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The following is for informational purposes only

Federal Prisons

Federal Prisons

The US incarceration system has a number of different prison and jail types. These include state and federal prisons, county jails, and juvenile facilities. Different types of incarceration institutions have differing purposes. Exploring federal prisons and how they operate can shed light into the US’s handling of those convicted of federal crimes.

What are Federal Prisons?

Prisons house convicted felons, and federal prisons are the institutions that incarcerate those convicted of federal crimes. Unlike state crimes, federal crimes include specific categories of offenses, and crimes that were committed in more than one state, including online. Cases that involve multiple government agencies are usually charged at the federal level because they often impact multiple states.

Some examples of federal crimes include:

  • Internet child pornography
  • Terrorism
  • Kidnapping across state lines
  • White collar crimes
  • Tax and mail fraud
  • Drug trafficking

Who Runs Federal Prisons?

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is a government agency within the Department of Justice (DOJ). It is responsible for administration of the federal prison system. BOP currently includes 117 prisons, 6 regional offices, 2 staff training centers, and 22 community corrections offices. Eighteen percent of federal prisons are privately owned and run. Private prisons have become more common in the US over the last decade.

Federal Prison Statistics

Federal Prison Statistics

In 2018, there were just under 180,000 inmates in BOP-operated federal prisons. These include the private prisons that are contracted by BOP. Out of these inmates, nearly half are parents or caretakers of minor children. Thirteen percent of federal prisoners report English being their second language. Approximately twenty percent of federal prisoners are not US citizens.

Twenty-nine percent of federal inmates are not educated upon entering a prison, meaning lacking a high-school diploma, or other equivalent certificate, like a GED. Many federal prisons offer educational programs that allow inmates to obtain a high school diploma, learn a trade, or even pursue further academic or creative pursuits. Research indicates that participating in prison education programs reduce recidivism, by as much as 40%.

All BOP-operated facilities have on-site health care, which includes at least one clinical nurse, certified paramedic, or licensed physician. Federal prisons are required to provide full healthcare to all prisoners, and this is funded by the federal government. Federal prisons offer treatment programs for drug and alcohol addiction as well.

All federal prisons have video-conference technology, which allows inmates to participate in court hearings, consult with their foreign embassies, plan for life after release with probation offices, and other communications.

Accreditation of Federal Prisons

All BOP federal prison institutions are accredited by the American Correctional Association (ACA). ACA accreditation requires adherence to clear standards relevant to all areas and operations of the facility. This includes safety, order, security, inmate care, inmate programs, justice, and overall administration. Accreditation steps include:

  • Initial contact
  • Institution assessment
  • Contracting
  • Preparation
  • Accreditation audit
  • Appearance before the Commission on Accreditation for Corrections
  • Final accreditation decision

Security Level Tiers of Federal Prisons

Security Level Tiers of Federal Prisons

Federal prisons have five different security tiers. They are as follows, in order from lowest to highest:

  • Minimum – these types of prisons are referred to Federal Prison Camps (FPCs), and these account for around 17 percent of the federal prison population. They have dormitory-style living spaces, unsecured grounds, and low inmate-to-staff ratios. The monitoring of mail, email, telephone calls and visits tends to be light at minimum security prisons.
  • Low – referred to as Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs), low security prisons house about 38 percent of federal prisoners. They also have dormitory-style housing,but unlike FPC’s, these have double-fenced perimeters with electronic detection systems. Movement within the grounds is controlled, but may occasionally offer unmonitored times. Recreational activities are supervised and monitored.
  • Medium – medium security federal prisons host nearly 30% of the federal prison population. They typically feature multi-person cells, and double-fenced perimeters with electronic detection systems. Inmate movement is controlled within these prisons, and there is a higher inmate-to-staff ratio than low security federal prisons. All aspects of monitoring are enhanced and include indoor and outdoor video surveillance. There are violent incidents and gang activity in all medium security prisons.
  • High – these prison types are also known as United States Penitentiaries (USPs). Roughly 12% of the federal prison population are housed in USPs. These facilities have securable cells, perimeters with multiple reinforced fences or walls, guard towers and shooting platforms for armed guards. USPs have the highest inmate-to-staff ratio. Gangs are a dominant presence and violence can be rampant at this security level.
  • Administrative – administrative federal prisons house inmates of various levels, including inmates awaiting trial. Some administrative federal prisons provide advanced medical care for inmates with special medical needs or disabilities. Administrative prisons have single-person cells, multi-person cells or dormitories, and generally have access to the same programs as other federal prisons.

Safety in Federal Prisons

Safety in Federal Prisons

Violence is a common occurrence in federal prisons, especially those with a medium security level or higher. In 2018, there were almost 1,300 physical assaults on staff by prisoners. Gang violence is common, and it results in inmate to inmate violent situations.

Federal prisons exist all around the US, and house federal inmates at different security levels. Understanding how they function can help achieve a more complete picture of the justice and corrections systems that exist at the federal level.

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