Can You Choose Which Prison to go to?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: December 9, 2020

Life is all about choices. Making good ones can lead you on a happy, successful path in life. But making bad ones can result in consequences that you might never be able to overcome. Having the freedom to make your own choices – no matter how big or small – is one of the best parts of being a living, breathing human. And some would argue, the best part of being an American.

I didn’t realize how important it was to have the freedom to make choices until I was put in prison for four years for marijuana possession and cultivation. It never occurred to me that I would find myself in a situation where I didn’t have the power and freedom to make my own choices for myself. 

For years, I couldn’t choose where I lived, what I did for employment, what I could wear, what I could eat, when I could sleep, when I could communicate with my friends and family, or even when I went to the bathroom. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to have your freedom taken away. I felt like my life was put on pause for years while the world passed me by. 

I say all of this because today’s blog post is about choices. Specifically, the question that needs to be answered is about an inmate choosing a prison to do their time. I sent this question to my friend, Mistie Vance, who has served over 10 years behind bars. Next year, she goes to the parole board and will hopefully get a release date. 

So, let’s get to today’s question: can you choose which prison to go to? Mistie’s post will cover the following topics: 

  • An inmate can’t choose which prison to go to
  • Some states try to keep prisoners close to family
  • Inmates often get transferred to different facilities
  • Each prison offers a different experience

An inmate can’t choose which prison to go to

Unfortunately, prison isn’t like fast food, you just can’t have it your way. Which prison you end up in depends on several factors. Those include your institutional level, what state you received your charges, whether your charges are state or federal, and whether you have protective reasons to be transferred. Personal preference doesn’t play a role when being assigned to any particular institution.

Take my situation for example. I am a female with charges in the state of Missouri, who came into prison a level five and am now a level one. Since there are only two women’s prisons in the state of Missouri, and both are level five (maximum security) institutions, my custody level wasn’t a factor in determining which prison I would be assigned to. 

Since there are twenty men’s prisons in the state of Missouri, different prisons have different custody levels, and male offenders are assigned to an institution with their custody level. When an offender’s custody level changes, they are transferred to another institution with their new custody needs.

Some states try to keep prisoners close to family

Another consideration in determining where an inmate will be housed is proximity to family and other outside support. Most institutions try to keep an offender as close as possible to where they lived before incarceration so that they are better able to receive visits from loved ones. 

This is very important in the rehabilitation process, and is recognized as such by the institution. One of the exceptions to being housed close to home would be staff familiarity. If members of an inmates immediate family or close friends are employed by the institution, it would prohibit the offender from being housed there.

Inmates often get transferred to different facilities

An inmate may start out their incarceration in one prison, but end up being transferred one or more times during the course of their sentence. Besides being transferred when an offender’s custody level changes, there are other reasons why a transfer may become necessary. 

If an inmate is in danger from other inmates for gang-related or other reasons they may be moved to another prison for their own protection. Another reason a transfer may become necessary is inappropriate relationships between staff members and offenders. 

Sometimes, like in my situation, a person is transferred because a prison is closing down or being used for a different purpose than it was previously.

My incarceration started in the Texas County Justice Center in Houston, Missouri. I was charged in Texas county. Therefore, I was incarcerated in the Texas County Jail until being sentenced and transferred to prison. 

Even though there are two women’s prisons in the state of Missouri, only one of those prisons has a receiving and diagnostics facility, so every female offender in the state of Missouri must first be sent to W.E.R.D.C.C. in Vandalia. 

After the receiving and diagnostics process, some women are kept in the Vandalia prison, and others are sent to the prison at Chillicothe. I was kept in the Vandalia prison for nine years before being transferred to Chillicothe six weeks ago. 

In my ten and a half years incarcerated, I spent a year and a half in county jail, nine years in Vandalia, and six weeks in Chillicothe.

Each prison offers a different experience

Even though I didn’t have a choice in where I’ve been incarcerated, I am thankful for the experience I gained in each of the three institutions. Each place offered different opportunities for learning and growth, and provided a chance to become the kind of person who can be successful upon release. 

I have been blessed to meet hundreds of different women and hear their stories, to gain from their life experience, and help them grow by sharing mine. 

There is something to be gained from every experience in life if we are only open to receiving it. Whether inside of prison or out, always remember that you may not get to choose where you are, but you always have a choice in who you are.

Could you handle not being able to choose where you live? Let us know in the comments below.


Inmate essay from Mistie Vance
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