By Christopher Zoukis and Jack Donson

This article seeks to clarify the process, and variables, associated with seeking a transfer to a different prison within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  This information is being disseminated in the hopes that it will help to guide current and future federal inmates in seeking a transfer to the prison of their choosing.  It aims to inform those in need of this information so that they have the tools they need to effectively advocate for themselves, and help to steer readers away from costly “prison transfer” services which are essentially scams of prisoners and their families.

Initial Designation at a Federal Bureau of Prisons Facility

Federal prisoners are not given a choice in which prison they are first designated to.  This designation is made by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC) in Grand Prairie, Texas.  Initial designation determinations are based upon a number of factors.  These factors are scored using the BOP’s Custody and Classification Form, which takes into account length of sentence, charge, criminal history, and a number of other factors, such as release destination, history of escapes, and self-surrender status.

Differences Between Initial Designation and Transfer

The process of seeking a transfer post-initial designation is different.  These determinations are primarily made by the federal inmate’s unit team at their local prison, not at the DSCC.  However, the process, and qualifications, to seek a transfer are anything but simple.  What follows are tips about the practice of seeking a transfer within the BOP.

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By Christopher Petrella and Alex Friedmann

After nearly 40 years of unprecedented growth, our nation’s expanding prison population has finally begun to sputter. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2010 marked the first year since 1972 in which, taken together, state and federal correctional populations declined slightly – a trend that continued in 2011.

This modest reduction reflects revisions to draconian drug laws (particularly in New York and Florida), curtailing re-incarceration for technical parole violators, and the burgeoning implementation of “good time” early-release credits. As a result, 15 states have closed 35 adult correctional facilities over the last two years, according to the National Conference of State Legislators, while additional closures are pending in 2013.

Although prison closures are widely celebrated by prisoners and criminal justice reform activists alike, the implementation of such plans is rarely straightforward and often encounters opposition from local communities, prison guard unions and lawmakers in the districts where facilities are slated to close. If achieved, prison closures are usually piecemeal and result in the transfer of prisoners to other facilities, not additional releases. Similarly, prison employees displaced by closures are often absorbed by other facilities, not fired. The predictable tumult resulting from actual and proposed prison closures reflects the competing and contradictory interests held by various stakeholders involved in the process.

Despite signaling a hopeful interruption in the business-as-usual crime and punishment mania that has characterized U.S. penal policy for the past half-century, it’s possible to argue that the increasing number of prison closures represents just as much an experiment in budget-cutting in the short term as it does in durable criminal justice reform over the long term.

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By Christopher Zoukis

Introduction: A Loyal Prison Law Blog Reader Writes

Earlier this week, a loyal Prison Law Blog reader presented a situation to us and asked for our help.  The reader said that his elderly family member, who’s currently incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons on a crack cocaine related offense, had served 24 years in prison — has maintained a clean disciplinary record — and just turned 72.  The question was simple, and a good one, too: “Is there any way that he can petition to be released due to his age and the length of time he’s been in prison?”  While there is no easy answer to this situation, a discussion of the applicable regulations at hand is warranted.  This blog post will provide a top-level overview of early release opportunities for elderly offenders who are incarcerated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The Regulation At Hand: 18 U.S.C. § 3582 (c)(a)(A)(ii)

To start, there is law which specifically allows for the release of elderly offenders incarcerated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.  18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(ii) provides that the sentencing court, upon motion of the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, may reduce the term of imprisonment for a defendant who is “at least 70 years of age, has served at least 30 years in prison . . . for the offense or offenses for which the defendant is currently imprisoned, and a determination has been made by the Director of the Bureau of Prisons that the defendant is not a danger to the safety of any other person or the community . . .”*1  As such, there is regulation and precedent for elderly offenders to be released early, but rarely do facts combine into a perfect storm where the motion or request would be granted.

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By Christopher Zoukis

On the first of every month, Mary B., a 72 year old retired state worker, mails off a $200 check to ensure the safety of her son, who is imprisoned in Virginia.  She’s been doing so since 2007, when her son was sentenced in federal court to 15 years, after pleading guilty to a series of drug-fueled bank robberies.  While Mary lives on a fixed income that doesn’t leave much money to play with, she says she is afraid of what will happen to her son if she were to stop sending the money.  “I just want to make sure he’s safe,” she says.

Anyone familiar with the world of prison knows that Mary’s predicament is one that occurs often in some prisons: family members on the outside, paying extortion to protect loved ones inside the walls.  In some countries, “protection money” is virtually automatic.  In American prisons, gangs routinely extort fellow prisoners who must “pay to stay.”  But the shakedown facing Mary and her son isn’t being perpetrated by a prison gang; it’s being committed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

That’s right: the Federal Bureau of Prisons routinely extracts funds from the family members of prisoners, who can face hardship consequences if they are unwilling, or unable, to make monetary payments demanded by prison staff under the BOP’s “Inmate Financial Responsibility Program” (IFRP).

The IFRP is intended to “encourage” federal prisoners who own financial obligations, i.e., fines, restitution, etc., to “voluntarily” pay down their debt while they are incarcerated.  Governed by a Federal Bureau of Prisons Policy Statement (Program Statement 5380.08) and federal regulations, 28 C.F.R. § 545.10 {et seq.}, the IFRP allows local staff to set a payment schedule to “help the inmate develop a financial plan” that is “commensurate with [the prisoner’s] ability to pay.” 28 C.F.R. § 545.11(a).

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By Derek Gilna

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a study on the
Bureau of Prisons’ authority to shorten a federal prisoner’s sentence. The
Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was found to have three principal authorities with
respect to sentence reduction: prisoners can earn up to twelve months off for
successfully completing the Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program (RDAP);
eligible prisoners can be transferred to community corrections for up to the
final 12 months of their sentences; and prisoners can theoretically earn up to
54 days a year for good conduct while incarcerated.

Unfortunately, according to the GAO’s review of data from 2009 to 2011, due to
budgetary constraints, mismanagement or bureaucratic indifference, the BOP does
not fully utilize all of the sentence-reduction resources at its disposal. As a
result, federal prisoners spend more time away from their families and
communities, which costs the taxpayers millions of dollars and contributes to
prison overcrowding.

RDAP consists of coursework and counseling that addresses both drug and alcohol
abuse. According to the GAO the problem of substance abuse among prisoners is
staggering, as the “BOP estimates that 40 percent [of those] entering federal
custody have a substance abuse disorder….” Despite that fact, only 19,000
prisoners were able to participate in the program during the time period
reviewed. The BOP currently houses approximately 217,000 prisoners and operates
at 38 percent over capacity.

Due to overcrowding and other program inefficiencies, such as an inability to
hire staff or fill vacancies in a timely manner, very few prisoners who
complete RDAP receive the full 12-month sentence reduction authorized by
statute and BOP program statements.

According to the GAO, “during fiscal years 2009 through 2011, of the 15,302
[prisoners] … who completed RDAP and were eligible for a sentence reduction,
2,846 (19 percent) received the maximum reduction and the average reduction was
8.0 months.” BOP officials have acknowledged that most RDAP participants do not
receive the full amount of time off because they have less than 12 months to
serve on their sentences by the time they finish the program.

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Inmates incarcerated within the Federal Bureau of Prisons are entitled to a certain level of medical care throughout the duration of their incarceration.  This level of medical care is not the same as one would have access to in the community, but does include credentialed health care professionals who can provide access to health services…

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In the world outside of prison, monetary transactions are fairly simple.  One party presents cash, a check, swipes a credit card, or wires funds to another party.  The process is quick, simple, and widely understood.  But for those with loved ones in federal prison, the transfer of funds can be a more complex matter. Persons…

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The Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” includes a bar to the use of “excessive force” by prison officials against prisoners. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992). When a prisoner makes an Eighth Amendment claim of excessive force, courts consider two elements: (1) the objective severity of the prisoner’s injuries from…

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Every prison within the Federal Bureau of Prisons includes a Psychology Department, where inmates participate in various mental health and drug treatment programs.  These departments are managed by one or more staff psychologists and other workers.  In fact, some psychology departments, such as the one at Federal Correctional Institution Petersburg, have close to a dozen…

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