``I seen them carry one inmate down the corridor with a guard on each leg and one on each arm. The assistant warden comes down the hall and grabs the inmate's testicles and starts yanking on them, saying, 'Who's doing it to who now, boy?' Well that was a signal for every guard in the place to do whatever the hell he wanted. I can't describe it to you--I never seen beatings like that. At least fifty guys got it, maybe more.'' (Lassiter, 1990: 76)
A control unit prison is a prison or part of a prison that is in a state of permanent lockdown, a usually-temporary condition used to control and suppress disruptions within a prison by severly restricting prisoners' rights. In theory, control units warehouse the "worst of the worst", the most violent prisoners who threaten the security of guards and other prisoners. This once temporary condition has been increasingly adopted as the new model for US prisons.
Before 1963, Alcatraz prison in California supposedly housed the most dangerous prisoners in the US. In 1963, the federal prison in Marion, Illinois took its place as a more modern, more technologically advanced maximum security prison. In 1978, Marion became the highest security prison in the US. It also became the most violent prison. Marion became the first control unit in 1983 when two prison guards were killed and Marion was put into permanent "lockdown". Marion has been the model for prisons across the country, which are rapidly becoming more and more repressive in the hopes of subduing any and all resistance to unjust treatment. Now more than 30 state prison systems, as well as the federal system, have some form of control unit.
More than simply fulfilling "security needs," control units employ sophisticated methods of behavior modification which not only controls violence but any form of resistance at all. The creation of control units has not reduced the level of violence within general prison populations. In fact, assaults on prison staff nationwide rose from 175 in 1991 to 906 to 1993 (Prendergast).
Control Units are used to isolate and punish those people who present a threat to the established power; for example, those who have filed lawsuits against prison officials, participated in work stoppages, or actively pursued their religious and/or political beliefs. In certain cases, political prisoners, such as American Indian Movement organizer Leonard Peltier and Black Liberation Army member Sekou Odinga, are sent to Control Units directly from trial, thereby disproving the claim that prisoners in Control Units have earned their punishment by their own violence or disruption once in prison.
Return to Prison List
Compliments of Proposition One Committee