The American prison system is famous around the world for its strictness, its size, the amount of people that the US incarcerates, and for doing a lot things and having a lot of rules that a lot of people think are a little crazy. And honestly, they’re really not all that wrong. Some lucky American prisoners wind up getting out of prison early for “good behavior,” but there are also a lot of inmates who get more time added to their sentence or even wind up getting moved to a more intense imprisonment experience for some pretty absurd rules and regulations. And unsurprisingly, the inmates that pose a health risk to the rest of the prison or who pose a physical threat to other inmates or to the staff members often wind up getting moved to a facility that is more equipped to handle their specific issues, which can mean a hospital or health care ward, or it can mean solitary confinement or movement to a supermax prison.
And while some of these rules and regulations might seem like common sense to most of us, there are quite a few prison rule “violations” that are downright absurd. But, if you’re stuck in the pen and aren’t too happy about your current surroundings there are plenty of ways to get a change of scenery, even if the other options aren’t really an upgrade. So what exactly can you do, say, or be in order to get kicked out of your prison?
15. Getting Caught With Contraband
One of the easiest ways to get out of your prison cell and into solitary confinement is by possessing any kind of contraband. What exactly is contraband, you might ask? Well, in most prisons contraband is considered anything that you are not supposed to possess that can be modified in some way or possesses some kind of trade value. Sound a little vague? That’s because it is, intentionally so. Essentially, what this means is that you can get in serious trouble for having anything the corrections officers think you shouldn’t have, which can mean obvious things like illegal substances or weapons, or can mean things that most of us would find ridiculous to see as a “crime,” like having too many stamps or too much food. The reasoning behind this rule is that anything that can be traded for any value can potentially be dangerous, so even harmless things can be a “weapon” in the wrong hands. And if a CO decides that you’ve got contraband, then it might be a visit to solitary confinement for you.
14. Being Violent Towards Staff
If you’re looking to get out of your prison cell and into a segregation unit then there is probably no easier way to make that happen than to physically harm or threaten one of the prison’s employees. Maintaining safety within the prison and maintaining the control that prison employees have over the facility is one of the most important elements of ensuring that a prison runs smoothly and successfully, so inmates who act out aggressively towards the staff are usually managed very quickly and harshly. And obviously an inmate isn’t going to make a great impression if they’re trying to assault one of the COs, so by putting the unruly prisoners in solitary confinement they’re punishing the prisoner for their action while ensuring that the staff overall will hardly have to deal with that person. Most correctional officers expect to experience violence during their work hours, but they understandably have an extremely low tolerance for it.
13. Refusing A Haircut
The logic behind wanting prisoners to have short hair is pretty solid. Firstly it allows the prisoner’s face to be seen clearly at all times pretty much, and secondly because prison officers fear that inmates with super long hair have a decent hiding place for materials they’re not permitted to have. However, this prison regulation can be taken to a pretty insane extreme. In a prison in Virginia a group of Rastafarians refused to cut their beards and hair that are required by their religion, and because of that they were all kept in solitary confinement for over ten years. Having neat hair is a reasonable regulation, but it’s not a rule that makes any sense if it’s literally violating the constitutional rights of an inmate. When the absurdly long segregation of these Rastafarians came to light a lot of people were pretty up in arms about it. However, the courts ultimately ruled against the inmates’ right to keep their hair.
12. Failing A Substance Test
Prison is supposed to keep illegal substances and alcohol outside of its walls, but unfortunately prisoners have their ways of getting what they want if they’re sneaky enough about it. This is why it’s not just a crime to be in possession of drugs in prison; prisoners will also be sanctioned if they test positive on a drug screening. And unsurprisingly, since an inmate who fails a drug test presumably had to get the drugs from someone else, the quick fix for the prison is to just keep that particular inmate away from anyone else. Solitary confinement is a heavy price to pay for using drugs, but what’s a crime outside of prison is obviously still a crime in prison so arguably those prisoners do deserve some punishment. It also makes sense to isolate them from whatever source of the drugs they might have, which could be another inmate or could be someone from the outside visiting.
11. Possessing A Weapon
This is another regulation that can get you moved to solitary post haste that seems like an obvious rule on paper. However, what constitutes a weapon in prison can really be almost anything you could imagine. Prisons try to tightly control what comes in and out of their walls, but contraband does slip through and many prisoners can use incredibly innocuous objects to create weapons. Most of you are probably thinking of your standard toothbrush shiv, but some prisoners have managed to make some insanely dangerous weapons out of everyday materials available to them. Prisoners have managed to make crossbows out of toothbrushes and string, made flamethrowers out of coffee creamer, used melted chocolate to burn other inmates with, and one prisoner even managed to build a bomb out of batteries and wires, which he sent to the judge who gave him his sentence (luckily the bomb was defused, but it did make it all the way to the judge it was intended for).
10. Getting Sick
Getting sick is probably the easiest way to get kicked out of prison without getting even more punishment than you were getting before. And that’s one rule I think everyone in the world can agree with. I mean, a building with thousands of people trapped in insanely close quarters where everyone pretty much has to share everything is an obvious breeding ground for disease, and it’s a lot easier to treat one prisoner in a medical facility than it is to treat a hundred or a thousand all dealing with the same illness. However, there is a bit of a dark underbelly to this common sense rule, which is that if an inmate desperately wants to get out of their cell and go someplace else they can make themselves sick or even seriously injure themselves in order to make it happen. This is why prisons who suspect a prisoner is faking tend to give them slightly different treatment than the legitimately sick.
9. Or Faking Sickness
Well, if being sick or injured is one of the easiest ways to get out of a prison and into some more private and comfortable accommodations, then it’s no surprise that quite a few inmates might intentionally make themselves sick or injure themselves in order to get a visit to the infirmary or to be transferred to a hospital for a few days. However, most correctional officers are trained to respond exactly as they would to a real illness or injury even if they think the prisoner is faking, because the risk that they truly are in some sort of physical danger is not one that any prisons would want to take. This fakery, called “malingering” by the corrections system, is actually incredibly common within prisons, but the health care workers and guards will evaluate the inmates regardless of the perceived situation. Prisoners will often try to fake illness for the sake of getting some benefits, but their only payoff might be a brief trip to the infirmary.
8. Indecently Exposing Yourself
As anyone would obviously expect, anything that is a crime out in the real world is also treated as a crime inside of prison. And unfortunately for many prison employees and inmates, indecent exposure is one of the more commonly committed crimes inside prison walls. But the punishments for indecent exposure can be especially tough, inmates exposing themselves to correctional officers or other prison employees is seen as a kind of harassment or assault, and you really don’t want to be harassing or assaulting the person who gets to decide your punishment for said harassment or assault. And unfortunately, the majority of prisons house inmates that are men, and a pretty high proportion of people working in correctional facilities are women, so prisoners exposing themselves to officers can be a pretty significant problem. But obviously, if you’re locked in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day the officers and inmates don’t have to be concerned about seeing your private areas.
7. Having A Mental Illness
Sadly, mental illness can get you out of a regular prison in two major ways. The first one is the one that most people would hope for, which is that they get out of prison and go to a psychiatric treatment facility to get the care that they actually need in order to become better. However, there are a whole lot of prisoners in the American prison system who are suffering from undiagnosed mental illnesses, and because of their “bad behavior” they wind up being sent to a solitary confinement facility or an even more severely restrictive prison. And because the problem with them isn’t getting fixed, a lot of the severe restrictions and punishments actually wind up making the symptoms of their mental illnesses even worse. But luckily, that isn’t the case for every mentally ill inmate, so many of them do wind up getting the boot from their current prison and put into a facility that is more equipped to their needs.
6. Being In Withdrawal
It’s no surprise that there are a whole lot of addicts and substance abusers who wind up in the American prison system. However, people with serious drug problems and addictions are usually in need of some pretty serious medical care when they are initially getting off drugs, so for the sake of the addicted inmate as well as the other inmates and the prison officers addicts who are going through withdrawals will often be sent to an infirmary or to the hospital until they’re able to fully function again. And there are treatment programs available in the American prison systems for after an addict has first kicked their habit, in the hopes that they’re able to stay off their drug of choice and go back into society as a drug-free person. That’s not to say that it works for everyone though, and unfortunately one of the most popular forms of prison contraband is drugs.
5. Being In Immediate Physical Danger From Other Inmates
This is another obvious rule and regulation, although it might not always work in the way you think it should. Of course if two prisoners are having a problem that turns violent then they should be separated from each other, and normally you’d think that whoever is causing the violence or problem should be the one who is removed from the general prison. However, that is not always the case. There are some prisoners who wind up raising the ire of a whole bunch of the other inmates, sometimes it’s because of the crime they’ve committed to get in there and sometimes it’s because of what they’ve done while in prison, but either way, there are occasionally situations where one prisoner is in danger of being hurt or killed by multiple other prisoners. And while it’s not always fair, obviously it’s easier to move one person out of the prison instead of moving ten or twenty, even if the larger group of prisoners is the one making the threat.
4. Being LGBTQ+
Clearly there have been an enormous amount of inroads made by the LGBTQ+ community and the world’s perspective on LGBTQ+ people has shifted a lot in the past few years. But there are still people who have issues with people within that community, and obviously being trapped in a prison together with homophobes or being a trans woman in a men’s prison could create enormous problems and safety risks. Which is why so many LGBTQ+ people wind up in administrative segregation, which is basically another, fancier term for solitary confinement. And while solitary confinement is often used as a form of punishment for disobedient prisoners, in this case it’s about trying to prevent any dangerous situations from occurring between LGBTQ+ people and the prisoners who have a problem with them. It makes sense, but it doesn’t seem like a particularly fair system, because it’s essentially punishing LGBTQ+ people permanently just for being whoever they are.
3. Not Obeying An Officer’s Order
There’s a reason prison inmates typically refer to the corrections officer as “boss,” because the prisoners are supposed to do pretty much whatever a correctional officer tells them to unless it’s somehow physically impossible. And that is a rule that makes sense for the most part. I mean, if a group of a few dozen employees are supposed to control hundreds of prisoners who already misbehave enough to wind up in prison then it’s reasonable to require them to follow any directions that a CO gives them. But those strict requirements also mean that you can get kicked out of your prison the minute you fail to comply with an officer’s orders, and while putting a prisoner in solitary confinement obviously makes them easier to control, it’s also a pretty extreme measure to take with someone who could have done something as simple as refusing to tie their shoes or pull up their pants.
2. Using Facebook
For the most part people in prison don’t even have access to computers or to the internet, but on the rare occasion that they do they’re still expressly forbidden from using email or any kind of social networking websites or apps. But prisoners, just like most people living today, have a pretty tough time quitting all social media cold turkey, especially since being in prison makes them even more isolated from their family and friends. If prisoners are discovered fussing with or creating their own social media accounts, though they’ll often times get a severe punishment, which can include solitary confinement. And on top of that, some of them can get absolutely insane sentences for using their social media, there have been cases where prisoners have gotten up to two years of solitary confinement, and some have even gotten solitary confinement sentences over a decade. Even more absurdly, some prisoners have gotten solitary confinement sentences that are longer than their actual prison sentences for using social media.
1. Possessing Expired Toothpaste
When it comes to giving sanctions to prisoners in an American prison, the correctional officers pretty much have free rein to make a “sanction” into whatever the heck they want. And nothing demonstrates how easily that can be abused more than many of the sanctions that were put on army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, which yes, included possessing a tube of expired toothpaste. According to the document for that particular sanction Manning was being punished and put into solitary confinement for “medicine misuse.” Ultimately for that particular infraction Manning was only stripped of all of her other prison privileges but not removed from the prison itself. However, it totally goes to show that if a corrections officer wants to sanction you, punish you, or get you out of their prison then they can often times figure out a completely innocuous reason to do that. But I guess it’s also nice to know that they’re all super concerned about the dangers of expired toothpaste.
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