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 way to ‘do time.’ This history has made heroes out of many of the inmates to family, relatives and to a larger extent, fellow gang members. Being confined in the SHU for years on end is almost looked-up upon by gang members and they feel that they too have a destiny with the SHU of Pelican Bay. Many gang related activities are directly controlled by the gang leaders in the SHU. Although prison staff attempt to block outgoing gang orders, many get through with surprising regularity. Orders such as murdering rival gang members, prison guards, and civilians are often traced directly back to those...