The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is a United States federal law enforcement agency. A subdivision of the U.S. Department of Justice, the BOP is responsible for the administration of the federal prison system. The system handles inmates who have violated, or are accused of violating, federal law. The BOP also holds inmates who have committed felonies in Washington, D.C.
The Federal Prison System existed for more than 30 years before the BOP was established. Although its wardens functioned almost autonomously, the Superintendent of Prisons, a Department of Justice official in Washington, was nominally in charge of federal prisons, starting with the passage of the "Three Prisons Act' in 1891, which authorized the federal government's first three penitentiaries: USP Leavenworth, USP Atlanta, and USP McNeil Island with limited supervision by the United States Department of Justice afterwards.
Until 1907, prison matters were handled by the Justice Department's General Agent. The General Agent was responsible for Justice Department accounts, oversight of internal operations, and certain criminal investigations, as well as prison operations. In 1907, the General Agent's office was abolished, and its functions were distributed among three new offices: the Division of Accounts (which evolved into the Justice Management Division); the Office of the Chief Examiner (which later evolved by 1908, into the Bureau of Investigation, and later by the early 1920s into the Federal Bureau of Investigation); and the Office of the Superintendent of Prisons and Prisoners, later called the Superintendent of Prisons (which then evolved by 1930 into the Bureau of Prisons).
Pursuant to Pub.L. 71–218, 46 Stat. 325, enacted May 14, 1930, the Bureau of Prisons was established by the U.S. Congress within the U.S. Department of Justice (which itself was created in 1870, to be headed by the Attorney General, whose office was first established in the first Presidential Cabinet under President Washington and created in 1789, along with the Secretaries of State, Treasury and War). The new Prison Bureau was now under the Administration of the 31st President Herbert Hoover, (1874–1964), and was charged with the "management and regulation of all Federal penal and correctional institutions." This responsibility covered the administration of the 11 federal prisons in operation at the time. By the end of the year 1930, the system had already expanded to 14 institutions with 13,000 inmates. By a decade later in 1940, the federal prison system had 24 institutions with 24,360 incarcerated.
As a result of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 and subsequent legislation which pushed for longer sentences, less judicial discretion, and more harsh sentences for drug-related offenses, the federal inmate population doubled in the 1980s and again in the 1990s. The population increase has decelerated since the early 2000s but the federal inmate population continues to grow.
National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997 transferred responsibility for adult felons convicted of violating District of Columbia laws to the BOP.
In August 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions named retired Maj. Gen. Mark S. Inch as the BOP's new director. Inch previously served as Provost Marshal General, Commanding General of the Criminal Investigation Command and Army Corrections at Headquarters for the Department of the Army, and Commanding General of the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435 in Kabul, Afghanistan where he was responsible for Detainee Operations and Rule of Law Development within the Army’s Security Sector.
As of 2015, 63% of BOP employees are white, 22% are black, 12% are Hispanic, 2% are Asian and 1% identify as another race. 73% are male.
All BOP employees undergo 200 hours of formal training in their first year of employment. Employees must also complete additional 120 hours of training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia.
The BOP has five security levels. Federal Prison Camps (FPCs), the BOP minimum-security facilities, feature a lack of or a limited amount of perimeter fencing, and a relatively low staff-to-inmate ratio. Low-security Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs) have double-fenced perimeters, and inmates live in mostly cubicle or dormitory housing. Medium-security FCIs and some United States Penitentiaries (USPs) are classified to hold medium-security inmates. The medium facilities have strengthened perimeters, which often consist of double fences with electronic detection systems. Medium-security facilities mostly have cell housing. Most U.S. Penitentiaries are classified as high-security facilities. The perimeters, highly secured, often have reinforced fences or walls. Federal Correctional Complexes (FCCs) are co-locations of BOP facilities with different security levels and/or genders. Some units have small, minimum-security camps, known as "satellite camps," adjacent to the main facilities. Twenty-eight BOP institutions hold female inmates.
As of 2010[update] about 15% of the inmates under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Prisons are in facilities operated by third parties. Most of them are in facilities operated by private companies. Others are in facilities operated by local and state governments. Some are in Residential Reentry Centers (RRC) (AKA: Community Corrections Centers) operated by private companies. The bureau uses contract facilities to manage its own prison population. The bureau stated that contract facilities are "especially useful" for housing low-security, specialized groups of people, such as sentenced criminal aliens.
As of 2016, 59% of federal inmates were white and 38% are black; 93% are male.
Also as of 2016, 75% of federal inmates were between the ages of 26 and 50.
As of October 2016, 46% of the inmates were incarcerated for committing drug crimes.
As of August 2013, of the male inmates, 15% were housed in the Northeast, 19% were housed in the Southeast, 16% were housed in the Mid-Atlantic region, 12% were housed in the North Central region, 24% were housed in the South Central region, and 13% were housed in the Western region. Of the female inmates, 9% were housed in the Northeast, 22% were housed in the Southeast, 17% were housed in the Mid-Atlantic region, 11% were housed in the North Central region, 23% were housed in the South Central region, and 18% were housed in the Western region.
As of August 2013, of the male inmates, 13% received sentences while being in the Northeast, 10% of men received them in the Southeast, 11% received them in the Mid-Atlantic region, 12% received them in the North Central region, 28% received them in the South Central region, and 26% were sentenced in the Western region. Of the female inmates, 13% received sentences while being in the Northeast, 13% of women received them in the Southeast, 13% received them in the Mid-Atlantic region, 14% received them in the North Central region, 26% received them in the South Central region, and 22% were sentenced in the Western region.
The BOP receives all prisoner transfer treaty inmates sent from foreign countries, even if their crimes would have been, if committed in the United States, tried in state, DC, or territorial courts.
As of 2015, 27 BOP facilities house women. The BOP has a Mothers and Infants Nurturing Together (MINT) program for women who enter the BOP as inmates while pregnant. The BOP pays for abortion only if it is life-threatening for the woman, but it may allow for abortions in non-life-threatening cases if non-BOP funds are used.
With the 2014 repurposing of FCI Danbury for men, female inmates in the Northeast no longer had a prison in their region, and the imbalance of female inmates in regards to their locations in the BOP increased.
In 2017, four senators of the Democrat Party, including Kamala Harris, introduced a bill explicitly requiring tampons and pads to be free of cost for female prisoners. In August of that year, the BOP introduced a memorandum requiring free tampons and pads. The previous 1996 memorandum stated "products for female hygiene needs shall be available" without requiring them to be free of charge.
As of 2010[update] typically juveniles sent into BOP custody are between 17 and 20, must have been under 18 at the time of the offense and had been convicted of sex-related offenses. This is because the most severe crimes committed on Indian Reservations are usually taken to federal court. According to the BOP, most of the juveniles it receives had committed violent crimes and had "an unfavorable history of responding to interventions and preventive measures in the community." As of that year most federal juvenile inmates were from Arizona, Montana, South Dakota, and the District of Columbia (in no particular order).
The BOP contracts with facilities that house juvenile offenders. Title 18 U.S.C. 5039 specifies that "No juvenile committed, whether pursuant to an adjudication of delinquency or conviction for an offense, to the custody of the Attorney General may be placed or retained in an adult jail or correctional institution in which he has regular contact with adults incarcerated because they have been convicted of a crime or are awaiting trial on criminal charges." The definition includes secure facilities and community-based correctional facilities. Federally sentenced juveniles may be moved into federal adult facilities at certain points; juveniles sentenced as adults are moved into adult facilities when they turn 18. Juveniles sentenced as juveniles are moved into adult facilities when they turn 21.
The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 reinstituted the federal death penalty. On July 19, 1993, the federal government designated the United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute in Indiana as the site where male federal inmates sentenced to death would be held and where federal inmates of both genders would be executed. The Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Texas holds the female inmates who have been sentenced to death.
As of 2016, only 56 inmates are slated for death row.
Parole was abolished for federal inmates in 1987 and inmates must serve at least 85% of their original sentence before being considered for good-behavior release. In addition, strict-sentencing guidelines were adopted in response to rising crime rates in the 1980s and early 1990s, especially for drug-related offenses. US violent crime has dropped since then, but some analysts and activists believe that other factors played a much more significant part in falling crime rates. In addition, they hold that strict federal sentencing guidelines have led to overcrowding and needlessly incarcerated thousands of non-violent drug offenders who would be better served by drug treatment programs.
The yearly increases in the federal inmate population have raised concerns from criminal justice experts and even among DOJ officials themselves. Michael Horowitz, the DOJ Inspector General, wrote a memorandum concerning this issue:
First, despite a slight decrease in the total number of federal inmates in fiscal year (FY) 2014, the Department projects that the costs of the federal prison system will continue to increase in the years ahead, consuming a large share of the Department’s budget. Second, federal prisons remain significantly overcrowded and therefore face a number of important safety and security issues.
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