The Federal Bureau of Prisons has approximately 200 institutions, which consist of federal prisons, prison camps and contracted private prisons, each of which use similar orientation procedures for new arrivals. Referred to as Admission and Orientation (A&O), the process is designed to acquaint new arrivals with local rules and regulations, the procedures and protocols of an institution’s various departments and inmate services, and, among other things, to establish and verify baseline healthcare data through a series of health screenings. Broad-scoped and multifaceted, the A&O process can take up to 28 days to complete.

Until a new arrival has completed orientation, they are classified as being on A&O status and will not be assigned to any work detail, education classes, treatment groups or other programs. While on A&O status, inmates can expect to be kept relatively busy attending various orientation-related appointments, meetings and screenings.

Issuance of Bedding and Clothing

The typical A&O process involves the following:

Clothing and Bedding Issue: Usually within 24 hours of arrival, inmates are required to report to Laundry Services for issuance of their institutional clothing and bedding. This generally includes blankets, sheets, a pillowcase, towels, washcloths, t-shirts, men’s boxers or women’s underwear, sports bras, long-sleeve and short-sleeve khaki shirts, khaki pants, a belt, hard-toed work boots and/or shoes, a winter coat, and, in some cases, other regionally-specific apparel (quantities of some items may vary depending on the institution). Clothing sizes for each inmate are kept on file in Laundry Services. Clothing and other laundry items may be exchanged at specified intervals or as necessary.

Medical, Dental, Psychology and Unit Team Interviews

After the initial clothing and bedding issue, the following A&O procedures typically occur (in no particular order):

• Medical Screening: Normally, within 14 days of arrival, inmates are required to report to Health Services to complete a personal medical history questionnaire; receive a tuberculosis test; have their weight and height recorded; their vision, hearing and blood pressure checked; and undergo a general physical examination. At this point in time, inmates can raise medical concerns, though they generally are instructed to submit a triage form in order to be scheduled for care.

• Dental Screening: Inmates are required to report to Dental Services to undergo an initial dental evaluation, the results of which are recorded in their dental file. The purpose of the initial dental screening is to establish a personal dental record for the inmate. Only emergency dental problems identified will be addressed at the time of initial screening. Inmates will be directed to report to dental sick call for routine care concerns.

• Psychology Interview/Screening: Inmates are required to report to Psychology Services, where they will complete a questionnaire concerning their past and present mental health. Following the submission of this questionnaire, an interview is conducted with a Psychology Services staff member. Besides mental health issues, the inmate’s desire to participate in any self-help, therapy, or treatment programs will be discussed and put on record at this time.

• Unit Team/Program Review: Inmates receive their initial Program Review, usually conducted by one or more members of the Unit Team, shortly after arrival. The primary Unit Team members are the correctional counselor, case manager, and unit manager assigned to the inmate’s housing unit. Program Reviews are mandatory, periodic interviews designed to track, manage, and record certain aspects of an inmate’s incarceration. The initial Program Review establishes baseline data for subsequent Program Reviews. Concerns about housing, custody, and daily living can be addressed at this time.

General A&O Meeting

Before being released from A&O status, all new arrivals must attend a general A&O meeting. Conducted monthly by multiple department heads, department representatives and other prison staff members, this orientation meeting is intended to provide general information regarding various aspects of the prison’s operational procedures and how they relate to its numerous departments. At this general A&O meeting, staff members from the following departments should be present:

• Commissary: This is the facility-operated store, which sells items such as food, drinks, electronics, hygiene items, clothing and all other items authorized for purchase. Topics discussed may include shopping procedures, spending limits, commissary restriction status, and inmate employment opportunities within the department.

• Education: The Education Department is responsible for providing English-as-a-Second Language (ESL), General Educational Development (GED), Adult Continuing Education (ACE), and other classes. It is also responsible for facilitating proctored examinations for students engaging in college correspondence courses. A prison’s leisure and law library are Education Department operations, as well. Topics discussed may include various Education Department offerings and inmate employment opportunities.

• Facilities: This department includes the electrical shop, HVAC, plumbing, painting, maintenance, landscaping and other shops. Topics discussed may include Vocational Training (VT) offered through the Facilities Department (e.g., Building Trades, AutoCAD, Horticulture, etc.), and inmate employment opportunities within the department.

Food Service: This department manages all services related to the prison’s dining hall and kitchen operations. Topics discussed usually focus on where the dining room is located, meal times, general food service information, inmate employment opportunities within Food Service, and any training programs the department offers (e.g., Culinary Arts, Food Handling Certification, etc.).

• Laundry Services: This department handles the issuance and washing of all clothing and bedding, along with the issuance of inmate work boots. Topics discussed may include procedures, protocols, laundry schedules and inmate employment opportunities.

• Psychology Services: This department is responsible for providing treatment for various mental health disorders and monitoring the mental health status of the inmate population. Topics discussed include procedures and protocols for seeking care, available programs (e.g., AA, NA, anger management, sex offender treatment programs, drug abuse treatment programs, etc.), and inmate employment opportunities, as well as how to obtain emergency psychological care.

• Recreation Department: The Recreation Department consists of the recreation yard, indoor recreation areas, hobby craft programs (e.g., leather craft, art, beading, cross-stitching, etc.), music programs, fitness programs, sanctioned leisure time programs (e.g., various gaming leagues such as cards, billiards and RPG games), sports programs and other offerings. Topics discussed may include procedures, schedules, and information concerning classes offered by the Recreation Department, as well as inmate employment opportunities within the department.

• Religious Services: This department offers a wide variety of individual and group study and worship opportunities for the major faith groups, along with a chapel library where inmates can check out religious books. Topics discussed may include services offered in the chapel, schedules and inmate employment opportunities.

• Health Services: This department provides all health screening and treatment activities within federal prisons. Inmates are assigned to a Mid-Level Practitioner (MLP), who acts as the inmate’s primary point of contact with Health Services. Topics discussed may include procedures, protocols, training/apprenticeship programs (e.g., dental technician), and inmate employment opportunities.

• UNICOR (where applicable): Also known as Federal Prison Industries, Inc., this government-owned corporation operates various types of factories using inmate labor at a number of federal prisons. Topics discussed may include the type of product manufactured or service provided by the prison’s UNICOR factory, criteria for employment and application procedures.

Other institution-specific departments and/or programs may be represented at the general A&O meeting, as well.

Assignment of Work Detail

With the exception of those who have been designated as medically unable to work by Health Services or Psychology Services, all federal inmates are required to have a job upon completion of the A&O process. Those who do not take the initiative to secure a position with one of the prison’s various departments by that point in time will be assigned a job by their correctional counselor, which is typically to a Food Services work detail for a minimum period of time (e.g., 30, 60, or 90 days).

About Christopher Zoukis
Christopher Zoukis is an outspoken prisoner rights and correctional education advocate who is incarcerated at FCI Petersburg Medium in Virginia. He is an award-winning writer whose work has been published widely in major publications such as The Huffington Post, Prison Legal News, New York Daily News and various other print and online publications. Learn more about Christopher Zoukis at and

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).