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What Exactly is Protective Custody?
By Adrian Smith
Published: 04/23/2012

Prison-cell-w From the outside looking in, one may wonder what exactly is Protective Custody as it pertains to Jails and Prisons? Protective Custody is a type of imprisonment (or care) to protect an inmate (or the person) from harm, either from outside sources or other inmates. Many Corrections Administrators believe the level of violence, or the underlying threat of violence within Jails or Prisons, is a chief factor causing the need for PC (Protective Custody) units. Inmates have the opportunity to request protective custody if they get the impression that the environment they are living in is harmful to their well-being. Their request may be granted if the officials rule that the inmate is truly at risk.

Early uses of protective custody started in the 1960s law enforcement, but it was use infrequently. Federal prosecution of organized crime figures led to the offering of witness protection to key government informers. In 1964, Joseph Valachi became the first La Cosa Nostra member to Publicly testify to the existence of the organized crime group, appearing before a congressional committee. Valachi, who was facing the death penalty, agreed to testify in return for personal protection. He was held in solitary confinement for protection and given $15 dollars a month. Even today, witness protection programs exist in some U.S. Federal Prisons.

As jail and prison officials, we must know of the characteristics and signs of inmates that may need protective custody. Inmates such as first time offenders, young offenders, transgender offenders, or high profile offenders are all inmates who would potentially qualify for PC. The reason is these types of inmates are at a higher risk of being harmed or killed by the inmates because of their status or orientation. Also celebrities or ex law enforcement officials may be placed in protective custody.

Although there are many advantages to protective custody in a Correctional Facility, there are always possibilities that the inmates will try to manipulate the protective custody system. For example, inmate John Doe, an inmate who is normally doesn’t have visitors nor gets commissary, has a “hustle” inside the prison walls and that is gambling. One-day inmate Doe loses, and doesn’t have the commissary items to pay his debt. Tension builds inside the housing unit and inmate Doe feels threatened and doesn’t know what to do. This inmate secretly passes the housing officer a request asking to be placed in Protective Custody, to avoid paying his debt. Manipulation games like this are what we, as Correction Officials have to look out for, because Protective Custody is not in place for this reason.

As a Classification Officer in Orange County, Fl., some of the questions I would ask a potential protective custody inmate to assess their need would be the following.
  1. Are you apart of any gangs?
  2. Have you ever been victimized while incarcerated?
  3. Is your case high profile (receiving media attention)?
  4. Do you feel comfortable reporting any problems to the housing officer?

Questions such as these, helps us to assess the need for protective custody and to determine the mindset of the inmate. It is important for us as Corrections Officials to immediately identify inmates that are in need for protective custody. It not only keeps your institution safe and secure, but it also helps from keeping your agency from being liable should any thing happen to any inmate. We should take every protective custody request serious, and an expeditious investigation should be conducted. Being familiar with your agency’s policies and procedures on protective custody inmates keeps all your fellow officers, other inmates, and most importantly yourself safe. Safety is all ways the key.

Corrections.com author, Adrian Smith, is a Classification Officer for Orange County Corrections in Orlando, Fl. He holds a Bachelors of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Upper Iowa University and a Masters of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Everest University. He is currently obtaining his Doctorial Degree in Public Safety Leadership from Capella University. Adrian has been in Corrections for 6 years working for Florida’s Prison and Jail system.



Comments:

  1. brenda2278 on 06/29/2013:

    My son has been in Protective Custody for six months. More like isolation. I have not been able to talk to him because the judge issued a NO CONTACT order on him, listing myself and his father as the victims. This meant we could not contact him because it would mess up his case, even though we did not want to press the charges in the case. We finally got an order from the judge to permit communication with him as long as he was still in jail, but the jail will not even allow him the right to fill out the visitors forms. They will not let him do anything that regular prisoners are allowed on a daily routine. Protective Custody was not requested by my son, it was an automatic action because they believed he was suicidal. He did not request it, it was forced on him. Don't tell me he had to request it in order to be placed in Protective Custody. I know better. But denying him the simple rights of communicating with any one at all is ridiculous. They are treating him as if he has already been convicted and he hasn't even had a complete pre trial, let alone a trial. They have only charged him, but have done nothing to assure his rights. Protective Custody has become more like a Prison sentence without actually being convicted of anything. Basically he has no rights, except to sit in the room staring at the four walls. We put money on account, but even after his lawyer informed him of his money on acct. he was not permitted to even use it. Even with a court order from the judge, the jail officers are still refusing to give him the forms to fill out for video or phone visitation rights. I find it highly unconstitutional and a violation of his rights, but can't seem to find any case law in the matter. What is a person supposed to do with that?

  2. addelle on 03/21/2013:

    how can I get my son in pc to save his life

  3. asmith5022 on 11/11/2012:

    Daytona, Fl, Inmates are able to request PC or they can be recommended by Staff. Please don't get Protective Custody and Disciplinary Confinement confused. Sounds to me that your boyfriend is being disciplined. If he is indeed being held in protective custody against his wishes, Id advise you to speak with the classification staff there at the jail or either a member of the jail management staff. Also your boyfriend should familarize hisself with the jails grievance process.

  4. Daytona Florida on 10/31/2012:

    My husband is in the Volusia County Jail. He was in there nearly a month before actually being charged (We still do not know what he did wrong). In the past month other inmates robbed him of the things he bought from commissary three separate times. He asked me to call up the case management to see if they were doing their part to stop another theft. When I came to visit him the guard wouldn't bring him to Visitation. The guard told him the he was "gonna f@#$ up" his whole day and the he didn't care if he ever made it to Visitation. My husband told him that I was waiting with our newborn staring at a blank screen and the guard said, "I don't care if your ho leaves before you get to see them." He was 15 min. late to a 30 min. session. I called and complained. Next time I talked to him, I found out the drug him (kicking and screaming) to "Protective Custody" which is apparently a fancy title for Solitary Confinement. He told me a memo was sent out to the guards telling them to be sure to get the inmates to Visitation on time. He is being confined against his wishes due to what we believe is officer retaliation. He has gone days without a shower. He was calling me several times a day. Now, I hear from him maybe once or twice a week because they restrict his phone access. He told me that one day they "forgot" to bring him lunch. He can't go to the commissary so he has to order his things. He turned in his order form but they didn't bring him his things. Why does your description say "upon request"...apparently, you can be placed in PC against your own wishes. Oh...and the case manager set his hearing to determine whether he would stay in PC ON THE DAY HE HAD COURT! So, he missed his own hearing. She visited him later that day to tell him, "if you keep having your little girlfriend call up here complaining then you're never gonna leave PC." This system is not just. Far from it. BTW, his public defender has yet to meet with him. In court, I asked her about his issues with the jail and she said she doesn't deal with jail issues.

  5. Fred Davis on 08/04/2012:

    Protective custody is just great. When I was convicted in 1989, everyone told me not to worry about anything, and that PC was available if necessary. Boy, was that ever a lie. They told me that the inmates did not know the specifics of my case. Actually I did not PC, because such things would make some think that I was there on PC, because I was a snitch, and that would not go off big with those dudes who work out at 5 in the morning and are so muscular. I preferred the other method. I decided to stand on my own, because to depend on the state to protect me in prison would be like soccer mom depending on the government to babysit their post-pubescent adults for life. I arrived at DOC in Baltimore, and I actually believed what they had told me. I had to see a few people to see what prison they were going to place me in, and all these dudes who hadn't shaved for a while were standing there and watching as the staff talked to me. BTW, the staff were inmates, and they had my whole file right in front of them, at least in short form. These were inmates. They said, "We see you are in here for incest," and all these muscle bound men gasped as if I had really done something bad. Somehow I looked around and saw murders and rapists and so forth, so my moral attributes did not look much worse than theirs. Even the guards used terrible language so it was difficult for me to tell the difference between the guard and the inmate. I began to feel right at home, as if I had found a new family. The inmate staff spoke real loud to me, as if to let everyone in the room know what I was charged with, and that I, if I chose to, could see a doctor and get my sentence cut a little short. They said that I might be able to go to the hospital instead of staying in jail. Well, that had other consequences like maybe they could hold me after I completed my sentence. Even though I had a non-violent conviction, that made no difference to them. It is all about money and helping the money changers keep their jobs. I chose to let them know that I did not want protective custody, because when I got out these scholarly officers would not be on the outside to protect me. I would have to deal with that by myself. I had once lived in a HUD development, and I was one of two whites in the development and the police were scared to go into where I lived in Annapolis, Maryland. But I lived there and watched as a cab driver was killed and bullet holes came through my window at Christmas. If I could survive that, I could survive anything. PC makes soccer moms feel better, and it makes them feel like their sons are protected. Sex offender laws also make soccer moms feel like their children are being protected well as they go about their business and let the state raise their children for them. This is not turning out very well. When I was in the fifth grade, the girls were skinny except for one or two, and they actually looked like females. I sat in Wal-Mart and now a few are skinny. Things sure have changed since the government helped us to assure the masses that healthy eating habits would be implemented by law. Half of those at Wal-Mart were riding on carts, and they needed exercise. What has happened to this nation? It is like I am in a nightmare, and I will wake up to see my loving grandmother and the peaceful home we once had. This is what happens when the regime takes over and becomes the surrogate father of soccer mom and pool boy.

  6. eillac1 on 06/10/2012:

    My son was sent to a Federal prison for the second time and this time he decided to help the feds was let out on bond but when he went to sentiencing they didn't place him on pc so when he arrived at this prison in Texas he knew right away that he should not been place there he talk with the sis Lt they listen investigated and place him in the hole we are still not sure where he will be place but they acted in a very professional way took my calls and althou he could only request it is up to c and d to place him in an inacctive yard...what is this and where are they located...would love for him to stay in Texas I hear that these are more for ex gang members my son is not a violent person nor has he ever had a gun he love to deal in stocks (options) I ask one of the feds he work with why was he not classified to be place in protective custody who should have done this and he said we should have made recommendation to procecutors and to judge...Thank God for this supportive Sis Lt he took the time to actually sit and listen to my son and I know he is very busy but said this is our job and we will make sure nothing will happen to him while in my custody, you here so many bad things about prison and how they don't give a s... but not always true. Now I have only been able to read of one inacctive yard in California but I hear this one is horriable felty,invested and that they do not allowed them showers and some other things so I really hope he is not sent to this one.

  7. jamestown0509 on 04/23/2012:

    PC is a temporary solution to an inmate upon his or her request because of direct or indirect threats to them from other inmates. We always tell an inmate who PC's himself that he cannot be let out of PC without written permission from the Superintendent (Warden). This prevents them from pulling one of those ploys to get moved from the cell block or tier. Inmates always are trying to get moved to another housing unit so as an officer you must weigh what they are telling you versus what the real reason is they want PC status. In most cases it is not prudent to move inmates from one housing unit to another just because they say they feel threatened by others, it has to be real and verified.


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