," says former Washington DOC Deputy Director of Prisons Scott Frakes. "The chair can be the beginning of a new journey for inmates trapped in the world of high security housing."

  • The Blue Room

    The Blue Room

    SCI Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania

    Innovation: It is well-known that segregation can have deleterious effects on inmate mental health. Research suggests that a natural environment, even if only simulated, can help reduce stress. Inspired by related work done at other institutions, SCI Laurel Highlands is seeking to transform its restrictive housing unit (RHU) by creating a "Blue Room." Aptly named, the Blue Room contains a television screen and chair so that RHU inmates can watch nature images and listen to tranquil natural sounds, such as a streaming river. The room's walls feature a soothing ocean mural; artificial indoor plants complete the scene. RHU inmates will be sent to the Blue Room for one-hour increments. SCI Laurel Highlands officials hope that this intervention will reduce tensions, violence, and noncompliance among inmates while also having a positive effect on their mental health.

  • Restricted Housing Unit Tablets

    Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) Tablets

    SCI Smithfield, Pennsylvania

    Innovation: State Correction Institution Smithfield is examining the use of tablets as an incentive for good behavior for inmates in restricted housing units (RHU). Starting on May 1, 2016, inmates who demonstrated positive adjustment while housed in the RHU became eligible to use a tablet in a kiosk. The kiosk allows the inmate to use the tablet to retrieve messages, submit internal paperwork, and access approved music. Inmates submit a written "request for use" form to use the kiosk, and access is granted on a first come-first serve basis.

    SCI Smithfield has been able to greatly reduce the number of grievances, misconducts, and use-of-force incidents over the past year. The tablet program, although not solely responsible for this reduction, has proven to be very useful. Inmates who were initially denied access due to behavioral issues corrected their behavior and eventually participated in the tablet program. To date, the unit has had to revoke tablet privileges from only one inmate. Furthermore, the facility experienced a period of a couple of months in which no inmates spent enough time in the RHU to be approved for the program, a related indication of positive progress.

  • Disciplinary Reform

    Disciplinary Reform

    Belmont Correctional Institution, Ohio

    Innovation: Belmont Correctional Institution (BeCI) is a Level 2 prison with one of the highest inmate populations in Ohio. Its 98-bed segregation unit, rebranded as the Transitional Program Unit (TPU) to help change perceptions among staff and inmates, has been chronically overcrowded for the past few years. In 2015, in order to reduce the TPU population and improve inmate outcomes, BeCI began piloting alternative disciplinary sanctions based on community supervision models that incorporate principles of swiftness, certainty, and fairness.

    BeCI adapted this model to a correctional environment, ensuring that rule violations are heard swiftly and that sanctions imposed are commensurate with the severity of the offense and individual inmate history. In addition, BeCI significantly expanded programming opportunities for TPU inmates, especially for those classified as mentally ill. Finally, BeCI began using alternative sanctions in place of the TPU, including bunk restriction in all of the housing units, extra duty, commissary restriction, personal electronics restrictions, payment for drug testing, and warnings (combined with education about what will happen the next time an offense occurs).

    As a result of these changes, BeCI staff report more stability among mentally ill inmates, and the warden reports that the TPU is easier to manage. Compared to 2010, BeCI has seen a 90% reduction in the use of segregation. The violence rate in the facility, although possibly affected by additional variables, was 25% lower in 2015 than it was in 2014.

Outflow: Maximizing Chances of Success After Segregation

To ensure successful reintegration back into the general prison population, inmates need to be placed in a facility or unit in which their needs can be met, where they feel safe, and where there are opportunities and programs that motivate them to engage in prosocial behaviors. This reduces the potential for victimization of inmates while lowering violence levels within the system.

  • Intensive Transition Program, Clallam Bay Corrections Center

    Intensive Transition Program

    Clallam Bay Corrections Center

    Innovation: Many inmates do not respond productively to incarceration. Caught up in gang membership, violence, and continued criminal activity within the prison system, they experience increasingly tighter restrictions, progressive sanctions, higher custody levels, and further alienation from family and pro-social society.

    To give these inmates the desire, confidence, and ability to break out of cycles of dysfunction, the Washington State Department of Corrections (WADOC) developed the Intensive Transition Program (ITP) in 2007. The ITP is a voluntary nine-month program in a self-contained unit housing former maximum custody inmates. The program gives inmates the opportunity to create permanent life change through supportive discipline, staged socialization, targeted integrated programming, and progressive development of self-control. The goal is for inmates to successfully progress to the least restrictive WADOC environment and establish a foundation for successful reintegration into the community, which increases public safety.

    Since 2007, 300 inmates have entered the ITP, and 211 have successfully graduated. According to WADOC officials, these graduates are living proof that knowledge and self-discipline can change a life.

  • Reducing Anxiety in Juvenile Lifers with Virtual Realty Technology

    Reducing Anxiety in Juvenile Lifers with Virtual Realty Technology

    SCI Pine Grove, Pennsylvania

    Innovation: SCI Pine Grove, Pennsylvania is using virtual reality (VR) technology for juvenile lifers who are aging out of the juvenile/young adult facility. These young inmates have an opportunity to explore their new housing facility before they are moved. Moving from one prison to another is a stressful event and associated with misbehaviors as inmates externalize their unease. In order to reduce anxiety and moving-related misbehaviors, young inmates moving from one facility to another will have the opportunity to “visit” their new home using VR. Not only will they see what the facility looks like, but they can opt to tour the campus, stopping by the commissary, dining hall, medical clinic, and other locations so that they can become familiar with the facility layout, but also with specific areas of the facility.

  • Pinckneyville Correctional Center Alternative to Segregation Program

    Pinckneyville Correctional Center Alternative to Segregation Program

    Pinckneyville Correctional Center, Illinois

    Innovation: Pinckneyville Correctional Center officials have developed an alternative step-down unit for inmates with mental health and behavioral issues who are transitioning from segregation back into general population.

    While initially designed simply to monitor this particular inmate population, the unit has grown to serve more than its intended purpose. Today, the unit maintains 52 beds filled by inmates placed on crisis watch or who are otherwise a danger to themselves. They are given more freedom and more services than they enjoyed in segregation. For example, inmates meet weekly with a mental health care professional such as a psychiatrist. They are allowed to have more property, take more frequent showers, use the telephone, exercise in the recreation yard with a small group, and if appropriate, are provided with a cellmate in an effort to improve interpersonal skills.

    Overall, this step-down unit aims to provide expanded services to inmates who present with greater need or have difficulty adjusting to the correctional environment. Facility officials plan to increase programming options still further by offering group therapy and additional recreational opportunities.

  • Transition Pod Living Unit

    Transition Pod Living Unit

    Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC), Washington

    Innovation: Segregated inmates can experience many difficulties when transitioning back to the general prison population or releasing into the community. Providing more opportunities for them to socialize and participate in programming as they prepare to reintegrate could help mitigate some of these problems.

    To this end, the Washington State Department of Corrections (WADOC) is testing a step-down program that uses a "transition pod." Segregated inmates assigned to this form of transitional housing will have monitored socialization opportunities such as congregate meals, unstructured activities in the dayroom, and time in the recreation yard. They will also be able to walk to the pod's shower area without restraints or an escort. Facility staff will have the chance to closely observe their interactions, allowing them to make informed recommendations about risk management. WADOC will test whether the use of this transition pod results in fewer serious infractions and disciplinary actions, both while inmates are in restrictive housing and after they return to the general prison population. WADOC is also hoping to see fewer inmates return to restrictive housing after being released into the general prison population.