Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Promising Practices

Programming in segregation

Agency

Hampden County Correctional Center (HCCC)

Brief Summary

The Hampden County Correctional Center (HCCC) overhauled its use of segregation with an emphasis on providing out-of-cell and in-cell programming. This programming, meant to counter the mental deterioration that takes place inside segregation units, has led to increased cost savings due to a decrease in the amount of property damage inflicted on the cells, a decrease in medical costs related to assaults, and a decrease in staffing required in the segregation units. Overall, with this and other reforms, HCCC has seen a 68 percent reduction in the number of people held in segregation, and a more than 70 percent decrease in the average length of stay on the unit as of January 2016.

 

The Goal

Prevent mental decompensation by increasing access to activities.

The Process

Increased programming was part of a system-wide reform of disciplinary segregation at HCCC in 2008. The department put together a staff committee across security levels and facilities, including experience in security, classification, human services, forensics, uniform, and non-uniform. This committee initiated changes to the use of disciplinary segregation at HCCC.

Segregation was no longer a place for correction and reflection; it had become an environment of negative conduct for our incarcerated population that was in direct conflict with our facility’s focus on providing positive re-entry models of behavior. Staff played a large part in forming the groundwork of our reform.

The Solution

The Sheriff’s Department introduced some basic programs into segregation, including mental health programming, educational outreach, substance abuse classes, pre-employment or job readiness programs, and wellness programs. The existence of these programs provides one “carrot” of time out of their cells for individuals to earn through positive evaluations.

Another incentive is designed specifically to counter the mental deterioration that can take place in lockdown units: in-cell programming is offered through the use of an MP3 headset. The MP3 players offer people audio books, music, self-help programs, and treatment programs. Headphones are offered twice a week to those who consistently receive positive evaluations or are struggling with mental health issues. As of 2016, 80 percent of people in segregation are utilizing MP3 headphones and zero MP3 headphones have been damaged or destroyed.

The Results

The Hampden County Sheriff’s Department reported increased cost savings due to a decrease in the amount of property damage inflicted on the cells by people who were incarcerated, a decrease in medical costs related to assaults, and a decrease in staffing required in the segregation units. In the year following implementation, the number of incidents of individuals damaging sprinkler heads in their segregation unit decreased by 85 percent.

After implementation of programming and other changes, the count of individuals in segregation dropped considerably; major disciplinary incidents were down in the general population; individuals experienced briefer, more productive stays in segregation; and the general climate improved, contributing to safety, security, and order. As of January 2016, HCCC has seen a 68 percent-reduction in the number of people held in segregation, and a more than 70 percent-decrease in the average length of stay on the unit. Staff grew to be more positive about working in the Special Management Unit.

Lessons Learned

The reform in segregation is a collective team approach that affects every facet of a correctional institution.

This Promising Practices section of the SAS Resource Center was developed as part of a collaborative effort with the Vera Institute of Justice, University of Michigan Law School, and Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights. We are also deeply grateful to the many leaders across the country who created and implemented each of the reforms cited throughout this section for their efforts to reduce the use of restrictive housing in prisons and jails across the country.

Please note that Vera and our partners do not specifically endorse the practices and policies included in this section. The Promising Practices section features segregation reforms being implemented in prisons and jails around the country. Our goal is to serve as a resource to other jail and prison systems interested in implementing similar practices and policies by highlighting those jurisdictions that report successful reforms.