The 5 Traits of Effective Restrictive Housing Systems

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Restrictive Housing

Managing inmates who are disruptive and/or violent. Protecting inmates who are vulnerable. Maintaining order. Respecting rights and dignities. Your job isn’t easy.

One of the most common ways to balance these competing priorities is to use restrictive housing. Also known as maximum custody, ad-seg, The Hole, intensive management unit (IMU), The Box, and a variety of other names, restrictive housing is a term for any inmate treatment that involves three basic elements:

  1. Transfer out of the general population
  2. Housing in a locked room or cell, with or without another inmate, and
  3. Confinement to that room or cell for most of the day, usually 22 hours or more.¹

Restrictive housing is increasingly under scrutiny and frequently misunderstood. When used effectively, it’s not just about relocating or containing problem behavior. It’s a thoughtful process that helps maintain the delicate equilibrium in the facility while balancing the safety and dignity of all involved.

Effective restrictive housing systems have a few key things in common:

  1. They’re clearly defined. Placement in restrictive conditions is only used when necessary and only for the amount of time needed to mitigate the risk. Corrections professionals know when and how restrictive housing should be used, and they’re able to clearly articulate their rationale.
  2. They’re closely monitoring inmates. Individuals may experience restrictive housing in drastically different ways depending on the length and conditions of confinement, the degree of social isolation, and their psychological resiliency, among other factors. Effective use of restrictive housing includes accounting for individual factors and conditions, not just the standard practices of the facility.
  3. They’re doing ongoing reviews. Does the original risk condition still exist? Is continued placement necessary? Review points are built into effective restrictive housing systems to help bring inmates back to non-restrictive conditions as soon as possible while still maintaining safety.
  4. They have transition plans. Re-integrating back into the general population can be a difficult process, and doing it too abruptly can set an inmate up for failure. Effective agencies work with the inmate to collaboratively set a plan that includes individualized goals and areas for improvement and provides opportunities for pro-social behavior and program engagement.
  5. They’re documenting everything. Every decision point, every justification, and every action taken needs to be clearly documented. This not only helps satisfy court inquiries, it also helps the facility ensure equity and consistency.

All of this boils down to two key elements: process and documentation. That’s where we come in. The Northpointe Suite’s COMPAS Classification can help you use restrictive housing more strategically and effectively by clearly defining processes, streamlining workflows, and capturing documentation in an easily accessible way.

Restrictive housing shouldn’t be taken lightly, and it shouldn’t be used haphazardly. If your agency struggles with finding the right balance or developing processes that stick, talk to us. You’re already doing the hard work to keep your population safe; let us work behind the scenes to support your team.

¹ National Institute of Corrections,