The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


December 25, 2011

Penitentiary tries to curb inmate fights


In the special management unit system, inmates begin their sentence in cramped cells with few privileges. The smallest cells are only 6 feet 2 inches wide by 10 feet long. Food comes through a slot in the door. Inmates are handcuffed before they are allowed to leave their cells. Outside their cells, inmates shower in cages and have recreation time in cages. Recreation cages are 10 feet by 15 feet. A law library in C-Block consists of a computer enclosed in a metal protective cage and a green plastic chair.

There are no surveillance cameras in cells, Bledsoe said. Rather, corrections officers patrol a walkway along the cells, glancing through a narrow window in the steel door at least once every 30 minutes to ensure that none of the inmates is in duress, he said.

Inmates progress through the special management unit during a two-year period, a program that includes a variety of counseling services, including anger management. As inmates progress, they are shuffled to slightly larger cells with more privileges, Bledsoe said. In the E-Unit, inmates can only communicate with visitors by video, he said. Further along, inmates are allowed to have face-to-face visitors. And as they near completion of their time in the special management unit, inmates are allowed to mingle in "the range," the walkway outside their cells, while remaining in their cell blocks.

Andrew Ciolli, a spokesman for the penitentiary, said that 613 inmates have completed the special management unit program. Ciolli said the institution did not have data about how many inmates went through the special management unit only to return after repeated problems.

Bledsoe said that there is something of a Catch-22 when it comes to determining how to house the most dangerous inmates. One group of advocates will protest that is cruel and unusual punishment to house inmates in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time. On the other hand, when inmates are housed in pairs in special management units, advocates and inmates raise concerns about the potential for violence between cellmates.

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