Why Would an Inmate be Moved to a Different Cell?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: April 29, 2020

When you are living in the free world, there can be numerous reasons why you would move to a new home. People move because they get a new job, or get a raise and can afford a larger home. Or, on the flipside, people can downsize due to job loss or retirement.

Other people move because they get married, have kids, want a new start, or their parents kicked them out. I don’t need to go over every single reason because I’m sure you get the point.

When you are in prison, you can move cells numerous times during your incarceration. It may come as a surprise, but an inmate never does their entire sentence in the same cell. At some point during their prison stay, every prison inmate has moved cells at least once.

This leads us to today’s blog post: why would an inmate move cells?

In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • Moving from R&O to General Population
  • Going to “the hole”
  • What is a courtesy move?
  • Special programs sometimes mean special housing

Moving from R&O to General Population

An inmate can be moved to a different cell for a variety of reasons. When they first get to prison, inmates are required to spend the first few weeks in Receiving and Orientation (R and O) until certain medical and mental health data is received and processed.

Inmates in R&O are completely separate from the general population. They live in their own housing unit, they go to the chow hall at special times, and they don’t participate in educational programming or have a job.

When the inmate is in receiving, they will go through a series of educational tests, medical tests, and be fingerprinted and swabbed for DNA. They also receive their state-issued uniforms and toiletries, as well as their phone code so they can make outgoing calls.

Once an inmate goes through the entire receiving and classification process — which usually takes about a month — they are moved out of R&O and into the General Population, where they are assigned a specific housing unit, wing, room, and bed number. 

If for some reason their situation changes, their placement in the facility will change as well.

Going to “the hole”

Another common reason that an inmate moves cells is because they are placed in administrative or disciplinary segregation, also known as ADSEG or the SHU, when they violate one of the facility’s rules. At the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri, inmates refer to this building as “the hole.” 

“Offenders violating institutional rules or being investigated are assigned to segregation until their sanction is completed or until there has been a resolution to the investigation,” says inmate Mistie Vance. “At that time, they will be reassigned to another housing unit and or room. On occasion, special circumstances allow for the offender to return to their assigned living area.”

What is a courtesy move?

For obvious reasons, not every room situation works out in the long term. With anywhere from two to six offenders living in the same room/cell, there are several different personalities that have to exist in the same small area. 

Especially with extremely dominant personalities, this isn’t always a workable situation. For the most part, offenders are left to work out their differences, must learn to adapt, and find a way to get along. But, on occasion, the only solution is to move one or all of the offenders to different rooms, wings, or housing units.

If they don’t like their room, inmates can request a courtesy move, but prison staff doesn’t really honor those requests anymore. There have been a number of changes in the way that WERDCC is now as opposed to the way it was ten years ago, at the beginning of Vance’s incarceration. She’s noticed a difference in the way the caseworkers relate to the offenders in regards to living situations. 

When she first arrived at WERDCC, the staff seemed to be more sensitive to the needs of the offenders on an emotional level. However, Vance says that most don’t have that same level of empathy now. For example, an elderly offender or someone with physical issues who is on a top bunk may request a bottom. Or, an offender might request to move due to being bullied.

In the past, these things would’ve been taken into consideration in moving the offender. But now, Vance says the staff has more of an uncaring attitude. The standard response these days is that they don’t do courtesy moves.

Special programs sometime mean special housing

Another reason an offender might be moved is because they need to be placed on a wing or in a housing unit where they offer special programs that are only accessible to those living on the wing or in that unit. 

Examples of this would include the Beauty for Ashes Christian re-entry program, the institutional treatment program, the CHAMP dog training program, MOSOP sex offender program, the work-release program, and the pre-release program for offenders nearing their release date. 

All of these programs require being in a community with others in the program and being involved in classes throughout the day. This makes it impossible to live elsewhere in camp and still be involved in the most effective and efficient ways.

For most inmates, room moves are just par for the course. In Vance’s  ten years in prison, she has had “literally hundreds of roommates.” The only thing certain is change, and it isn’t the strongest or smartest that survive, it’s the most adaptable. 

Room moves happen every day. Inmates can either choose to embrace their situation and experience the growth of character that results from it, or continue to fight against it and stay stuck. The choice is theirs to make.

Could you survive living with someone that you didn’t know or didn’t get along with? Let us know in the comments below.


Interview with Mistie Vance, inmate at the Women’s Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center in Vandalia, Missouri.
  • Thank you so much for taking time and writing about this topic. My son is currently incarcerated and he had said he’s moved several times, i simply wanted to educate myself as to the possible reasons.

  • Why would a prisoner be moved to D block when they were already in the dorms

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