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5.1: Federal level

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    The Federal Bureau of Prisons was established in 1930 to provide more progressive and humane care for federal inmates, to professionalize the prison service, and to ensure consistent and centralized administration of the 11 Federal prisons in operation at that time. Today, the Bureau includes 121 institutions, 6 regional offices, a Central Office (headquarters), and 26 offices that oversee residential reentry centers. The regional offices and Central Office provide oversight and administrative support to the institutions and offices. The Bureau is responsible for the care and custody of more than 208,000 federal inmates, as of spring 2015.1 About 81 percent of these inmates are confined in federal correctional institutions or detention centers, and the remainder are held in secure privately managed or community-based facilities and local jails under contract with the Bureau. The Bureau protects society by confining offenders in prisons and community-based facilities that are safe, humane, cost-efficient, and appropriately secure, and by providing inmates with programs and services to assist them in becoming proactive law-abiding citizens when they return to their communities. The Bureau’s most important resource is its staff. All Bureau staff are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that creates and maintains respect for the agency, the Department of Justice, the Federal Government, and the law.

    The Bureau operates institutions at four security levels (minimum, low, medium, and high) and has one maximum-security prison for the less than one percent of inmates who require that level of security. It also has administrative facilities, such as pretrial detention centers and medical referral centers that have specialized missions and confine offenders of all security levels. The Bureau also classifies its institutions based on the level of medical services readily available, as care levels 1-4. The characteristics that help define the security level of an institution are perimeter security (such as fences, patrol officers, and towers), level of staffing, internal controls for inmate 3 movement and accountability, and type of living quarters (for example, cells or open dormitories).

    The Bureau’s graduated security and medical classification levels allow staff to assign an inmate to an institution in accordance with his/her individual needs. Thus, inmates who can function with relatively less supervision, without disrupting institution operations or threatening the safety of staff or other inmates, can be housed in lower security level institutions. Regardless of the specific discipline in which a staff member works, all employees are “correctional workers first.” This means everyone is responsible for the security and good order of the institution. All staff are expected to be vigilant and attentive to inmate accountability and security issues, to respond to emergencies, and to maintain a proficiency in custodial and security matters, as well as in their particular job specialty. This approach allows the Bureau to operate in the most cost-effective manner with fewer correctional officers and still maintain direct supervision of inmates.

    The Bureau relies on security technologies to help ensure the safety of staff and inmates. Recently new technologies have included whole body imaging devices to detect contraband (including cell phones) and sophisticated walk-through metal detectors, thermal fencing, and thermal camera sensors. These technologies have significantly reduced contraband. Additionally, the Bureau has provided staff additional equipment, such as oleoresin capsicum spray, to further enhance safety.

    The Bureau’s philosophy is that preparation for reentry to society begins on the first day of incarceration. Accordingly, the Bureau provides many programs, designed to assign inmates and address their needs such as substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, education, anger management, parenting and more. Prison work programs provide inmates an opportunity to acquire marketable occupational skills, as well as acquire a sound work ethic and habits. Medically able inmates are required to work some. For some individuals, this represents their first employment experience. Work assignments provide on-the-job training similar to what would be received in the community. For example, inmates work as clerks, landscapers, and electricians. Many work assignments are linked to vocational training programs and may lead to formal apprenticeships.

    1) Federal Prison Industries (FPI) and Vocational Training Federal Prison Industries (FPI), trade name UNICOR, is one of the Bureau’s most important correctional programs. It has been proven to substantially reduce recidivism and operates without congressional appropriation. Inmates who participate in FPI are also substantially less likely to engage in misconduct.
    2) Education: The Bureau provides education and recreation programs individually: GED, Spanish GED, English As A Second Language, 6 Adult Continuing Education, Post-Secondary, Parenting, Vocational, Apprenticeships, and Release Preparation. Inmates who participate in education programs for a minimum of six months are less likely to recidivate when compared to similar nonparticipating inmates. Recreation programs help teach inmates to make constructive use of leisure time to reduce stress, improve their health and develop hobbies they enjoy. These programs keep inmates constructively occupied and contribute to positive lifestyles and self-improvement.
    3) Inmate Faith-Based Programs Federal prisons offer a variety of faith-based services and programs. Inmates are granted permission to wear or retain various religious items, and accommodations are made to observe holy days. Bureau facilities offer religious diets that meet the dietary requirements of various faith groups, such as the Jewish and Islamic faiths. Most institutions have sweat lodges to accommodate the religious requirements of Native Americans. Religious programs are led or supervised by staff chaplains, contract spiritual leaders, and community volunteers. Chaplains oversee inmate worship services and self-improvement programs, and provide pastoral care, spiritual guidance, and counseling. The Bureau offers inmates the opportunity to participate in its Life Connections Program, a residential reentry program as well as Thresholds, the nonresidential version of our program.
    4) Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Residential drug abuse treatment programs (RDAPs) are offered at more than 77 Bureau institutions, providing treatment to more than 18,000 inmates each year. Inmates in RDAP are housed in a separate housing unit that operates a modified therapeutic community. RDAPs provide intensive half-day programming, 5 days a week, for 9-12 months. The remainder of each day is spent in education, work skills training, and other programs. The program also includes a community-based component that inmates complete while in a RRC or home confinement. Inmates who complete RDAP are 16 percent less likely to recidivate and 15 percent less likely to have a relapse to drug use within 3 years after release. Nonviolent offenders who complete the program are eligible to have their sentence reduced by up to one year. Other drug programs offered by the Bureau are the Nonresidential Drug Treatment Program, Challenge Program, and Spanish RDAP.
    5) Pro-Social Values Programs Encouraged by RDAP’s positive results, the Bureau implemented a number of other programs, including the Secure Mental Health Treatment Program, which treats inmates with serious mental illness and histories of significant violence; the Challenge Program for high security inmates, which treats inmates with a history of substance abuse or mental illness; the Resolve Program for female inmates, which treats inmates with trauma-related mental illnesses; the BRAVE (Bureau Rehabilitation and Values Enhancement) Program for younger, newly-designated offenders, which addresses anti-social attitudes and behavior; the Skills Program for cognitively-impaired inmates, which treats issues with adapting to prison and the community; Mental Health Step Down Units, which provide treatment for inmates with serious mental illnesses releasing from psychiatric hospitalization; the Sex Offender Treatment Program for inmates with a sex offense history; and the STAGES (Steps Toward Awareness, Growth, and Emotional Strength) program for inmates with severe personality disorders, who have a history of behavioral problems or self-harm. As resources allow, the Bureau has expanded these programs to address the significant demand for these services. The Bureau has found that these programs significantly reduce institution misconduct.

    Near the end of their sentence, inmates participate in the Release Preparation Program, which includes a series of classes regarding daily living activities in the community including employment, banking, resume writing, job search strategies, and job retention. It also includes presentations by representatives from community-based organizations that help former inmates find employment and training opportunities after release. The Bureau helps inmates maintain ties with their family and friends through visiting, mail, email and the telephone.

    The Bureau specifically encourages inmates to maintain and develop bonds with their children through parenting programs that include specialized activities such as day camps and workshops. The Bureau’s Inmate Transition Branch helps inmates prepare release portfolios that include a resume, education and training certificates and transcripts, diplomas, and other significant documents needed to secure employment. Many institutions hold mock job fairs to allow inmates to practice job interview techniques and expose community recruiters to the skills available among inmates.

    5.1: Federal level is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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