Protective Custody in Prison

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: October 21, 2020

Did you know there is prison inside of a prison? You may have heard it called “the hole” or “the SHU” or “solitary confinement.” But all of those names are referring to one place inside of prison walls – administrative segregation (AdSeg). 

The specific name depends on the facility, but administrative segregation is always a special unit that is separate from the general population. The inmate cells are smaller and more secure. They are usually a concrete room with nothing more than a bunk and a toilet.

An inmate can find themselves in AdSeg for a variety of different reasons. Being housed in AdSeg is often a punitive measure for inmates who get into fights, can’t follow the rules, or misbehave in some way. 

Inmates can also find themselves in AdSeg when they are in protective custody (PC). An inmate who voluntarily PC’s or who is placed in PC is also housed separate from the general population. And, that leads us to today’s topic: protective custody in prison – what is it and how does it work?

In this blog post I will cover the following topics:

  • Can you request protective custody in prison
  • Why would an inmate be in protective custody
  • Should police officers sentenced to prison be in protective custody?

Can you request protective custody in prison?

Yes, an inmate can request protective custody. Usually, inmates who ask to PC are high risk inmates. But there are other types of inmates who will also make the request.

High risk inmates are those who have committed violent and/or sexual crimes against children and women, rapists, animal abusers, and those who have committed crimes against the elderly.

Other inmates who request protective custody include gang members who are in a prison with rival gang members, informants, gay, and transgender inmates, and those who are nearing the end of their sentence.

Former law enforcement officials, judges, and prosecuting attorneys who are sentenced to prison also need protective custody. Notorious criminals, high-profile celebrities, and public figures usually need to PC, too.

All you have to do to request protective custody is to tell a guard. They will have you fill out a form to start the process and immediately remove you from your cell. 

Why would an inmate be in protective custody?

Protective custody is a special type of imprisonment that is designed to protect the inmate from harm. If an inmate feels they are in danger of being harmed or killed by other inmates in the general population, they can request to PC. This is a non-punitive measure, but it’s not really much different from solitary confinement.

“Essentially, an inmate, for their own protection, is moved into a solitary confinement-like situation to avoid interaction with other inmates,” Calen Weiss writes in Criminal Law Brief. “While there is no constitutional right to protective custody, it is frequently requested by inmates out of fear of retaliation for their crimes outside or within the prison.”

Prison officials can also make the decision to put an inmate in protective custody if they believe someone is at risk. This is usually the case with celebrity and high-profile inmates.

This isn’t a place that anyone wants to be. When you are in protective custody, you remain in your cell up to 23 hours per day. Usually, you will only get out for a shower and a few minutes of “rec” time. However, that is pretty much walking around inside a small caged area. 

Segregated inmates don’t have access to any of their personal property they may have purchased from the commissary. No TV, no snacks, no access to phones. You’re lucky if you get a book or some paper and pens.

An inmate’s time in PC could be temporary, or it could last the entirety of their sentence. I should also note that some states with large prison systems have designated specific facilities for vulnerable populations. Basically, they have “PC” prisons for inmates who need to be segregated from everyone else for whatever reason.

Should police officers sentenced to prison be in protective custody?

Yes. Police officers sentenced to prison should absolutely be in protective custody. Anyone with a history in law enforcement should ask to PC. There is no way they would be safe in the general population. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule. But, they would be rare.

Would you ask for protective custody if you felt you were at risk in prison? Let us know in the comments below.


The Downside of Being a Celebrity Prisoner: Protective Custody and its Relation to Solitary Confinement
  • Wow,crazy so glad you got out, the mandatory minimums are ridiculous.. I’m a two strike ex-con… the entire system is flawed beyond repair..nice article spot on and thank you .

  • My son is danger of being stabbed to death in the morning by gang member inmates how can I safe him.the guards will not do anything about it please help us.

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