“Standing over a small metal sink, a prisoner pours water over his head and face. It’s usually the only way to bathe, and offers a brief respite from staring at barren, pockmarked walls in a tiny cell.” The Sacramento Bee gives that description of daily life inside the “behavior unit” at one California prison. Inmate Tally Molina is allowed out of his cell once every third day for a quick shower. Asked how he occupies his time, Molina spoke of meals and some reading, but added: “Nothing really breaks the monotony.”
Behavior units were created in six California prisons as a middle ground between the general population and security housing that inmates call “the hole.” The behavior units were designed for troublemakers or those who reject cellmates. Since their inception in 2005, well over 1,500 inmates have passed through behavior units, where reduced privileges are supposed to be combined with “life skills” classes. The Bee found that the units are marked by extreme isolation and deprivation. Most of the classes were halted by budget cuts. Some inmates endure lives devoid of exercise, social interaction, even time outside of the cell – for months on end. In interviews, many seemed confused about the purpose of the units and desperate about their future. A state official conceded that an absence of classes “leads to increased inmate idleness and might ultimately have the opposite effect of what  was intended” – that is, the units might provoke the disruptive behavior they were designed to curb.