Inmate Discipline – Part 2: Pre-Hearing Segregation

Editor’s Note:  This is Part 2 of the Inmate Discipline series.

Correctional facilities are responsible for the incarceration of persons convicted and/or accused of criminal violations.  Inmates who refuse to obey facility rules and regulations need to be encouraged – even coerced if need be – to comply.  This requires a system for initiating the disciplinary process. Part of that system may include segregating accused inmates to further the safety, security, order, discipline, control, and other legitimate facility interests.


Pre-Hearing Segregation
As a general rule, movement of an inmateto restrictive housing occurs after a due process hearing.  Circumstances may, however, require the imposition of temporary restrictions on an inmate prior to the due process hearing.  Thus, it is necessary to have policies permitting staff to utilize temporary isolation of some inmates awaiting a disciplinary hearing.  If, for example, an inmate is involved in an assault, fight, disruption, or other such activity, administrative (non-punitive) segregation may be necessary to protect staff or other inmatesbetween the time of the violent behavior and the subsequent disciplinary hearing.  Under other circumstances, it may be necessary to interrupt and terminate an inmate’s visit prior to the end of end of the allotted visiting time to control his misbehavior occurring during the visit.  Items considered to be contraband may be seized from an inmates’s person or cell even before a disciplinary hearing has formally ruled the property to be contraband.   Such restrictions are ordinarily constitutional if they further a legitimate penological interest and are not ordered for punitive purposes.

The Supreme Court has discussed the function and nature of administrative segregation.  “The phrase ‘administrative segregation’ . . . appears to be something of a catchall:  it may be used to protect the inmate’s safety, to protect other inmates from a particular inmate, to break up potentially disruptive groups of inmates, or simply to await later classification or transfer.”[1] The Court has also upheld moving inmates from the general population to administrative segregation when that action serves a legitimate penological interest, ruling that an inmate has no constitutional right to be in general population or any particular housing assignment.[2]  Inmates may be transferred from one location to another without due process, even if it results in harsher conditions of confinement.[3]  Just as inmates can be moved around for other management purposes, they can also be transferred to administrative segregation prior to a discipline hearing when accused of misconduct.[4]

Following a riot at a Pennsylvania prison, an inmate was removed from the general prison population and placed in administrative segregation pending an investigation into his role in the riot. The Supreme Court ruled, “[T]he transfer of an inmate to less amenable and more restrictive quarters for nonpunitive reasons is well within the terms of confinement ordinarily contemplated by a prison sentence.”[5] “[A]dministrative segregation is the sort of confinement that inmates should reasonably anticipate receiving at some point in their incarceration.”[6] When a disruptive, combative, and violent inmate was placed in administrative segregation without hearing.  The Court of Appeals determined that placement in solitary confinement without notice or a hearing did not violate the inmate’s due process rights.  “Although due process entitles a pretrial detainee to be free from punishment prior to an adjudication of guilt, the court explained, a disability imposed during pretrial detention does not constitute impermissible punishment if it is reasonably related to a legitimate government objective and is not imposed with intent to punish.”[7]


Justification for Administrative Segregation Prior to a Due Process Hearing
Placement in administrative segregation prior to a due process hearing is acceptable, but should serve a legitimate penological interest.   Administrative segregation is a very effective tool to:

  1. Control a Difficult Inmate.     A primary responsibility of jail and prison officials is to restore and maintain order, discipline, and control.   Inmates who are disruptive, combative, or recalcitrant upset order and discipline, thus must be controlled. Inmates must not be permitted to engage in aggressive or disruptive behavior while awaiting a hearing.  Administrative segregation is necessary to remove such inmates from the ability to continue the unacceptable behavior and to defuse an existing disruptive situation.  Restoring order and discipline justify placement of the inmate in non-punitive administrative segregation until his disciplinary charges can be adjudicated by the hearing officer.[8]
  2. Protect a Vulnerable Inmate.     Administrative segregation can be used to protect a vulnerable inmate involved in a disciplinary action.[9] Protection may be required as a result of the circumstances surrounding the disciplinary action (i.e., an assault, a fight, a theft of property from a stronger inmate, threats).  In other cases, an inmate may intentionally provoke jail officers to be placed in administrative segregation to escape other inmates who the inmate perceives as a threat to his safety.  Inmates realize that becoming a discipline problem can get them removed from a housing unit without having to inform on other inmates.
  3. Isolate Dangerous or Predatory Inmates.     If a disciplinary action involves a sexual or other assault, a fight, intimidation, or other potentially dangerous behavior the aggressor can and should be placed in administrative segregation pending the outcome of his disciplinary hearing. Administrative segregation is an effective means of protecting other inmates from dangerous or predatory inmates.[10]
  4. Isolate a Prisoner While Investigating Alleged Misconduct.     Placing an inmate in administrative segregation to facilitate a discipline-related investigation may be necessary to prevent the accused inmate from threatening or intimidating potential inmate witnesses or otherwise interfering in the investigation.[11]
  5. Length of Time in Pre-Hearing Segregation.   Since inmates have no right to be in the general population and can generally be placed in administrative segregation without effecting a liberty interest triggering a requirement for due process,there is no specific time limit.  To avoid unnecessary delays in conducting disciplinary hearings, many jails have a established by policy time limits for pre-hearing isolation.Most seem to be 72 hours, give or take a day.  It is important to remember that such limits are self-imposed, not constitutionally mandated.  For example in an 11-day pre-hearing segregation followed by a 15-day disciplinary detention was found to be constitutional in a federal prison in Louisiana.[13] Much longer times have been upheld as constitutional if the administrative segregation placement serves a legitimate purpose.  For example in Losee v. Nix, 842 F. Supp. 1178 (S.D. Iowa 1994) the court upheld 41-days of investigative segregation.  The court upheld months of confinement in administrative segregation for an inmate suspected of raping a female corrections officer.  The lengthy confinement was justified because of the need for increased control.  The court upheld the length pre-hearing administrative segregation despite the possibility that the punishment for the offense if convicted of the disciplinary offense may have been of shorter duration than the non-punitive isolation.[14]


Supervisor Authorization or Review is Recommended
Though not constitutionally required, procedural provisions for supervisory review of pre-hearing detention placement would help protect against allegations of retaliatory, arbitrary, or otherwise unwarranted use of isolation.  Supervisory review can also better ensure consistency and uniformity in the manner in which administrative segregation is used.  Administrative segregation used in conjunction with inmate disciplinary is a necessary and effective tool for furthering legitimate penological interests.  It is important, however, for corrections officers to understand, that administrative segregation is not necessary in every instance where a disciplinary writeup occurs.  Although the case law is well established that inmnates have no right to placement in any particular facility or to be housed in the general population,[15] it is wise for corrections officials for formalize a process which effectively regulates the use of pre-hearing segregation.

While the decision to charge an inmate with a misconduct offense is justified if it is reasonably believed that the inmate has violated rules and regulations governing inmate conduct, the decision to use pre-hearing administrative segregation requires consideration of a different set of criteria.  Pre-hearing isolation is justified to provide needed control, to protect vulnerable inmates, to restrain dangerous or predatory inmates, to facilitate post-incident investigation, to hold pending classification actions, to restore or maintain order, or when justified by other legitimate needs for temporary isolation of inmates following a disciplinary incident.


[1]Hewitt v. Helm, 459 U.S. 460, 469-470 (1983).

[2]Hewitt v. Helm, 459 U.S. 460, 467-468 (1983); Templeman v. Gunter, 16 F.3d 367 (CA10 1994).  Also see Sandin v. Conner, 115 S.Ct. 2293 (1995).

[3]Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215 (1986); Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238 (1983).

[4]Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460 (1983); Harris v. Davis, 874 F.2d 461 (CA7 1989), cert. denied, 110 S.Ct. 735 (1990); Rogers v. Thomas, 879 F.2d 380 (CA8 1989) (not a due process violation to isolate prisoners being investigated for rules violations); Woodson v. Lack, 865 F.2d 107 (CA6 1989); Lomax v. McCaughtry, 731 F.Supp. 1388 (E.D. Wis. 1990) (no right to due process before being placed in temporary lockup prior to disciplinary hearing after positive urine-drug test).

[5]Hewitt v. Helm, 459 U.S. 460, 468 (1983).  Also see Sandin v. Conner, 115 S.Ct. 2293 (1995).

[6]Hewitt v. Helm, 459 U.S. 460, 470 (1983).

[7]Rapier v. Harris, 172 F.3d 999, 1002 (CA7 1999).  Also see, Sandin v. Conner, 115 S.Ct. 2293 (1995); Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 539 (1979).

[8]Rapier v. Harris, 172 F.3d 999, 1002 (CA7 1999).

[9]Hewitt v. Helm, 459 U.S. 460, 469 (1983).

[10]Hewitt v. Helm, 459 U.S. 460, 469 (1983).  Pichardo v. Kinker, 73 F.3d 612 (CA5 1996) (placement in administrative segregation because of gang status).

[11]Hewitt v. Helm, 459 U.S. 460, 469 (1983).  See also,Griffin v. Vaughn, 112 F.3d 703 (CA3 1997); Uzzell v. Scully, 893 F.Supp. 259 (S.D. N.Y. 1995); Losee v. Nix, 842 F. Supp. 1178 (S.D. Iowa 1994).

[12]Hewitt v. Helm, 459 U.S. 460, 469-470 (1983).

[13]Edwards v. Johnson, 209 F.3d 772 (CA5 2000).

[14]Griffin v. Vaughn, 112 F.3d 703 (CA3 1997).

[15]Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215 (1986); Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S. 238 (1983);  Sandin v. Conner, 115 S.Ct. 2293 (1995); Hewitt v. Helm, 459 U.S. 460 (1983).



READ:  Inmate Discipline Part 1:  The Foundation for an Effective Discipline System

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