A survey found that more than a third of inmates who were held in separate units acted in ways they knew would see them moved away from main wings.
Reasons for instigating moves to segregation included avoiding repaying debts, attempting to secure a transfer to another prison, and escaping exploitation by fellow inmates, according to research by the Prison Reform Trust (PRT).
Writing in the foreword, Lord Woolf, chair of the charity and a former Lord Chief Justice, said: “I read with concern of those prisoners who were seeking the separation and withdrawal represented by segregation as a means to escape from violence and indiscipline on general location in some establishments.”
Of 50 prisoners who were detained in segregation units, 19 had deliberately engineered a move by, for example, refusing to lock up, obstructing their cell observation glass or climbing on the roof.
One inmate said: “There’s been times I’ve had fights just to get away from the main wing.”
The study said the most common aim was to pressurise the prison to transfer them to another facility.
Other reasons for wanting to be taken off the wing included having a debt which they could not repay, not wanting to share a cell, being exploited by other prisoners, or to get away from drugs on the wing.
Increased access to governors, health professionals and others was also cited as a motivation.
Segregation involves a prisoner being removed from association with other inmates. It can be used for disciplinary reasons, for the individual’s own protection or as a punishment.
The study said units were “characterised by social isolation, inactivity and increased control of prisoners”.
Regimes in the units were impoverished, it said, comprising of little more than a short period of exercise, a shower, a phone call, and meals.
In some units prisoners had to choose between having a shower and taking exercise or making a phone call in any one day, the report added.
It said there were examples of good practice and hailed staff for the quality of relationships they fostered with those in their care.
A report published earlier this year by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman found the number of prisoners killing themselves on segregation units was at its highest level for almost a decade.
A Prison Service spokesman said: “Segregation is used only where necessary to allow prison governors to manage behaviour that threatens the security of the prison or safety of its prisoners.
“We will look closely at the findings of this report as we develop our wider reforms to make prisons places of decency, hope and rehabilitation.”