Many people don’t understand what life is like inside prison. I have been working in the prison system for the past six years and have encountered many things, some good and some bad. Most of what people know about prison is what they have seen on T.V. and in the movies. Prior to working in prison I thought the movies “The Green Mile” and “Shawshank Redemption”, which are both good movies, represented what prison life was like. It may have been like that during those years but prison life now is much different.
The Arizona State Prison system has four custody levels, minimum, medium, closed and maximum. As an inmate goes up in custody level, the less freedom they are allowed. A minimum custody inmate usually lives in dorm style housing units and an open yard. Inmates get woken up at 5:30 a.m. and they have free rein to walk the yard, go to chow on their own at the designated times and attend any classes and work assignments they have chosen until the yard locks down for the evening at 8:30 p.m.
A closed custody inmate lives in a two-man cell with controlled movement. Controlled movement means that officers escort the inmates anytime they leave their housing unit. A closed custody unit usually has a cluster of cells in a building with one control room called a pod. The closed custody unit I worked at had four pods of 50 inmates in each building with two control rooms controlling two pods each. The control room uses a computer to access the doors to the cells though keys can be used to open cells in case of a power outage. This particular closed custody unit is staffed with one officer in the control room and one floor officer in charge of two pods of inmates. The inmates are escorted by an officer everywhere they go, either individually or as a group. They are escorted as a group to the chow hall for their meals and to the recreation field for their exercise.
Medium custody inmates also live in a dorm style setting similar to minimum custody inmates. Medium custody inmates have some controlled movement but are not escorted by officers. The control room officer, only letting out certain segments of their dorm at a time to eat or go to recreation, controls the movement. There are officers on the yard to make sure the inmates get to where they are supposed to go.
A maximum custody unit is strictly controlled. The inmates are only allowed to leave their cell one hour a day to go to a recreation pen. These inmates are fed in their cells through food traps in the door. These inmates are usually considered the worst type of inmate or they may need protection from the general population for information they have given staff or for something they did on the yard. The maximum inmates need the tightest security.
This is just a basic understanding of the custody levels in prison. The custody levels apply to both males and females.