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Some Thoughts on Security Classification Committees [Part I]
By Tony Owen
Published: 09/28/2009

Classify Editors Note: Corrections.com author Tony Owen has retired from corrections after 28 years with the last 15 being in administrative segregation/detention as a manager and SXX committee member.

Are there fair and objective standards being used by the Security Classification Committee when making decisions to release or keep a prisoner in segregation? What are Security Classification Committees? Should they be the ones to decide release? This is an important topic in today's Criminal Justice System

It is important to know what to measure and how to evaluate whether an administrative segregation prisoner is a safe risk to release to general population. Some of these same questions also need to be resolved before releasing a prisoner back into society on Parole. This is predicated on safety of the public and goes to the heart of any Departments mission.

In any particular state, the Department of Corrections can be close to or is the largest item in their budget. Many are approaching or are more than a billion dollar a year business. Multiply this by fifty (50) states and then add in the Federal dollars spent in the Bureau of Prisons and one begins to realize the magnitude of the price society pays to maintain its members that are “breakers of the law” and are banished to prison.

In the United States there has evolved a system of classifying prisoners, based on their risk of escape, propensity for violence, and what their behavior has been, while in prison, and prior to prison. Many states follow the Federal Bureau of Prisons definitions for the various levels of security classification.

Level I is usually considered the lowest level of secure custody at which a prisoner can be safely confined in. Lower than this would be Probation, Parole, or Community Placement including halfway houses. Prisoners have a great deal of freedom of movement at this level. Many also work outside the perimeter of the facility on assignments that benefit the local community.

The security levels then get progressively more stringent in rules, restrictions of various privileges, and on the amount of movement a prisoner has as you move from Level II to Level V. The highest level is usually referred to as Level VI. This level is sometimes referred to as super maximum custody.

Just as society "banishes" the “breakers of the law” to prison, the prison society found it needed a place to send its “breakers of the law”. Recent trends have shown an expanding proportion of the male prison population was becoming violent towards staff and other prisoners or becoming involved more in illegal activities while in prison. Whether they were parts of gangs, had mental issues, or other behavioral problems these prisoners were becoming harder to manage. These prisoners were requiring closer supervision, increased security to protect staff, the public, and the prison population in general. A whole new level of structural and organizational changes were needed and developed.

Level V, usually referred to as maximum security, has an area of higher security cells. This is usually referred to as Administrative Segregation. This Ad Seg area is used to maintain those prisoners who are considered an extreme risk to escape, are management issues, or cannot be trusted in a lower level of custody. Its purpose is to provide a tightly controlled setting for unmanageable, incorrigible and violent prisoners who would otherwise cause disruption in the lower levels of security. Because of this ability the Level V facility plays an extremely important role in managing the prison system as a whole.

Level V Administrative Segregation is operated on a tightly controlled routine that includes:
  • Regulated prisoner movement.
  • Limited out-of-cell activity.
  • Limited work/educational opportunities.

Because of these tight controls at Level V, facility staff have to be very aware of the prisoner’s mental status. There is the very real danger of the prisoner becoming seriously institutionalized to segregation. These prisoners usually face long term segregation with little hope of being released. Staff must always be looking for the danger signs of apathy, inactivity, stereotypical responses, and the inability to deal with new situations. These can be early warning signs that a prisoner is devolving and intervention is needed. Some times it can be difficult to distinguish between a prisoner's original problems that brought him to segregation and those problems caused by the long term confinement in segregation.

This is especially important in the mentally ill and prisoners with “intellectual disabilities” . This level of confinement can reinforce the maladaptive behavior and create new, pathological, or bizarre symptoms.

To this end most departments have established a policy for the placement and management of segregation prisoners. Many of the policies have language such as: "The behavioral adjustment of each administrative and protective environment segregation prisoner shall be regularly reviewed by a Security Classification Committee Behavioral reviews shall include a personal interview with each prisoner and shall occur at intervals of no more than seven days during the first two months of segregation and at intervals of no more than 30 days thereafter."

These Administrative Segregation prisoners are not being considered for release back to society, but back to lower levels of security. Normally prisoners are released from administrative segregation in a step process. The hope is, they will have altered their behavior, for the better, and will show they can be trusted at the lower level. If the prisoner is not able to be trusted at the lower level they are returned to Administrative segregation.

To make these decisions concerning release many departments have established Security Classification Committee's (SCC). The committee's are usually comprised of Program staff, Custody staff, Housing staff, and possibly Health care staff. Based on this committee's assessment of a prisoner's behavior and attitude, while in segregation at this facility, comes a decision to recommend for/or against, release/transfer. Because of the many competing viewpoints involved in SCC some objective standards are needed for the members to use. This would ensure equal treatment of all prisoners. In a future article I will discuss several different types of Administrative Segregation and describe and propose some objective standards and how they can be applied.

Click here for Part II

"These are the opinions of the author only and are not sponsored or reflective of any department. The author has retired from corrections after 28 years with the last 15 being in administrative segregation/detention as a manager and (SXX-delete) SCC committee member. Author is currently a facilitator in the Criminal Justice program at the University of Phoenix."

Other articles by Owen:


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