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Prison Matters

U.S. Sentencing Commission statistics indicate that over 97 percent of federal criminal cases result in a guilty plea. Over 80 percent of the defendants who go to trial are convicted. Thus, over 98% of those convicted will be sentenced, with 82.8 percent of those sentenced to a term of imprisonment. For the vast majority of federal criminal defendants, therefore, where they do their time is as important as how much time they’ll do.

The Law Offices of Alan Ellis assists convicted defendants in obtaining designation and placement to the most favorable prison available as close to their home as possible. The firm utilizes the services of former high level Bureau of Prisons staff in attempting to achieve this result.

During their incarceration, inmates often want to be transferred to another prison facility. With the help of our federal prison consultants, the firm attempts to help defendants achieve this goal.

Also while incarcerated, inmates may find themselves in trouble with Bureau of Prisons (BOP) authorities prior to incarceration. The firm counsels these individuals on how to avoid these problems and when this is unavoidable, how to respond to charges that are brought against them.

From time to time inmates experience other problems such as medical issues which have not been adequately treated, sentence computation errors, halfway house placement, and home confinement issues.

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Read Our Comprehensive FAQ On Prison Matters

How does the U.S. Bureau of Prisons decide where to place a sentenced federal defendant?

Initial placement of an offender is based upon an initial
classification of the individual by the Bureau of Prisons, which is a calculation of
the required security considerations, an individual’s medical needs, consideration
of how crowded some institutions are, the offender’s specialized program needs if
any, legal residence, and court recommendations. Classification information is
obtained from the presentence investigation report (PSR), and so it is essential for
the attorney and client to ensure that the information is both accurate and
complete as to offenses conduct, prior record, open or pending cases, legal
residence, physical and mental health, verifiable education level, and substance
abuse, particularly if the offender wants to qualify for the bureau’s comprehensive
Residential Drug Abuse Program.

What is a Federal Presentence Investigation Report?

The federal presentence investigation report (PSR) is the document most heavily relied on by a judge in imposing sentence—particularly in those cases where a guilty plea has been entered and the court knows little about the defendant. It also is the document that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) relies on in making designations and placements and many other decisions throughout an inmate’s period of incarceration, including, but not limited to, whether to grant early release through halfway house and, if so, for how much time. In this article, published in the ABA’s Criminal Justice Magazine, Fall 2014, Alan Ellis discusses how PSRs are prepared and their content, and gives guidelines for defense attorneys who wish to object to the PSR prepared for their client.

If an offender is granted self-surrender by the court, what should they take to prison?

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 returned or mailed back to the next of kin. That said, the individual should bring no single item worth over $100, meaning no 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 $320. Such an amount will permit some discretionary spending at the institution commissary and establishing a TRUFONE account to call home, 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 for the new inmate before the new inmate can shop at the commissary or buy something the new inmate cannot otherwise afford. Similarly, the new inmate should shun any offer to use another inmate’s access to outside telephone calls before the new inmate’s account and telephone list have been set up. Such offers can have illicit payment return terms that the new inmate is not prepared for, and besides being prohibited by prison rules 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. We recommend that an offender take a one-month supply of any prescription medication. In all probability, the Bureau of Prisons will have the necessary medications on hand, and your supply will not be required, but if you take a medicine that is not currently routinely used or authorized by the Bureau of Prisons, your supply may be authorized in some cases to get necessary approvals and/or pharmacy stock. Understand that any medications you take with you will likely be held for you in the health services department, and dispensed from the pharmacy at “pill line.


What can a new inmate expect from staff upon arrival at a federal prison?
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.
What do the administrative remedy procedures involve?

First, the inmate is required to 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 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.

Can and will an inmate receive mental health care and substance abuse treatment in the Bureau of Prisons?

The Bureau of Prisons has, as with medical care, adopted mental health classifications. In addition to receiving a classification for security and health care, BOP inmates are now classified based on mental health care need. Similar to the four medical care levels, all inmates are assigned to one of four mental health levels.

1. CARE1-MH: No Significant Mental Health Care Those who show no significant level of functional impairment associated with mental illness and demonstrate no need for regular mental health interventions, and either has no history of serious functional impairment due to mental illness or, if a history of mental illness is present, have consistently demonstrated appropriate help-seeking behavior in response to any reemergence of symptoms.

2. CARE2-MH: Routine Outpatient Mental Health Care or Crisis-Oriented Mental Health Care Those requiring routine outpatient mental health care on an ongoing basis, and/or brief, crisis-oriented mental health care of significant intensity, e.g., placement on suicide watch or behavioral observation status.

3. CARE3-MH: Enhanced Outpatient Mental Health Care or Residential Mental Health Care Those requiring enhanced outpatient mental health care, such as weekly mental health interventions or residential mental health care, such as placement in a residential Psychology Treatment Program.

4. CARE4-MH: Inpatient Psychiatric Care Those who are gravely disabled and cannot function in general population in a CARE3-MH environment. In determining an appropriate mental health care level assignment, an individual’s current, recent and historical need for services is considered, along with any type of psychotropic medication required.

The BOP offers a number of formal, organized psychology treatment programs with specific target populations, admission criteria and treatment modalities. Many of these are residential programs offered only at select facilities. General psychological services and mental health crisis intervention are available throughout the BOP. Psychiatric services, including psychotropic medication, are generally coordinated through health services in conjunction with psychology services staff. Psychiatry services may be available either through contracts with a community psychiatrist, or increasingly, through telepsychiatry with a BOP psychiatrist at another location.

While it may vary from institution to institution and from mental health professional to mental health professional, generally speaking, mental health treatment in the BOP is designed to enable the inmate to function within the prison system, meaning they are not a danger to themselves, staff or other inmates.

Outside of the formal programs mentioned above, rarely will an inmate receive any meaningful treatment for underlying disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and the like, because not all treatment modalities are offered. For example, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for treatment of PTSD is not available outside of the programs.

This is regrettable. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates are that one in four inmates in this country suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder. With the BOP’s emphasis on reducing recidivism, more attention given to the mentally ill would go a long way toward achieving this result.

The medical staffing also 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, understanding 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. These consulting specialists are available if BOP staff determine that a specialty consultation is required, and any recommendations made by a consulting specialist will be evaluated by a BOP physician for compliance with the agency’s scope of service.

Mental health care, or lack thereof, in the BOP is exacerbated by the fact the bureau has had a difficult time recruiting competent mental health professionals. The same holds true for medical care. One of the hardest parts 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 BOP’s system can help, even if that system is more impersonal to the inmate than private medical practice. Finally, the family can be assured that each BOP 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.

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The Law Offices of Alan Ellis specializing In Federal Sentencing, Appeals, 2255 Habeas Corpus