Locked Down: Gangs in the Supermax by Michael Montgomery

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Pelican Bay Supermax

Pelican Bay Supermax

After listening to and or reading the transcripts of Locked Down: Gangs in the Supermax by Michael Montgomery, one gets a glimpse of prison life, sociological issues inmates and staff face, and the subculture of prison life faced by staff and prisoners alike on a daily basis. However, instead of delving completely in to the situational circumstances of prisoner life, it is more important to understand the history of this Supermax prison and why it was constructed to begin with. Further, it is important to understand the philosophy of the need for the Secure Housing Unit, which is the most secure and isolated portion of Pelican Bay Prison.
Pelican Bay Prison was designed, constructed and finally opened in Northern California in December 1989 at a cost of 217.5 million dollars. It was designed to accommodate 3384 prisoners, of which 2280 may be assigned to solitary confinement and another 1056 to the Secure Housing Unit or “SHU.” These housing numbers however are typically greater and often exceed the designed accommodation by more than 1000. Pelican Bay takes pride in the fact that it was designed to be the most secure, isolated, and intimidating prison in the country. This takes an average of 938 sworn personnel and 460 support staff to accomplish. It was designed to house the most violent convicts and attempts to isolate known gang members from other prisoners and the outside world for 22 + hours a day. Those in the SHU are often the gang leaders and are under constant surveillance by prison staff. The big factors in determining who is placed in the SHU are a history of violence and an affiliation with one of any numerous known gangs.
Pelican Bay and other California penile systems do not hide the fact that they do not attempt to ‘rehabilitate’ prisoners as they had in earlier years. In fact, ‘rehabilitation’ was removed from the mission statement of the California Department of Corrections in 1977. While many other prison systems across the country still subscribe to rehabilitation, Pelican Bay was strictly designed to contain prisoners. In which, the idea of the SHU arose and was therefore designed into the prison. SHU is an intense, solitary, confinement solution that puts the ‘Super’ into Supermax at Pelican Bay.
The SHU of Pelican Bay has a long history of being the most severe form of isolation and ...

... middle of paper ... prisoners. In 1994 a prisoner won a settlement for 997,000 for being scalded by boiling bath water by former prison guards. In March 1998, the FBI began investigating prison guard abuses; such as guards ordering certain prisoners to assault and even the murder other prisoners. Prison guards were indicted out of charges and face prison time them selves. These are some of the many ongoing issues that the Pelican Bay prison administrators are facing.
Although reading transcripts of Locked Down: Gangs in the Supermax by Michael Montgomery, one can not fully grasp all of the issues that prison officials and prisoners face on a daily basis. It is a good opportunity however to gain a basic understanding of issues facing the prisoners and staff alike, that house the most violent members of society.

American Public Media; Montgomery, M. (Locked Down; Gangs in the Supermax )

Wallace, B., & Podger, P J., & Van Derbeken, J. (2000, February) Guard Kills Prisoner at Pelican Bay, 12 other inmates shot in knife wielding melee. The San
Francisco Chronicle. Web Based article.
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