How Can a Prisoner Change Their Cellmate?

Imagine having to live in an 8×8 room with a stranger.  Only this stranger has committed, god only knows what crimes.  Could you deal?  Prisoners have said that you are basically living in a bathroom.  This area contains your toilet as well as your bed and everything for your day to day living.

As a prison inmate, this is your living situation for the course of your stay in prison.  During this time, you really have no choice in your cellmate. Or could there be a way to change this?

What is the process of changing a cellmate?  A prisoner can always ask for a cell change, which would be safer than asking for a new cellmate.  They need to be ready to give a full explanation of why it would be necessary.  One way to ensure a cell change is to get into a fight with your cell partner. Many times, this could be the only way to get the transfer.

Due to overcrowding, an inmate who is in minimum security might end up in a cell with a prisoner in a medium custody level. This situation could possibly cause some tension.  Mixing inmates in different custody levels is not ideal. A prisoner that is just starting their sentence has a different mindset than the prisoner who is on his way out.

Prison and Inmate Classification

There are two classifications of prisons, State and Federal.  The state prison usually houses felons that have committed a crime in that state. Federal prisons hold criminals that have committed federal offenses.

They use a number and points system when classifying prisoners.  States may use a different process, but this is usually the norm. Classifications are needed in order to put the prisoners in the correct custody level.  These custody levels range from close, or maximum security to minimum security. This system is then used to classify prisoners into their different housing assignments.

Prison Security Levels

Prisoners are placed under different custodial levels based on their perceived public safety. The most secure is Close custody. This level provides mainly single cells and they are divided into cell blocks.  These persons are proved to be the most threat and are restricted in the way they can move within the facility, requiring strict supervision. They have toilets and sinks within their cells.

Next is Medium Security, which is are secure dormitories that allow about 50 prisoners to sleep on bunks in a large area.  These prisoners share group facilities such as toilets and showers. Their movements within the facility are not as controlled as close security.

Then there are usually two or three tiers of minimum security. These housing units are non-secure dorms that are patrolled on a regular basis. They do share group toilets and showers and are given a little more freedom as they move inside the facility.

 Status when Placed in Special Housing Units

When placed in the Special Housing Unit (SHU), prisoners enter with either Administrative Detention Status or Disciplinary Segregation Status. Entering the SHU, they are under Administration Detention Status.

They have been removed from the general population to safeguard orderly operations or protect the public. People are usually put in this status while they are awaiting classification or if they are waiting to be reclassified. Prisoners also enter this status if they are on holdover, waiting to be transferred to a different facility.

Some inmates are a threat to the life and property of anyone in the facility, including themselves. Then those prisoners are placed under the status of Disciplinary Segregation. This warrants removal from the general inmate population.

 Safety Concerns for Inmates

Tensions between racial and ethnic groups have also been a factor when classifying and housing prisoners. This precautionary measure is necessary as prison staff aim to maintain order and ensure the safety and protection of both prisoners and the staff.

In the words of a prisoner serving time in California……. “On the way to breakfast, I asked the officer for a cell move, since I saw an empty cell open on the third tier.  The officer didn’t ask why, I’d later find out that my roommate couldn’t keep a cell partner, officers knew his kind. If you think that your cellmate is going to give you trouble every time, ask for a cell transfer.”

Separation is a crucial way to maintain peace and order.   Most correction facilities segregate new prisoners for up to 90 days while they are being classified and then assigned to specific housing.

How are Cellmates Chosen?

Prison administrators use factors such as background and criminal history when placing prisoners in a housing assignment. These factors are unchanging but sometimes these placement processes don’t work and there may be a need to change cellmates.

A former corrections officer mentioned that prison operations and inmates’ personalities should also be considerations in housing assignments. Even the physical condition of the facility impacts the inmates’ behavior. You’d think this would be common sense, but instead, is not even considered as a factor in housing assignments.

How to Request for Change of Inmates

It is always worth asking. You could save yourself a lot of heartache. Although, there is the chance that your cellmate could hear about the transfer request and not be happy about it.

The request could send officers to check out your cell for contraband, maybe a weapon.  This could then have inmates assuming you are a snitch. Of course, you never want that to happen. So, it is a risk either way.

Prison administrators want to take every precaution in housing assignments and thoughtfully consider any requests to change cellmates. In prison, you want to keep a low profile. Don’t call attention to yourself. Always mind your own business.  Try not to concern yourself with anything that goes on outside of the prison walls; you can’t do anything about it at this point. Just try to get through the day. This will make your cellmate a little easier to live with.


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