Bureau of Prisons | Placement | Minimum Security Prisons

How the Bureau of Prisons places inmates in federal prison

November 13, 2010

The procedure for placing an inmate in federal prison is governed by the Bureau of Prisons Program Statement P5100.08. A person sentenced to federal prison for a crime may be taken into custody immediately after the sentencing hearing, or the judge may allow the prisoner to take time and surrender at a later date.

When a person goes into custody of the federal prison system, he undergoes a rigorous background check for criminal convictions and gang affiliations. The inmate’s background data is entered into a computer system called SENTRY. The computer program calculates a security score for the inmate. The security score determines the security level of the prison. The BOP then selects a prison facility that is within 500 miles of the residence where the defendant will return after being released.

Although this process is standardized, at times the BOP can change the facility based on Public Safety Factors and Management Variables. These factors can increase or decrease the security level of the facility.

The security score generated by the SENTRY system is based on the following:

Voluntary surrender. A person surrenders voluntarily only if he is not escorted to prison. That is, a person surrenders voluntarily if he transports himself to the prison facility to begin serving the sentence.

YES: -3 points. NO: 0 points.

Severity of offense. The more severe the offense, the greater points assigned. If offense was violent in nature, then it will result in higher points.

Low: 0 points.  Low Moderate: 1 point. Moderate: 3 points. High: 5 points. Greatest: 7 points.

Criminal history score from the Pre-Sentence Report (PSR). The PSR is developed by the probation office and used by the court during sentencing. (A federal court will report the sentence to the US Sentencing Commission on a form called the Statement of Reasons or SOR. The SOR is an abbreviation of the PSR, and the BOP may use the SOR to determine criminal history. Nonetheless, the Pre-Sentence Report is the critical factor here.)

0-1: 0 point. 2-3: 2 points. 4-6: 4 points. 7-9: 6 points. 10-12: 8 points. 13+: 10 points.

History of violence. The violent act must be documented in a judgment, revocation or disciplinary hearing. Violent acts are categorized as serious or minor, with serious incidents earning higher points.

None: 0 points. Incident more than 15 years ago: 2 points for serious, 1 point for minor. Incident 10-15 years past: 4 points for serious, 1 point for minor. 5-10 years ago: 6 points for serious, 3 points for minor. Incident in the last 5 years: 7 points for serious, 5 points for minor.

Escape attempts. An escape is categorized as either minor or serious. A minor escape is defined as an escape or attempt from a minimum security facility with no violence or threat of violence. A serious escape is defined as any escape from a high security prison, or any escape, regardless of security level, where violence was used or threatened.

None: 0 points. Escape more than 15 years ago: 3 points for serious, 1 point for minor. Escape 10-15 years past: 3 points for serious, 1 point for minor. 5-10 years ago: 3 points for serious, 2 points for minor. Escape in the last 5 years: 3 points for serious, 3 points for minor.

Detainer. A detainer is placed on a defendant where he has charges pending against him in another court, state or federal. The points are assigned based on the severity of the pending charge(s). (No points are assigned because of a hold by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)

Low: 0 points.  Low Moderate: 1 point. Moderate: 3 points. High: 5 points. Greatest: 7 points.

Age. Older inmates pose fewer security risks. The age factor seems to account for maturity and health or medical care needs. Young inmates get higher points and are more likely to end up in higher security facilities.

Older than 55 years: (0 points). Ages 36-54: 2 points. 25-35 years of age: 4 points. Younger than 25 years old: 6 points.

Education. Contrary to what many people believe, a college, graduate, or professional degree does not make a difference in assignment to a federal prison facility. Only a high school education or equivalent is considered important. It seems a high school education is a better predictor of security risks.

High school diploma or GED: o points. Making progress towards a GED: 1 point. No GED or progress towards obtaining a GED: 2 points.

Drug or alcohol abuse. Addiction can influence assignment to federal prison facilities, but not by much.

None in the last 5 years: 0 points. Any substance abuse in the last 5 years: 1 point.

The placement of a defendant is determined by his security score. The Bureau of Prisons uses this chart:

In order to be placed in a minimum security federal prison, a man can have no more than 11 points. A woman can have no more than 15 points.

For low security federal prison, the inmate cannot have more than 15 points. A female inmate can have not more than 30 points.

To be placed in a medium security federal prison to serve a sentence, a male inmate can have no more than 23 points. There are no medium security federal prisons for women.

Any male prisoner with 24 or more points is automatically placed in a high security federal prison. 31 or more points for a woman results in placement in high security federal prison, too.

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