U.S. federal prisons move inmates using what is called controlled movements.

Controlled Movements

With the exception of federal prison camps, federal prisons move inmates using what is called controlled movements. This basically means prisoners are only permitted to move from one location to another within the prison during certain periods called “moves” or “activities moves.” In its most basic form, this means that prisoners are only allowed to go from one area of the prison (e.g., the housing unit) to another (e.g., recreation) when a move has been announced.

Generally speaking, moves are called on the hour and last for 10 minutes. Prison officials alert inmates to moves by announcing “activities move” over the institution’s public address system. During this period prisoners are permitted to go from one location to another.

At the end of the period they then announce “move closed, clear the compound.” At this point most prisoners start to clear the compound area (the central walkways of the prison). Most prisons don’t issue incident reports to inmates who are still on the compound when the move closes, but the guards will start yelling to “clear the compound.”

There are also moves for other purposes, such as:

  • Recreation moves: Five-minute moves to recreation only before breakfast and dinner.
  • Pill line moves: Usually done by the housing unit to provide medications to inmates. These generally occur in the evenings.
  • Insulin line moves: These occur before the morning and evening meals to provide diabetic prisoners with their insulin medications.
  • Recalls: This is used to move all prisoners back to their housing units.

It will be pretty obvious when a move is called, as prison officials in the Control office will announce it over the public address system. Unit officers and staffers in the Education DepartmentPsychology Services, the Chapel, and the Recreation Department will also walk to their respective doors and unlock them.

The schedule for moves usually goes like this:

  • 7:40 a.m. work call
  • 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. activities moves
  • 10:30 a.m. recall
  • Lunch
  • 12:40 p.m. work call
  • 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. activities move
  • 3:30 p.m. recall
  • 6 p.m., 7 p.m., and 8 p.m. activities moves
  • 8:30 p.m. recall

Recreation moves are held prior to the breakfast and dinner meals. They last for only five minutes at a time.

On the weekends the same theory applies, but this depends on when the meals are served and when they are finished. Also there are no work calls on the weekends.

During meal times your unit will be called to chow based on a meal rotation decided by unit inspection scores. During this time you are free to roam the compound until the meal is finished. Once it has closed prison officials will either call an activities move or simply close the compound, at which point you would need to exit into an authorized area.

If caught on the compound after the move has closed don’t be overly concerned, as generally nothing happens. The guards will tell you to get to where you are going, though.

If you missed the move and need to get somewhere, you can ask the nearest officer to radio where you are supposed to be and see if they want you to be released to go to the appointment or commitment.

You are not permitted to leave the housing unit on a recall move. Only inbound traffic is permitted. Recalls can be at other times of the day under certain circumstances. For example, if prison officials can’t locate an inmate they sometimes call a recall. They also do so for bad weather, power outages, and other reasons. Due to this you should be careful to not be out of bounds because this could result in you being caught and being issued an incident report.

It takes some time to get used to controlled moves, but it eventually becomes second nature. After spending a few years in prison they just become a part of prison life.

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