How To Do Time
J. Michael Henderson in conversation with Alan Ellis
The following interview was conducted on November 1, 2001, between co-authors of the Federal Prison Guidebook Alan Ellis and J. Michael Henderson.
J. Michael Henderson is a federal prison consultant to the Law Offices of Alan Ellis. Mr. Henderson has over 23 years of experience working with the Bureau of Prisons. While employed by the BOP, Mr. Henderson served as the former Regional Designator for the Western Region of the United States. He served in this capacity in the early 90s and again from 1997 until his retirement in 2000. In that capacity, his duties included oversight of the Federal Bureau of Prisons classification of newly-sentenced federal offenders in the western part of the United States. Mr. Henderson also worked at several prisons ranging from administrative to high security, and at the Bureau of Prisons North Central Regional Office in Kansas City. He helped revise and implement BOP policies in the areas of Central Inmate Monitoring and Designations, and also provided staff training in these areas. During his career, Mr. Henderson has received numerous awards and recognition for his work including noteworthy awards from the inmate branch of the NAACP at FPC Allenwood and the Bureau of Prisons’ National Stanford Bates Award for outstanding contributions to improved case management. He is the co-author of the Federal Prison Guidebook, “Securing a Favorable Prison Designation,” “Early Release from Custody,” “Getting Out Early, The Bureau of Prisons’ RDAP Program,” and “Reducing Recidivism: The Bureau of Prisons Comprehensive Residential Drug Abuse Program.”
Alan Ellis, a past president of NACDL, is a nationally recognized authority in the fields of plea negotiations, sentencing, appeals, parole and prison matters, habeas corpus 2241 and 2255 petitions and international prisoner transfer treaties. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth circuit in a published decision has described him as a “nationally recognized expert in federal criminal sentencing.” For the past 35 years, he has successfully represented federal criminal defendants and prisoners throughout the United States and abroad. He is a sought-after lecturer in criminal law education programs for attorneys and is widely published in the areas of federal sentencing and post conviction remedies, with more than 85 articles to his credit. He is the publisher of the Federal Sentencing Guidebook, the Federal Post Conviction Guidebook and the highly acclaimed Federal Prison Guidebook. Mr. Ellis also publishes “Federal Sentencing and Post Conviction News.” He has recently authored several articles on the United States Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Booker entitled “All About Booker,” “Litigating in a Post-Booker World” and “Representing the White Collar Client in a Post-Booker World,” and is a contributing editor for ABA Criminal Justice Magazine for whom he authors a regular column on federal sentencing.
[Alan Ellis] Q: Will each offender be placed at a particular federal prison of their choice, and close to their family?
[J. Michael Henderson] A: Initial placement of an offender is based upon an initial classification of the individual by the Bureau of Prisons, as Minimum, Low, Medium, or High security, and then according to whether or not there is available bed-space at the institution of that security level which is closest to the offender’s legal residence. So, if the offender would like to be placed in a minimum-security camp, for example, but is classified by the Bureau of Prisons as Low, Medium, or High security, then the offender would not be initially assigned to a camp. Similarly, if an offender knows of a particular federal prison near their home, the offender will not likely be assigned there if his/her initial security level classification by the Bureau of Prisons is not the same as the security level of the institution. Finally, every new offender should know that the Bureau of Prisons currently houses a very large number of inmates, and can have extremely limited bed-space at some institutions, which can result in an offender’s initial placement further from their homes than either they or the Bureau of Prisons would actually prefer. In such cases, a future transfer is a reasonable possibility.
Q: If an offender is granted self-surrender by the court, what should they take to prison?
A: It is usually best to arrive at a federal prison with as few personal possessions as possible, because the offender is leaving his or her regular life and lifestyle for a while. Also, minimizing what one brings will lessen the possibility of confiscation by prison staff of unauthorized items, and reduce the amount of personal belongings that are mailed back to the next of kin. That said, the individual should bring no single item worth over $100, such as expensive jewelry or wristwatch. A wedding band, if married, is fine, as well as a relatively inexpensive wristwatch and religious medal, if worn. The personal clothing the offender wears when reporting will be returned to the family or friends or attorney. I recommend that the offender report with only a relatively modest amount of money, no more than $300. Such an amount will permit some discretionary spending at the institution commissary and a phone call home during the initial days of confinement, thereby freeing the new inmate from having to rely on, or falling into debt to other inmates. Caution should always be the watchword, should the new inmate encounter another “more experienced” inmate who “offers” to help purchase or buy something the new inmate cannot otherwise afford. Such offers can have illicit payment return terms that the new inmate is not prepared for, and can be dangerous! Similarly, if a new inmate arrives with a lot of money, other curious inmates can quickly become aware of it, which may result in the new inmate becoming a “target” by other inmates who would like little more than to get some of the new inmate’s money.
Q: Many new offenders ask about how much money they will be able to have in their prison accounts, how much they can spend, and how they can receive money and other materials from their friends and families while they are confined. What is your response and/or advice?
A: The money new inmates bring with them to prison, as mentioned above, will be used to open an inmate Trust Fund account for them, from which they will be required to pay for their personal telephone calls, postage stamps, and items from the commissary (personal hygiene items, snacks, etc.) which they might want to purchase. This really is the only preliminary information that a new offender needs prior to entering prison. Immediately after their arrival, as noted in the intake process remarks, inmates will have all of the answers governing procedural regulations given them in the prison’s Admission & Orientation Inmate Manual. Also, as noted in the remarks about orientation, the new inmate will also receive all pertinent information directly from a staff member from the institution business office and/or commissary. Once armed with not only written information but information from prison staff members who run the Inmate Trust Fund accounts, the new inmate, within only one week or so after arriving, will have all the information needed regarding funds, how it can be spent, and what restrictions and approvals are in place regarding receipt of anything from family or friends.
Q: How about medications?
A: Prescription medicine can be brought, with the understanding that it will be checked by institution medical staff to determine if it is in the Bureau of Prisons’ medical formulary. If a particular medication is in the bureau’s formulary, the personal medication brought to the prison will be confiscated, and new medication issued to replace it. If medication possessed by the new inmate on commitment is not in the Bureau of Prisons’ formulary, it will be confiscated, and the new inmate will have to see medical staff concerning whether a substitute medication can or will be prescribed. The new inmate should not bring over-the-counter medications.
Q: What can a new prisoner expect from staff upon arrival at a federal prison?
A: Upon arrival, the offender will be met by either a correctional officer or member of the Receiving and Discharge Department (R & D). A strip search, issue of institutional clothing, photograph, fingerprinting, and inventory of personal property will subsequently be performed in the R & D Department. If the offender arrives after normal working hours or when the R & D Department is not staffed, he or she will be taken to an area where a strip search will be conducted, issued institutional clothing, and likely placed in a secure cell until being processed for intake through R & D.
This process, as well as the R & D process, will be conducted in a very business-like manner, which for new inmates can seem impersonal. However, this is a good time for the new inmate to simply watch, listen, and learn about the staff and what they do.
Q: Who are these staff, and what do they do during the intake process?
A: The R & D staff are those who perform the search, fingerprinting, and personal property inventory of the new arrival. A Correctional Counselor or a Case Manager will conduct a brief private interview. A Medical staff member, usually a Physicians Assistant, will conduct a medical screening.
Q: What is most important for the inmate at this initial intake phase?
A: It is important for the inmate to understand that this is the business of incarceration, and to understand that prison staff are not trying to be demeaning. It is also wise for the new arrival to listen carefully to any and all questions that the staff the asks, and to answer those questions honestly. If the new inmate does not understand a question, it is entirely appropriate to ask for clarification or meaning. Similarly, the new inmate should read and fully understand any and all forms that are provided, some for the inmate’s signature. A failure in this early communication process could lead to potential difficulties at some future point of incarceration. Forms and information relative to telephone use, mail correspondence, and visiting are provided.
Q: Will the new inmate receive written rules and guidance before being placed in the general inmate population?
A: Yes. Upon arrival, each new inmate is given an Admission and Orientation (A & O) handbook, for which they must sign. I cannot overstate the importance of this document and the inmate’s receipt of it with signature, because from that moment forward the inmate will be held responsible for knowing and complying with all of the Bureau of Prisons’ institutional rules outlined in it. The A & O handbook is thorough and describes the various institutional departments and staff, schedules for the inmate to follow within the institution, visiting and correspondence information. The smartest action that a new inmate can take with respect to the A & O handbook is to read it, cover to cover, as soon as possible, and to keep it at hand for future reference.
Q: When does a new arrival enter the general inmate population?
A: Upon successful completion of the intake process. Successful completion means that the institution has received all necessary official documentation from the sentencing court, and from the respective U.S. marshals and U.S. probation offices. Such documentation includes the Judgment and Commitment Order, the Presentence Investigation Report, and appropriate U.S. marshal documents. If such documentation is lacking or incomplete, it may not be possible for staff to allow the inmate to enter the general inmate population. Similarly, if during the intake screening process some interviewing staff members identify a potential concern for the new inmate’s health or safety, then the individual may not be put in the general inmate population.
Q: What is important for the inmate to know if not placed in the general inmate population, and what if anything will they be told?
A: It is important that the new arrival understand that most federal prisons do not lock their general inmate population up in isolated cells 24 hours per day, which means simply that inmates in that population are moving about. Given that fact, Bureau of Prisons’ staff who are charged with ensuring an inmate’s safety cannot and should not place a new arrival in the open inmate population, unless and until they have complete case documentation which, in conjunction with the intake interviews, provides reasonable assurance that the new inmate will not encounter an identifiable and undue risk if housed with the other inmates. Also, the new arrival’s health can be a concern.
If the new arrival cannot be placed in the institution’s general inmate population because of insufficient or unreceived documentation, or for health reasons, they will be so informed. If a potential security risk to their safety or to the safety of others is identified by staff during the intake process, the new arrival may be given only limited information, because such information cannot divulge sensitive or investigative details which the staff has or which the staff may need to pursue.
A: What happens when the new inmate is placed in the general inmate population, and what can the new arrival expect?
Q: The inmate will be assigned specific housing and will begin an Admission and Orientation period. The new arrival should expect during this period to meet their Case Manager, their Correctional Counselor, and their Unit Manager, all of whom compose the inmate’s Unit Team. These are the key staff members with whom the inmate should become familiar, as they will have primary responsibility for managing almost every aspect of the inmate’s case during confinement. The new arrival will also attend formal Admission and Orientation sessions, where staff members from every department in the institution will provide information and answer questions concerning all aspects of confinement.
Q: What is important for the new inmate during this orientation period?
A: As mentioned earlier, it is most important for new inmates to read the A & O handbook they are issued. This will lay a foundation for the information that they will receive from several staff members at the Admission and Orientation sessions. Next, it is important for the new inmate to observe and to listen, keeping personal business to himself, rather than carelessly sharing it with other inmates, and to understand his or her own accountability for where to be at any given time in the institution.
Q: Will the inmate be given a work assignment, what should they know about it, and what if the new inmate decides that he or she is not satisfied with their housing and/or work assignments?
A: The new inmate may be given a temporary work assignment during the Admission and Orientation period, or may be assigned after completing it. It is important for the new inmate to know that the initial work assignment they are given is based solely upon institutional need, rather than the inmate’s personal preference. Therefore, they may be assigned what could be perceived as menial work, or work that is uninteresting to them. However, they will receive some monetary stipend for their work, and during the Orientation phase they will see and hear from staff members about work assignments the inmate might find more interesting, and how to go about applying for those assignments.
With regard to their housing assignment, new inmates may be assigned to quarters with another inmate not of their choosing, and usually to an upper bunk bed. Through routine inmate movement and in meeting other inmates, it may be possible to discuss changing quarters assignments with a member of the Unit Team, usually the Correctional Counselor. Also, through seniority and clear conduct, an inmate can receive preferred quarters within a housing unit.
Q: In addition to quarters and work assignments, what other aspects will the new inmate learn about?
A: The new inmate will be told about how the custodial staff, or correctional officers, conduct their supervision of inmates; disciplinary
processes; visiting privileges; mailroom services; sentence computation and earning of good time credit; educational services which include available classes, training, law and leisure libraries, and recreational activities; medical and mental health services; psychology programs; religious services; food service; payment of court-ordered finds and restitution; release planning and preparation programs.
Q: Can new inmates “learn the ropes” from other inmates?
A: I suppose it may be inevitable for every new inmate to learn something about institutional rules, staff roles, and various aspects of prison life from other inmates. However, caution in this regard is needed, because the only things a new inmate can know about another inmate is what the other inmate chooses to tell the new inmate. Potential pitfalls abound, and new inmates who wish to get through the process of incarceration successfully, without negative repercussions, and with an eye toward benefiting from all available programs for which they may qualify, should let the written Bureau of Prisons’ regulations be their primary guide, rather than other inmates. Further, in understanding how the Bureau of Prisons’ regulations are implemented and actually function, the inmate should rely primarily upon staff for clarification, as well as on information in the inmate law library at the institution. In determining which inmates to seek advice from, new inmates may consider speaking with inmates who work in the education department, including inmate law library clerks. Inmate law library clerks can show how and where Bureau of Prisons’ policies are filed, along with institution policy supplements. Also, in attempting to decide on a possible work assignment, the new inmate can speak to other inmates who work in various departments, keeping in mind that information they receive will not override the information that is provided during the Admission & Orientation process. Finally, an inmate always has the right, throughout confinement, to obtain legal counsel, preferably from an attorney who is familiar with Bureau of Prisons’ policies and procedures, and who is experienced in federal inmate-related matters.
Q: What if a staff member seems unwilling to be helpful, is less than responsive to a problem, or does not seem open or straightforward in communicating with the inmate?
A: The inmate almost always has a Case Manager, Correctional Counselor, and Unit Manager available to them for assistance. In addition, every day the inmate goes to eat a meal, there are almost always staff members available to them in the dining area from all institutional departments, including upper management of the institution, which are the associate wardens and the warden. The availability of a wide range of staff members is important because Bureau of Prisons’ staff are human beings, meaning that some will be more effective communicators than others, some will be more thorough and patient than others. So, if an inmate is experiencing difficulty in dealing with a particular staff member, there are multiple other staff members who can address a problem.
Q: So, what if an inmate follows all of the rules and regulations but encounters a situation or has a problem that none of the institution staff, including the warden, can or will resolve?
A: This is likely to be a rare scenario; just because an inmate may not receive an answer to a question, or receive a response that is personally favorable, does not mean that staff have not responded and acted within the scope of Bureau of Prisons’ policy. Sometimes, inmates mistakenly believe that because they do not receive action or a response they want, somehow the institution staff has mistreated them. This usually stems from incomplete or inefficient communications, lack of understanding Bureau of Prisons’ policies and procedures, and inmates not speaking to all appropriate institution staff who could resolve a given dispute. That said, there is a procedure that is available to inmates, known as the Administrative Remedy Procedures, by which an inmate can request reconsideration of staff decisions and/or formal reviews of staff decisions at levels higher than the level at which the decision was made.
Q: What do the Administrative Remedy Procedures involve?
A: First, the inmate should make a meaningful attempt at informal resolution of a dispute. Then, if unsuccessful, the inmate can file an Administrative Remedy form, BP-9, to the warden. If this step fails to resolve the issue for the inmate, the inmate can then file an Administrative remedy form BP-10, to the Regional Office for the region in which the inmate is confined. If that process is unsatisfactory, the inmate may then file an Administrative remedy form BP-11, to the Bureau of Prisons Central Office in Washington. D.C., for the highest level of formal review. One of the most important things an inmate should consider, both in filing an Administrative Remedy complaint and reasonably expecting a positive result from the filing, is whether or not the staff action or decision which is being appealed was made within the authority and parameters of Bureau of Prisons’ policies. If it was, there is little a formal review will accomplish, regardless of what other inmates may say. Conversely, review of appeals can involve careful scrutiny by Bureau of Prisons’ legal staff, as well. So, if a complaint involves a staff decision or action that was not made within the parameters of policy, the action or decision will be rectified for the inmate.
Q: What can an inmate anticipate in terms of maintaining clear conduct and open communication with staff, as you have stressed?
A: An inmate who conducts himself in an above-board manner at all times, in terms of both staff interaction and interactions with other inmates with whom they associate, generally will not attract extra scrutiny or suspicion. The inmate likely will receive favorable consideration for security and custody level reductions when eligible, which can result in placement in a less secure setting with less intense staff supervision and participation in community activities, if eligible. Earlier, I referenced that an offender who is initially assigned to a prison farther from their home than might be preferred could receive a future transfer to an institution closer to their home. It must be stressed that clear conduct is required in order for an inmate to receive such a transfer. Disciplinary action, on the other hand, can result in placement in a more restrictive setting, an upgrade in security level and custodial supervision, loss of good time, greater restrictions on visiting, unfavorable consideration for transfer to a prison closer to the inmate’s home, not to mention loss of preferred quarters assignment and loss of eligibility for certain programs.
Q: Some inmates have court-ordered fines, criminal penalty assessments, or restitution. Will these need to be paid for from the same Inmate Trust Fund account that is used for personal spending in the institution while the offender is confined? If so, what can the new inmate expect?
A: Possibly, yes. The payment of court-directed fines or fees will be dependent upon how the court order is written. Some fines and/or fees, for example, might be imposed strictly as a condition of the offender’s supervised release, after incarceration. Some court orders do not distinguish. The information is contained in the court’s Judgment and Commitment (J & C) order that is also used to impose sentence, and so it could benefit the offender to review that document closely, and with his/her attorney for any needed clarification. After arrival at a federal prison, institution staff will review the J & C and, if payment is required during confinement, they will discuss payment options with the inmate. When an installment-type of payment plan is needed, the inmate and the Unit team can set up a payment schedule, which can involve regular fixed withdrawals from the inmate’s Trust Fund Account. The Bureau of Prisons’ term for this is the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (IFRP), and the new inmate should understand that the Bureau of Prisons is quite serious in its administration of the program, to the point that there can be serious repercussions if prison staff determine that an inmate is not making a meaningful effort at satisfying court-imposed financial obligations. Sanctions that the bureau can impose for failure, which they call refusal, to make measurable progress in a payment plan can include loss of a preferred housing assignment, reduction of pay for an inmate’s work assignment, and exclusion from programs for which the inmate may otherwise be qualified, including furloughs and halfway house placement.
Q: With regard to furloughs, what can an offender reasonably expect?
A: It is important for every new offender to understand that there is no “entitlement” to unescorted social furloughs while they are serving their sentence, or to halfway house placement before the conclusion of the sentence. With that understanding, there is then the matter of technical eligibility for these programs, and the fact that technical eligibility does not mean an automatic approval in all cases.
First, for an unescorted social furlough, inmates must be, and remain classified as Minimum Security. Additionally, they must have been assigned what is known as Community Custody, which is the very lowest supervision assignment in the Bureau of Prisons. The inmate must have maintained clear conduct and otherwise comported themselves appropriately during confinement, as observed and judged by staff, not
according only to the inmate’s self-report or accounting (this is important!). Social furlough eligibility is further contingent upon how much time the offender has remaining to serve, since furloughs cannot occur early in the sentence. Initially, there can be one-day furloughs, and subsequently as the sentence is served, there can be overnight furloughs. The Bureau of Prisons places restrictions on the frequency, and the inmate bears the cost, of social furloughs. Other possible furloughs can be granted under extraordinary circumstances, such as admission to a community hospital or to attend the funeral of an immediate family member, and sometimes for specially defined and regulated legal or religious functions. These are granted on a case-by-case basis, and always require minimum-security classification and clear conduct.
Q: With regard to halfway house placement, what can an offender reasonably expect?
A: Pre-release halfway house placement, known by the Bureau of Prisons as placement in a community corrections center (CCC), is a program that is widely utilized for as many inmates as possible. The general time an inmate will be approved for CCC placement will range from 30 days to, in a few cases, six months. No inmate should consider CCC placement as a means of early release from prison, nor that a lengthy CCC placement will be likely. The Bureau of Prisons contracts with private agencies for halfway house space, and therefore one factor for placement is federal funding (regardless of how many available beds a particular halfway house says they have!). Another factor will be the length of time an individual has served, because CCC placement is provided for transition back to community life from confinement, and offenders who serve long sentences generally need greater transitional assistance. Other factors considered by bureau staff in determining CCC placement for an offender are the nature and quality of family and community ties and the inmate’s conduct during confinement. There are some offenders who, because of the crime they committed, will be excluded from CCC placement. However, most offenders will receive the benefit of some CCC placement.
Q: What can you tell family members about some prison issues that they might be concerned with, starting, let’s say, with visiting:
A: The new inmate will receive a copy of visiting regulations and forms to send his family, which need to be completed and returned in order to visit. The family must understand that it is imperative for them to answer the questions on the visiting forms accurately and honestly, because failure to do so may result in a loss or denial of visiting privileges. For example, a family member who has a prior court conviction of any type, even if given probation, should report it matter-of-factly on the appropriate section of the visiting form. A background check by the Bureau of Prisons will uncover this, and if it’s been intentionally omitted, may result in denying visiting rights.
New inmates will be given a copy of their approved visiting list, usually by their assigned Correctional Counselor. Families should ensure that they are approved prior to traveling to the prison to visit. It’s helpful if the family can prepare for visiting by viewing a federal prison as a serious and controlled setting, and not a place of emotional warmth. There are no private and/or unsupervised visits with family members in Bureau of Prisons’ facilities. However, families can be somewhat relieved in knowing that the majority of visiting rooms are open ones, without the glass partitions and telephones for communicating so often depicted in television and movie dramas. Family members should be prepared for being subjected to search procedures and supervision when visiting. Such scrutiny is necessary because, unfortunately, one of the ways illegal drugs and other types of contraband are smuggled into prisons is by visitors, including family visitors. Therefore, it is recommended that family visitors bring very little with them into the prison, giving nothing to their incarcerated loved one, other than change which can be spent on the inmate at the vending machines in the visiting room. After being cleared into the Visiting Room, family visitors will be expected to conduct themselves appropriately at all times, meaning they should avoid any conduct which might make correctional staff suspicious, especially excessive physical contact. They will generally be permitted to embrace their incarcerated loved one only at the beginning and at the conclusion of each visit. This will likely be a change for both the inmate and the family. However, it’s absolutely important to understand and appreciate the fact that a prison is a very serious setting, and not a casual one.
Another important factor that the family should be prepared for is the possibility of early termination of their visit, should the visiting room become crowded. This can and does happen to enable other inmates to receive visits. This can be an emotionally difficult situation for both the inmate and the family, so it’s important to remember that early visit termination due to crowding will be an impartial and necessary decision by prison staff. Arguing with prison staff will not improve or change the decision. In fact, in order to maintain visiting privileges all visitors are expected to comply with prison staff at all times. The Bureau of Prisons holds the inmate accountable, if a visitor fails to follow regulations or comply with staff instructions.
Finally, the family should know that while their loved one is serving a sentence in a federal prison, misconduct that results in the receipt of a written Incident Report, may be sanctioned by the loss of visitation privileges, even if the misconduct was not related to visiting. The reason for this is because the Bureau of Prisons expects clear conduct, if the inmate is to be permitted full privileges, and because receiving visits is meant to be a motivating factor to help an inmate maintain clear conduct. With this understanding, the family can reiterate the importance of visiting to the inmate. Should the inmate incur misconduct sanctions that include a temporary loss of visitation, rather than being angry at the Bureau of Prisons, the family will be better served by helping their loved one understand that family visitation is a priority and worth clear conduct behavior.
Q: Are family members also subjected to security measures with regard to written correspondence and telephone calls?
A: They should clearly understand that telephone calls they receive from an inmate are subject to monitoring and recording for security, and that their incoming mail will be opened and screened. Therefore, what they say and what they write should always be above board and appropriate. Further, the family also needs to know that an inmate is prohibited under Bureau of Prisons’ regulations from conducting a business while confined. So, written and telephone correspondence must not involve such prohibited conduct. Finally, the family should be strongly cautioned against making 3-way, or 3rd party calls, after the inmate has connected with them telephonically, because this, too, is prohibited by the Bureau of Prisons. Such calls are generally viewed by the bureau as circumventing telephone regulations, which are reasonable, since inmates are allowed a large number of people on their authorized telephone lists, which can be frequently modified.
Q: Since you earlier referenced the disciplinary process, what should the family know about the prison disciplinary process?
A: As already mentioned, the new inmate will receive a full and comprehensive list of Bureau of Prisons’ rules and regulations which includes all prohibited acts immediately upon arrival at a federal prison. Therefore, the family should understand that there is usually very little excuse for an offender’s claim that they may not have known they were violating a rule. Also, the family should understand that Bureau of Prisons’ staff are generally much to busy with daily routines to write disciplinary reports against an inmate simply because the staff member “dislikes” the inmate. In fact, the formal disciplinary process requires an eyewitness staff account of an inmate’s prohibited conduct, further investigation by a Correctional Supervisor, and then review with the inmate in person by a Unit Team staff member and, later, if referred by the Unit Team, by a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO). The process leaves very little room for the personal likes or dislikes of a single staff member. The family should realize that the institution’s DHO is virtually autonomous as an independent department within the institution. Finally, even if found guilty of an act, the inmate has an appeal process whereby all disciplinary proceedings are reviewed at administrative levels higher than the institution’s.
Q: What should the family understand about medical care in the Bureau of Prisons?
A: The family should understand that when an offender is sentenced to serve a federal prison term, the Bureau of Prisons must assume all responsibility for medical care. Therefore, their personal doctor will not be able to continue treating the inmate, and neither will the new inmate or family have a choice in selecting a medical provider. The standard of medical care provided in the Bureau of Prisons is based on the standard of medical care provided in the community, and regular review and accreditation of the medical practices within facilities is required. The medical staffing can vary from one federal prison to another, and offenders whose needs cannot be managed at one might be placed in another, which may mean a move further from their families. Families should be as supportive as possible under such circumstances, knowing that the health of their loved one should supersede proximity to the family. Also, the family should know that many prison facilities augment their medical care with doctors from the community, usually specialists, on a contract basis. Finally, of course, the Bureau of Prisons has some institutions which are strictly for in-patient medical care and surgery, if needed. The hardest part for the family, I believe, is not having a choice in the health care of their loved one during confinement. But focusing on the positives of the Bureau of Prisons’ system can help, even if that system is more impersonal to the inmate than private medical practice is. Finally, the family can be assured that each Bureau of Prisons Region has a Regional Health Services Administrator, who is usually open to knowing about serious and significant health care concerns, should an inmate believe medical needs are not being adequately addressed.
Q: Do you have any final words of advice?
A: Let me offer the three most important pieces of advice that I can to the offender who will be going to a federal prison facility for the first time:
First, the federal court proceedings and, ultimately, sentencing to prisons has likely taken a very serious toll on the offender and their family, psychologically, emotionally, and often financially. When the time for confinement finally arrives, which suspends the individual’s freedom and separates him or her from family, it sometimes happens that the offender and/or family will vent frustrations on or toward the Bureau of Prisons. It is important to keep the perspective, however, that the Bureau of Prisons is not responsible for the current circumstances. Ultimately, it will not be the Bureau of Prisons’ responsibility to re-build lives or relationships. Straight thinking in this regard can empower the offender and family, to help them avoid the non-productive trap of feeling as though they are victims.
Second, the offender would be well-advised to keep important personal information about themselves and their families confidential, period! This does not mean being so secretive as to arouse the suspicions of other inmates. But it should be painfully obvious that there are real criminals in federal prisons, and becoming vulnerable to these criminals will only complicate life the well-meaning inmates who truly wish to serve their sentences with as little hassle as possible. Well-meaning inmates can be conned, their family’s privacy and well-being compromised, and life seriously disrupted, if they are too friendly with the wrong inmates.
Last but not least, humility, clear conduct, and an understanding that federal prison, while offering a variety of programs and activities, may be an experience of some drudgery. There are no “entitlements,” which should help the offender appreciate freedom and family even more. With self-reliance and keeping the “big picture” in mind, the offender can focus on the confinement term and returning home and staying out of prison. There is no sounder advice than this.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]