Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Promising Practices

Incentive-based system in disciplinary segregation


Hampden County Correctional Center (HCCC)

Brief Summary

The Hampden County Correctional Center (HCCC) overhauled its use of segregation by introducing an incentive-based system to encourage positive behavioral change. HCCC aimed to use segregation as an opportunity for behavioral intervention with individuals who had committed disciplinary infractions, including a system to reward good behavior. The usefulness and success of these incentive-based motivations would be constantly evaluated.
The system was used for people in disciplinary segregation, and cooperation was incentivized through access to a wellness area and the ability to earn time off of their segregation sanction. Within the first year of implementing the incentive-based system and other reforms, the number of people in disciplinary segregation decreased by 68 percent and the average length of stay decreased by 70 percent.

The Goal

Staff wanted to motivate and reinforce positive behavior, reduce the amount of time people spend in segregation, and prevent mental decompensation.

The Process

The incentive-based system was part of a system-wide reform of disciplinary segregation at HCCC in 2008. The department put together a staff committee across security levels, including people with experience in security, classification, human services, forensics, uniform, and non-uniform. This committee initiated changes to the use of disciplinary segregation at HCCC.

There was a growing concern about our segregation population, and many of these people with existing mental health issues were displaying ongoing negative behaviors while housed in segregation. Staff were overwhelmed with responding to behavioral issues and environmental conditions declined. Staff were involved in the overall planning and fundamental concepts of segregation reform. Our graduated incentive-based system was built upon our existing practices of rewarding positive behavior and sharing the progress.

The Solution

In the Special Management Unit—also known as the disciplinary segregation unit—HCCC implemented an incentive-based system to motivate individual cooperation with unit staff and procedures, including cleanliness of cells, personal hygiene, abstaining from creating excess noise in the unit, and exhibiting no assaultive behaviors towards others.

Those in segregation who consistently achieved a positive evaluation were given extra time out of their cell, one at a time, in a cell that had been converted into a “wellness area.” This wellness cell contains exercise equipment, including a stability ball, medicine balls varying in weight and size, a foam roller, a stationary bike, and a mini-stepper. Consistent positive evaluations may also translate into time off the individual’s stay in the Special Management Unit.

The Results

As of January 2016, HCCC has seen a 68-percent reduction in the number of individuals being held in the segregation unit and at least a 70-percent decrease in the average length of stay on the unit. Disciplinary incidents were reduced in the general population, sanitary conditions and general climate improved, and more people stayed out of segregation after completing their time in segregation. Staff members have become more positive about working in the Special Management Unit. Recidivism rates have also dropped.

Lessons Learned

The involvement of line staff has been strongly encouraged. The success of our reform is directly related to staff involvement, and in our use of the reform structure to motivate and inspire change. Reform is a team effort that consists of a large amount of ownership and staff collaboration. These components are essential to the overall success of our reform.

This Promising Practices section of the SAS Resource Center was developed as part of a collaborative effort with the Vera Institute of Justice, University of Michigan Law School, and Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights. We are also deeply grateful to the many leaders across the country who created and implemented each of the reforms cited throughout this section for their efforts to reduce the use of restrictive housing in prisons and jails across the country.

Please note that Vera and our partners do not specifically endorse the practices and policies included in this section. The Promising Practices section features segregation reforms being implemented in prisons and jails around the country. Our goal is to serve as a resource to other jail and prison systems interested in implementing similar practices and policies by highlighting those jurisdictions that report successful reforms.