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How to Prepare for Federal Prison

Updated on July 15, 2015
Robert Warney profile image

Robert Warney is on the Board of Advisors for Federal Prison Consultants and Justice Solutions of America,Inc. Author of Ties-2-Stripes book


Your life is about to change! You are about to pack your bags and go away to Federal Prison. You will soon be a Federal Inmate entering a completely unfamiliar world for an extended stay. This is NOT the vacation you had planned for!

Your only previous encounters with Prisons was flipping through the TV channels and watching some prison shows or news shows about this violent and brutal world. You may also have read a few horror stories about Prisons in a newspaper or magazine. NEVER in a million years did you think going to Prison would ever happen to you. You are scared out of your mind thinking about what may await you when you report to Prison.

Your first terrified thoughts may be, am I going to SURVIVE this living nightmare? Will my basic survival needs be met in Prison. Will I have?

· Clean AIR

· Fresh WATER

· Healthy FOOD

· Sufficient SHELTER


Once you get over these first thoughts you may begin to think, Will I?:

· Be safe and not sexually assaulted

· Have access to medical care

· Get to see loved ones

· Be able to survive the daily grind

To begin, you have to realize that you are not ALONE! This can happen to ANYONE. How many federal laws do you think are on the books? Not sure…No one else seems to really know either. There are so many laws that even experts can’t seem to figure out just how many there are. The last and only real comprehensive study, conducted by the Justice Department in the 1982, tried to answer and tackle this issue. After two years of reviewing just over 50 Titles in the Unites States Codes (U.S.C.-laws passed by Congress) and 50 Titles in the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR -regulations passed by Federal Agencies) and 23,000 pages of Federal Regulations it concluded there were approximately 3000 Federal criminal offenses on the books scattered among the 23,000 pages it reviewed. Many law experts would conclude from the study that there is no one in the United States over the age of 18 that can’t be indicted for some Federal Crime.

The United States has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world at a cost to taxpayers of over $60 Billion a year*. There are currently around 2 million people incarcerated in the United States along with almost 6.9 million more on some form of correctional supervision*.That equates to one in 35 people that are in some form of Correctional control in the US.(*Recent Bureau of Justice Statistics -per their website 2014). The US represents approximately 5% of the world’s population but houses 25% of the world’s inmate population. More staggering is the fact that over 65 million people, or one in four people in the United States, has a criminal record that shows up in a routine criminal record check(*National Employment Law Project). Of these numbers approximately 15,000 people enter Federal Prison each year, and there are approximately 230,000 people that are current Federal Inmates in the system costing U.S. taxpayers around $29,000/year or $80/day to house them* (*Federal register report dated 5/12/14 for FY 2013). There are also millions of others that are currently on Federal Supervised Release and Probation. This Blog will focus on the Federal System.

Most of these people never thought they would end up in the Federal Prison System. They had the same thoughts and fears as you did, when they ENTERED Prison, while IN Prison or after they are OUT of Prison. They encountered these fears and made their time in Prison and in the System much more difficult, stressful, and longer than it needed to be because they didn't have a plan.

In order to avoid the same common mistakes that many of these people made you need to develop a survival plan to take control of this nightmare. Whether you are about to ENTER, are IN, or OUT of Prison you need to start to develop a survival plan NOW! Let’s not waste any more of your valuable time and get started!

To begin, your plan should propose a method of achieving your ultimate goal of SURVIVAL. Your survival includes returning from prison and becoming a productive member of society. The plan should equip you with the necessary knowledge and tools to achieve this stated goal. Having a good plan is paramount to your survival.

A necessary piece of knowledge that you need to understand is that you are about to go through a process. A process can be defined as: a progressive movement from one point to another on the way to completion (Webster’s Third International Dictionary of the English Language). You are about to go through a Federal Inmate Process. Your plan should be developed, from start to finish, keeping this in mind.

Whether you are about to ENTER, are IN, or OUT of Federal Prison this Blog can help you through the process of each of these progressive movements towards regaining your freedom and ultimate survival. It will guide you how to develop your plan, in an easy to follow Systematic and Practical manner, so that you can survive the Federal Inmate Process from start to finish.

The Process can be an very complicated and overwhelming to try to understand. There is a vast amount of information spread among numerous resources that I researched and consolidated into one place. Having gone through the Process myself, I will try to present what I feel is important for you to understand so that you can properly plan for your survival. The plan will be divided into 333 to guide you: 3 Phases- PREPARE, ADJUST and RELEASE (PAR), 3 Components to each phase, and then 3 Sub-components to each component.

The first phase of your survival plan is Prepare, and the three Components are: Review, Request, Report.

The first important step under the Prepare Phase is the Review Component. You should Review and understand:

  • Security/Custody Levels

  • Medical Levels

  • National Programs

To begin, you need to understand how your initial security designation and level is determined. This will be a big factor used to determine where you will be designated to serve out your sentence. Your initial security designation is typically determined by answering a series of questions, determined by the Bureau of Prisons, and then totalling up your security point total at the end of the questions. The LOWER your score the BETTER! You will be designated to an institution based on a series of factors:

· Level of security and staff supervision you require

· Level of security and staff supervision the institution offers

· Level of medical care

· Level of medical care the institution offers

· Administrative Factors: Availability of institutions bed space, your release residence location, judicial recommendations, separation needs from other inmates, and other security measures.

The initial security designation is completed by staff at the Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC) in Grand Praire, Texas. They will input the answers to these questions about you based on information obtained from the Sentencing Court, U.S. Attorney’s office (or other Federal Prosecuting offices), U.S. Marshall's Service, and the U.S. Probation office.

This information will then be entered into their computer data base known as SENTRY. One of the most important documents they review from these sources of information is the Presentence Investigative Report (PSI or PSR). This report provides most of the factual information used to determine your designation. The report will be prepared after meeting with a U.S. Probation Officer who will prepare the report.

The U.S. Probation officer will interview you and ask about your family, education, employment, medical history, drug and alcohol use and financial status. You will also be asked to complete a Worksheet for a Presentence Report that summarizes many of the questions asked in the interview that also included criminal background, seriousness of offense, and detainer questions. A Net Worth Statement, a Net Worth Short Statement, and a Monthly Cash Flow will also be completed by you by U.S. probation. Then, the U.S. Probation office will conduct an active investigation to verify the information you provided them and possibly uncover additional information. The BOP uses a lot of this information provided by The U.S. Probation office to determine where you will be designated and what programs you may be eligible to take. Be aware that the BOP has the sole responsibility, and final say, in determining where you will be designated to serve your sentence.

Some of the information that BOP and the DSCC will use from these sources, and the Presentence Investigative Report, to determine your initial security designation and security level will include:

· Voluntary surrender status

· Months to release

· Severity of current offense

· History of violence score

· History of escape score

· Type of detainer

· Age

· Education level

· Drug/Alcohol Abuse

· Public Safety

Once you complete the Inmate Load and Security Designation form and project a point total, you can now project what type of Security level you will be placed in.

There are FIVE Basic Security Levels:

1. Minimum *also known as Federal Prison Camps (FPC'S) or Satellite Prison Camps (SCP's)

2. Low *also known as a Federal Correctional Institution (FCI)

3. Medium *also known as a Medium FCI

4. High *also known as the PEN or Penitentiary

5. Administrative (*Used in limited cases)

*ADMINISTRATIVE INSTITUTION. An institution with a special mission, where inmates are assigned based on factors other than security and/or staff supervision (for example, medical/mental health, pretrial and holdover). Administrative institutions are designed to house all security level inmates. (Per current BOP definition).

Based on your Security Designation Point total you should be placed in one of these security levels:

Security Level- Male- Female

Minimum *0-11* 0-15

Low *12-15 *16-30

Medium *16-23 *N/A

High *24+ *31+

Administrative *All *All

Basic/Typical Security Level Features Comparison Chart

Features- Minimum - Low - Medium - High

Perimeter Fencing- N* Y *Y *Y

Gun Towers- N *N *N *Y

Interior Bars- N *Y *Y *Y

10 Minute- N *Y *Y *Y

Controlled Movements

Sentences N *Y*Y *Y

over 10 years

Violent offenders N *Y *Y *Y

Sex Offenders N *Y* Y*Y

Cell Housing N*Y *Y* Y

Mobile Patrols N* Y *Y *Y

Over 1000 N *Y* Y *Y

inmate population

Cameras- N *Y* Y-*Y

Video Surveillance

*as you can see your GOAL and PLAN should be to be designated into the lowest security level institution possible. You will have much more freedom and a better environment the lower your security level.

The Next important step in the Review Component of the Prepare phase is understanding your Custody Level.

There are Four Custody Classifications that can be assigned to you:

Custody Classifications

Community (can be assigned to minimum security after initial designation)

· Lowest custody level

· Lowest level of security and staff supervision

· Least secure housing

· May work on outside work detail with minimal supervision

· May participate in community based program activities


· Second lowest custody level

· Second lowest level of security and staff supervision

· Less secure housing

· May work on outside details with a minimum of two-hour intermittent staff supervision


· Second highest custody level

· Second highest level of security and staff supervision

· Regular housing

· Regular work assignments under normal supervision

· Not eligible for work details or programs outside the institutions secure perimeter


· Highest custody level

· Highest level of security and staff supervision

· Maximum controlled housing

· Maximum controlled work assignments

· Not eligible for work programs or programs outside the institutions walls

Your Initial Custody Level assigned will usually be based on your Security Level:

Security Level -Custody Level -Male points -Female points

MINIMUM *OUT *0-11 *0-15

Low *IN *12-15 *16-30

MEDIUM *IN *16-23* N/A

HIGH *IN *24+ *31+


The next important step is understanding the different medical level designations: There are FOUR basic Medical Level designations: ONE, TWO, THREE and FOUR. The Central Office Medical Designator, Office of Medical Designations and Transportation (OMDT) makes medical designations. OMDT’s OMDT assigns inmates to Medical Referral Centers (MRC), institutions with resources, or non-Bureau community contract care resources. The Medical Designator makes designations, referrals, and denials based on: Urgency of need; Cost-effectiveness; Bureau institution capabilities; Expected service period, including recuperation; Current bed space availability; Security; and Consultation with Bureau of Prisons (Bureau) physicians at the sending and receiving institutions. (*Per BOP Policy Statement 6270)

Medical Level Comparison Chart

Issues Medical Levels ONE- TWO -THREE- FOUR

Medical Condition* Healthy *Stable* Unstable *Fragile

Inpatient Status *No *No *No *Yes

Medical Evaluations *6 Months *3 Months *1 Month*Daily

Assistance with Daily Activities *No *No *Yes *Yes

Daily Nursing Care No No No Yes

Designated by OMDT* No* No *Yes *Yes

You should also REVIEW and understand the National Programs at Federal Prisons and Institutions available to you.

The most important, and in demand, National Program that you need to become familiar with is the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP). The RDAP program was originally developed in 1989. It is one of the BEST possible ways for you to reduce your sentence outside the courts, and it also has been shown to reduce recidivism, relapse, and prison misconduct. Some of the highlights of the RDAP Program:

· Usually you have to be sentenced to 28 months or more to be eligible

· Early release up to twelve months off your incarceration time

PLUS Halfway House placement up to 6 months

· 500 treatment hours- 3.5 hours per day for 9 months

· Available at all security levels except HIGH

· Usually housed in separate living quarters at the institution

· Low staff to inmate ratio 1 to 24 typical

· Small group daily meetings

· Staffed by doctoral-level psychologist (The Drug Program Coordinator) who supervises

treatment staff.

· Treatment is in a Modified Therapeutic Community setting

· Rational Thinking, Living With Others, Criminal Lifestyles, Victim Empathy, Recovery Maintenance, Employment Readiness, and Life Style Balance are discussed in Module Groups..

To be considered for this desired program you must have a verifiable documented narcotic drug, prescription drug, or alcohol abuse problem stated in your Presentence Investigative Report (PSI/PSR). A judicial recommendation for the program is very helpful for RDAP admission. You and your lawyer can seek documentation that verifies substance abuse. It is helpful if the diagnosis and treatment performed was within one year prior to incarceration. Prior to your sentencing, you and your attorney should carefully review your PSR. It is very important to make sure all prior narcotic drugs, prescription drug, and alcohol abuse is properly reported. Updating your PSR after the fact will make things much more difficult for you.

RDAP EARLY Release Maximums

Early Release Up To: Minimum Sentence Length

6 months 30 months or less

9 months 31-36 months

12 months 37 months

*Plus up to 6 months halfway house time may be granted.

Other National Programs Available to you include: Non-Residential Drug Abuse Program, Drug Education, Resolve, Skills Program, ACE, GED, ESL, FPI/UNICOR, Parenting, BRAVE, STAGES, Challenge, Mental Health Step Down, LCP, and Sex Offender treatment programs.

After reviewing all of the above information under the Prepare phase, you and your lawyer should request an institution/prison, national programs, and a report date that best meets you and your families needs at your sentencing hearing. Although a Judicial Recommendation doesn't guarantee placement it drastically improves your chances.You should choose at least three institutions since overcrowding and limited bed space and other factors may keep you from getting your desired institution. The BOP will try to designate you to a facility close to your release residence or within 500 mile radius of your release residence. The BOP designates it facilities by security type and by region. The BOP has 6 regions throughout the country with institutions located in each region.

Some Factors to consider when requesting an institution/prison:

· Staff/Inmate Interactions and Ratios

· Safety

· Food Services

· Weather

· Sanitation

· Work Opportunities

· Recreation

· Commissary

· Health Services

· Education and Religious Programs

· Visitation Process and driving distance from loved ones

Additional factors that are also considered when designating you to a particular institution include, but are not limited to:

· Your release residence

· The level of overcrowding at an institution

· Any security, location or program recommendation made by the sentencing court

· Any Central Inmate Monitoring issues

· Any additional security measures to ensure the protection of victims/witnesses and the public in general

· Any other factor(s) which may involve your

confinement; the protection of society; and/or the

safe and orderly management of a BOP facility.

After reviewing and requesting a Federal Prison you should understand how to Report.

Your plan on how to Report should include: handling outstanding issues, setting up necessary accounts, and reporting timely.

Try to handle these outstanding issues: PRIOR to your REPORT DATE

· Get finances in order

· Gather contact information

· Get Medical and Dental Exams

· Renew Licenses

· Prepare a Power of Attorney

Get Finances in order. Your plan should include:

· Order Credit Reports- make sure all accounts are up to date and close any accounts that you will not need or be using. Make sure any Mortgage and Car payments are set up to be paid. Turn in car or sell if your not going to keep it. Turn off your cell phone and cancel plan, or set up a payment plan to keep it. Set up payment plans with all other creditors so that your credit rating is protected while you are away.

· Check Child support account. Have it set up to be paid automatically or prepare a motion to suspend the account and/or modify it while you are incarcerated.

· Review Investments. Make sure your investment accounts are taken care of. Make sure you review and make needed changes to these accounts prior to reporting. Make sure your Financial Advisor knows about your situation if you have one.

Gather Contact Information

· Gather family, friends, attorneys, and business associates contact information. Obtain their name, address, e-mail address and phone numbers. Mail a copy of this list to yourself once you know your designated institution just prior to your report date. The institution will usually hold mail for you for a short period of time.

· Also, gather bank Account and investment account contact information including account numbers.

Get Medical and Dental Exams

  • Get up to date on all medical exams and procedures

  • Have your doctor find out what the generic brands the BOP offers on any presciptions that you are taking, and speak to him about them.

  • Get a bottom bunk pass if needed.

  • Get teeth cleaned and checked out

Renew Licenses

· Renew Professional Licenses if possible

· Renew Drivers License

· Any other license that may expire

Consider POA

· Assign a POA to a trusted family member or friend to conduct your business

Set up Accounts

Arrange to send money with family and friends and others to your commissary account once your Inmate ID is known..Make them aware of ways to send money and have it ready to go.

There are three basic ways to send money in: MoneyGram, Western Union, and Money Orders mailed in by the US Postal Service.

Family needs, If possible

  • Stock up on food for the house

  • Arrange for any home repairs needed now and in the future

  • Arrange landscaping and snow removal services if needed.

  • Make sure home is secure. Order a home security system if needed.

  • Put money in family members accounts

  • Prepay utility, cable, phone, and other bills

  • Buy kids and wife any necessities

  • Contact and prepay or arrange payments for your pets to be cared for.

Begin the process to set up and have your visiting list approved. Obtain and distribute the visiting forms prior to your report date. Give your proposed visitors an addressed envelope with proper postage, and have them mail in the form on your confirmed report date. This will assist greatly with getting your visitors approved to see you in a timely manner.

Who can you have added to your visiting list?

Immediate Family: Usually approved fast if noted on your PSA. May not need a visiting form.

· Mother

· Father

· Step-parent(s)

· Foster parent(s)

· Brothers

· Sisters

· Spouse

· Children


· Grandparents

· Uncles

· Aunts

· In-laws

· Cousins

Other types of approved visitors:

· No more than 10 friends/associates

· Foreign officials

· Members of religious groups including clergy

· Members of civic groups

· Employers (former or prospective)

· Sponsors

· Parole advisors

· Attorneys

You Should Report on Time

You will receive a report date by mail approximately two to five days until you have to report. DO NOT be late, and allow enough time to get there. If you are late there is a good chance they will place you in the SHU (Special Housing Unit). The SHU is not a pleasant place that will be discussed later. Don’t show up drunk or on drugs as they may also keep you in the SHU until you are sober. Don’t start out on the wrong side of the BOP and report on time.


When an inmate voluntarily surrenders to Bureau custody he or she will be permitted to retain only the following items:

■ Plain wedding band (no stones or intricate markings).

■ Earrings for females only (no stones) with a declared value of less than $100.

■ Medical or orthopedic devices.

■ Legal documents.

■ Social Security card and other forms of identification (driver’s license, passport, etc.) to be retained in the Inmate Central File until the inmate’s release. Driver’s license may be needed for some desirable job assignments at the institution.

■ Religious items approved by the Warden as long as they do not present a threat to the security of the institution (religious medallions and chains must have a declared value of less than $100, male or female).

■ Prescription glasses.

All other property will be rejected and shipped to the inmate’s home at the inmate’s expense.

Try to bring a copy of your contact list.

The institution will only pay for the shipping costs of clothing the inmate wears upon initial commitment – pants, shirt, underwear, shoes, coat, etc.

All other property will be rejected and shipped to the inmate’s home at the inmate’s expense.

You will be visually stripped searched and checked at initial processing and admission. Understand staff are doing their job and this is for your safety and others in the institution.

Congratulations! You have finished the basic PREPARE Phase of the Federal Inmate Process.

The other phases will be discussed as part of the Ties-2-Stripes "How to Survive the Federal Inmate Process" series.

Believe in yourself! You will survive this!

*The information presented in this blog is NOT intended to give any legal, medical, or financial advice. It is for informational use only. Contact or visit the Bureau of Prisons at their website for all current rules, regulations, and policy statements.


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    • Robert Warney profile image

      Robert Warney 3 years ago from Hamilton, NJ

      thank you for your kind comments. I too never planned or dreamed of going to Federal Prison.

    • Amanda6868 profile image

      Amanda M 3 years ago from Unknown

      Very interesting and useful. I'm not planning on going to prison or anything, but very great article.


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