Views From the Inside: Insights About Restrictive Housing From Prison System Officials, Officers, and Staff

Date01 December 2021
Published date01 December 2021
AuthorDaniel P. Mears,George B. Pesta,Vivian Aranda-Hughes
DOI10.1177/00328855211060308
Subject MatterArticles
Views From the Inside:
Insights About
Restrictive Housing
From Prison System
Ofcials, Ofcers,
and Staff
Daniel P. Mears
1
,
George B. Pesta
1
,
and Vivian Aranda-Hughes
1
Abstract
Restrictive housing substantially limits inmate movement and privileges.
Proponents argue it creates safer prison systems, while opponents claim it
does not and harms inmates. However, few studies have systematically
examined restrictive housing through the perspective of those who work
in prison systems or scrutinized the diverse dimensions relevant to its
appraisal. This study addresses this gap by drawing on qualitative data to
examine how such individuals view the housing, its operational challenges,
effectiveness, possible improvements, and potential alternatives. We present
ndings along each of these dimensions and then discuss their implications
for research and policy.
Keywords
restrictive housing, prison ofcials, corrections ofcers
1
Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Daniel P. Mears, Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice,
112 South Copeland St., Tallahassee, FL 32306-1273, USA.
Email: dmears@fsu.edu
Article
The Prison Journal
2021, Vol. 101(6) 631651
© 2021 SAGE Publications
Article reuse guidelines:
sagepub.com/journals-permissions
DOI: 10.1177/00328855211060308
journals.sagepub.com/home/tpj
Introduction
One of the most conspicuous indicators of the move toward get toughcor-
rectional policies in recent decades is the increased reliance on restrictive
housing (Frost & Monteiro, 2016; Sakoda & Simes, 2019; Shalev, 2009;
Shames et al., 2015; Sundt, 2017). This housing can entail solitary conne-
ment of inmates for all but a few hours each day for weeks to months or
years, with limited programming or privileges, and use typically for disciplin-
ing or managing violent or disruptive inmates (Beck, 2015; Garcia, 2016). To
date, the primary focus of research has been on the effects that such housing
may have on inmate mental health, behavior, and reentry outcomes (Butler
et al., 2018; Clark & Duwe, 2019; Kapoor & Trestman, 2016; see, generally,
Garcia, 2016; Gendreau & Goggin, 2019; Labrecque & Smith, 2019a; Woo
et al., 2020). Far less attention has been given to a broader range of dimen-
sions also relevant to evaluating restrictive housing. Few studies, for
example, have examined variation in the nature of this housing, operational
challenges of working in this environment, effectiveness or ineffectiveness
with respect to multiple outcomes, such as systemwide order or impacts on
staff, potential improvements, or alternatives to it. In addition, research to
date has not drawn systematically on the insights and experiences of those
who work in prison restrictive housing units.
The goal of this study is to respond to calls to address such gaps (e.g.,
Butler & Steiner, 2016; Foster, 2016; Mears, 2016; OKeefe, 2008; Sakoda
& Simes, 2019; Shalev, 2009; Sundt, 2016) by illuminating how those who
oversee or work in prison systems view several critical dimensions of restric-
tive housing. We focus in particular on the insights of line ofcers, medical
staff, administrators, and wardens into the nature and goals of restrictive
housing, challenges in its operations, perceived effectiveness of the housing
and ways to improve it, and alternatives to this housing or ways to reduce reli-
ance on it. In what follows, we rst situate the study within the larger body of
prior research and debates about restrictive housing, and then present ndings
from a qualitative study of restrictive housing. We conclude by summarizing
the ndings and their implications for research and policy.
Background
The Rise of Restrictive Housing
The increase inthe use of restrictive housing occurred alongside atrend toward
tougher, control-oriented approachesto punishment that came into prominence
in the 1980s and continued into the next two decades (Pratt, 2018; Spohn &
Brennan, 2020; Travis et al., 2014). The get toughera centered on punitive
632 The Prison Journal 101(6)

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