Minimum and maximum security federal prisons in the United States

Minimum Security Federal Prisons | MCC Chicago | Federal Prison Camp | Bureau of Prisons

November 7, 2010

Federal prisons in the United States are operated by the Bureau of Prisons(BOP). There are 115 federal prisons in America. Some are run by the federal government, and others are operated by private contractors. It is estimated that federal prisons house 219,000 inmates. 82 percent of inmates are housed in BOP-managed correctional institutions, while the remainder are housed in privately-operated facilities. The BOP has approximately 37,000 employees.

Federal prison facilities are classified into five categories of security:

  1. Minimum
  2. Low
  3. Medium
  4. High
  5. Administrative

The security level of a federal prison is based on the presence of watch towers, patrols outside the prison facility, security barriers, and detection devices (such as motion detectors). The security classification of the facility is also determined by the type of housing within the institution (single cells, multi-inmate cells, community dormitories); internal security features, and the ratio of staff members to inmates.

Minimum security prisons are known as Federal Prison Camps (FPCs). Inmates in FPCs are housed in dormitories.The facilities typically have no security fence and few staff members to inmates. Many minimum security prisons are located on military bases, and the prisoners serve the base. The purpose of minimum security prison is rehabilitating the offender through work and counseling programs. Work release may be available. There are facilities for men and women.

Low security prisons are called Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs). These prisons are usually surrounded by double security fences. The inmates reside in dormitory or cubicle housing, and participate in work and rehabilitation programs. FCIs have higher numbers of staff than minimum security. The US government has low security prisons for men and women.

Medium security federal prisons are also referred to as Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs) and US Penitentiaries (USPs). Medium security prisons have double fences with electronic detection systems such as motion detectors, surveillance, and infrared cameras. There is a high number of staff on hand to guard the prisoners. Work and counseling programs are available. There are no female medium security federal prisons.

High security federal prisons are called US Penitentiaries (USPs). These prisons are known for secured perimeters including concrete walls, reinforced fencing and foot patrols around the outside of the facility by guards. High security prisons house inmates in cells, sometimes with multiple inmates in a cell. Inmates cannot move about at liberty. Guards regulate all movement and activity.

Administrative federal facilities have a special purpose. Rather than housing prisoners who are serving a sentence, administrative facilities are like county jails in that they house defendants who are awaiting trial (eg, defendants held in pretrial detention).

Administrative facilities may house prisoners after sentencing if they have extraordinary medical needs. Security for administrative facilities is like high security prisons. In addition to caring for prisoners with health issues after sentencing, these facilities also house violent and dangerous prisoners, and prisoners who are prone to attempt escape.

An administrative facility may be called any of the following:

  • Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC)
  • Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC)
  • Federal Detention Center (FDC)
  • Federal Medical Center (FMC)
  • Federal Transfer Center (FTC)
  • Medical Center for Federal Prisoners (MCFP)
  • Administrative-Maximum (ADX) U.S. Penitentiary

A person is sent to federal prison after a guilty plea or guilty verdict and sentencing in federal court. Usually the Bureau of Prisons will release an inmate who has 6 months remaining on his sentence to a halfway house. The prisoner will be under supervised release, which is like parole.

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