By Maureen Baird
The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (FRP) is the mechanism used to enforce payment of special assessments, fines, penalties, and restitution imposed by the sentencing court. Normally, a special assessment in the amount of $50.00 is assessed to each felony count. While the BOP has limited authority to seize or freeze assets, it does offer incentives and penalties for participation in the FRP. If a prisoner has no financial obligation or has satisfied these obligations in advance of commencing their prison sentence, the FRP is not applicable.
First, you should not panic because the BOP is not going to seize assets that you have. Rather, the purpose of the FRP is to hold those in custody accountable for the financial obligations imposed by the court. During the initial team meeting (usually within 30 days of arrival to the designated facility), the unit team will review the Judgment with the inmate and establish a payment plan. Whether the amount due is a few hundred dollars, or millions, a plan is put in placed based on the amount of money that flows through the inmate’s commissary account. The commissary account is primarily funded in two ways; money sent from family and friends on the outside combined, and wages earned in a prison work assignment. Once a payment plan is agreed upon, the FRP contract is signed by the inmate and it is the inmate’s responsibility to ensure the funds are available in his account on the dates the institution collects the FRP obligations (usually within the first five days of each month, but every institution is different).
The primary drivers of the amount to be paid is determined by the amount of money in the prisoner’s commissary account and how much they typically spend in a month. The unit team monitors money going in and out of commissary accounts to determine a suggested amount due for FRP. The formula utilized by the unit team in determining the correct amount can be found in the BOP’s Program Statement 5380.08, Financial Responsibility Program, Inmate. There is no maximum amount that can be taken out toward court imposed financial obligations; however, the minimum, is $25 a quarter (March, June, September, and December).
It is important to know that the FRP is voluntary in that the BOP has no authority to seize funds from your commissary account. However, refusing to participate in FRP can have an adverse impact. When an inmate declines participation in the FRP or does not have the money in his commissary account on the day the institution is scheduled to collect the funds, he will be immediately placed in FRP Refuse status. FRP Refuse status could potentially result in a higher security classification. There are additional negative consequences for FRP Refusal, such as no entitlement to performance pay above the maintenance pay level, no work assignment in UNICOR, potential stringent monthly commissary spending limit and others listed in the Program Statement. It is important to participate in FRP when offered and if an inmate finds it financially difficult, then it should be addressed with unit team to determine if he is eligible for exemption (very rare circumstances).
The best way to manage demands for increased FRP payments from the unit team, is to curtail the amount of money being deposited into their commissary account. Many inmates do not want the gift and thought of a loved one sending money to end up paying a fine or restitution for which the inmate was responsible.
Finally, it is best to satisfy any court-imposed fines in advance of reporting to prison, although this is not always possible. If financial obligations have been satisfied, inmates should ensure they bring a copy of the receipt of payment to the prison upon surrender and provide it to their unit team. Alternatively, a copy of the receipt can be mailed to the inmate once he is at his designated facility.
Maureen Baird, formerly a high-ranking U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ official, is a consultant with The Law Offices of Alan Ellis. Her experience in federal corrections began as a case manager with the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons. Through her 28 years with the Agency, she continued to acquire positions of increasing responsibility. In 2009, Maureen was appointed to the position of Warden at the Federal Correctional Institution, Danbury, Connecticut, and was later promoted to Warden at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City. There, she was appointed to Senior Executive Staff by the United States Attorney General and within two years, she was transferred to a position of greater responsibility as the Warden of the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois. As warden, Maureen was responsible for the leadership and direction of 300 to 350 staff members and approximately 1,200 to 1,500 inmates. During her tenure as warden for seven years, she was responsible for staff development and various specialized inmate housing units, including a high security management unit which mainly housed international terrorists who were assigned maximum custody. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.