Using special management units to control inmate violence.

Author:Beard, Jeffrey A.
Position:Stemming the Violence

The concern over violence permeates virtually all aspects of our lives. From our schools to our jobs, in both rural and urban communities, in restaurants and skating rinks, the threat of violence exists. A growing number of people from all segments of our society are calling for action. Virtually every news report focuses on at least one example of the violence within our society. It should come as no surprise that violence within our jail and prison system has also become the focus of increasing attention.

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections experienced disturbances at several institutions and two serious riots at a major facility in late 1989. As a direct result of these occurrences, the DOC, under the direction of a new commissioner, Joseph D. Lehman, made several important changes. These included development of a new classification system, the establishment of standards for consistency of operation, and use of the State Corrections Analysis Network report. It also included upgraded training for all staff, new emergency plans, creation of highly trained emergency response teams in all institutions, and construction of new facilities. The result was an ability to better monitor institution operations, a reduced likelihood of disruptions, and an improved capacity to respond to potential problem situations.

One of the changes that focused on prevention related to how the DOC would handle disruptive or violent inmates. Traditionally, such inmates were either confined in restricted housing units (RHUs) for long periods or moved back and forth from RHUs to the general population.

An RHU is an effective tool for handling most of the troublesome inmates. However, there are inmates who have shown a long-term inability to adjust to general population status or who have displayed dangerous behavior. These individuals are a risk to the well-being of other inmates and staff and a threat to the orderly operation of a facility; their release to general population would pose a real danger. Continued confinement in an RHU, on the other hand, often adds to the problem. It also serves as a source of disruption within these housing areas. In addition, there is frequently little, if any, staff effort to work with these inmates. Many languish in this setting where re-enforcement of their violence can often occur. It is unlikely that their violence will receive any attention. They then represent a continuing risk initially to all staff and other inmates...

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