Types of Restrictive Housing

The American Correctional Association recently defined “restrictive housing” as the confinement of a person to a cell for 22 or more hours per day.[]American Correctional Association, “Restrictive Housing Performance Based Standards” (2016).  In conducting assessments, however, Vera examines a broader range of restrictive housing types, including any form of housing where a person is held separately from—and in more confining conditions than—a jail’s or prison’s general population. This includes units where people are held in their cells for 22 or more hours a day, but also less-restrictive units where people may be allowed out of their cells for longer periods or given more opportunities for human interaction.

The most commonly-used types of restrictive housing are as follows:

Disciplinary (or punitive) segregation: This is used to sanction incarcerated people found guilty of violating facility rules, ranging from minor infractions (like swearing) to serious ones (such as assault). Generally, there is a disciplinary hearing where a hearings officer or other staff person considers the evidence and circumstances of a charge before making a determination of guilt or innocence and deciding on a sanction, if any. Disciplinary segregation sanctions are typically given for set periods of time, such as 30 days, 90 days, or even 180 days. While awaiting a hearing, an incarcerated person is sometimes held in another type of restrictive housing commonly known as “pre-hearing detention.”

Administrative segregation: This is housing used to remove people from a jail’s or prison’s general population if they are thought to pose a risk to the safety of others, the security of an institution, or both. This determination may be based on an escape attempt, violence, or low-level but persistent disruptive behavior. In some jurisdictions, placement in administrative segregation may also be determined by a person’s status (such as the type of offense for which he or she was incarcerated or whether an investigation is pending, for example) and not just their behavior. Placement in administrative segregation can last indefinitely.

Protective custody: This is used to remove incarcerated people from a facility’s general population when they are thought to be at risk of abuse, victimization, or other harm. Some people in protective custody are housed in isolating conditions similar to that of typical restrictive housing. Other protective custody units allow for privileges and out-of-cell time similar to those granted in the general population.