Location: Crescent City, CA
Notable Residents: Robert Walter Scully, Kody Scott (Sanyika Shakur), Richard Medina
Amenities: A special division designed to break you down psychologically
Pelican Bay State Prison is a huge, supermax facility sitting on 275 acres of land in Del Norte County. It is named after a shallow bay that that is approximately two miles to the west, on the Pacific Coast. Open since 1989, the prison has been used to house some of the most difficult inmates.
The prison is split into two sections: One half is held in general population, and the other half lives in an X-shaped cluster of buildings called the Security Housing Unit (SHU). Those buildings are surrounded by an electric fence.
The are no windows inside of the SHU cells; prisoners are provided only with fluorescent lights. Prisoners are given two daily meals, and kept inside of their cells for about 22 hours every day. They are ordered to engage in five weekly hours of exercise in a cement yard, which is sometimes called a "dog run." SHU prisoners spend about eight years in solitary confinement before being released back into the general population or paroled. Some prisoners have spent decades in SHU, but most are actually granted parole by the state. Many of the SHU inmates are members of prison gangs, and if they are willing to provide written accounts of their gang activity they may be transferred to different prisons, or serve their time in protective custody. Some have called SHU an exceptionally cruel method of punishment that has resulted in "SHU syndrome," a condition similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, and inmates have protested the division through hunger strikes.
Pelican Bay is horrendously overcrowded, as so many California prisons are. There are currently over 3,000 inmates housed at Pelican Bay, despite a capacity of just over 2,000. Pelican Bay has made multiple appearances in pop culture, including two films by crime expert Michael Mann—Heat and Miami Vice. It's most famous reference came in Training Day, when Denzel Washington's Alonzo Harris character warned residents that they would be "playing basketball in Pelican Bay." That's not something anyone should want to do.