Surviving Prison as a Sex Offender
Surviving prison can be extra tough for a sex offender, especially if their offences include possessing, distributing, or producing child pornography, or soliciting minors for sexual activity. Sex offenders face being ostracized or targeted by other prisoners, and are subjected to enhanced monitoring to ensure they are not engaging in risk-relevant behaviors.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons created the Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP) as a solution to sex offender management issues. It is an institutional designation which means that the prison has a more robust Psychology Department, a Sex Offender Treatment Program (either residential or non-residential), and a higher percentage of sexual offenders in the general population. In effect, this makes SOMP federal prisons easier for sex offenders, enabling them to stay at the prison without threat to their lives. By housing this specialized population in certain prisons, prison officials can also monitor them more effectively.
There are two types of treatment programs available at SOMP facilities: the 9 to 12 month Non-Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP-NR) and the 12 to 18 month Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP-R). While most SOMP facilities have the non-residential program, the residential version is available at a select number of facilities (e.g., FMC Devens).
Sex offenders deemed to be a low risk of recidivism are only permitted to take the non-residential program, while for those deemed to be a high risk, the residential program is the only program made available to them. Participation in treatment programs can lessen the risk of being civilly committed, but disclosures made during treatment can be used as evidence of the need for civil commitment.
Sex offenders housed at SOMP facilities don’t have much to worry about as far as prison politics and their safety are concerned. But those housed at non-SOMP facilities, particularly at the medium and high security levels, do run the risk of being assaulted or otherwise harmed. At the lower security levels, being at a non-SOMP facility is less of an issue, as most prisoners simply ostracize sex offenders as opposed to actively causing them harm.
Current SOMP facilities include the low security FCI Seagoville (TX), FCI Elkton (OH) and FCI Englewood (CO), the medium security FCI Petersburg (VA), FCI Marianna (FL), and USP Marion (IL), and the high security USP Tucson (AZ).
Here are some points to help you survive prison as a sex offender:
- You may be worried about being assaulted by other prisoners. If you are at a low security federal prison or a SOMP facility, this will probably not occur. Those in low security tend to be preparing to go home and don’t want to risk their release when it comes time for halfway house decisions to be made. At SOMP facilities, there are so many sex offenders (often upwards of 40% of the total population) that the yards are easy and the stigma is significantly reduced.
- If you are housed at a non-SOMP medium or high security federal prison, the risk of assault can be higher, largely due to prison politics. At some easier medium security federal prisons you might be able to walk the yard and only be ostracized and excluded, but it can be a risky gamble. It is at the high security federal prison level where you will have problems. It would be better to “check in” (ask to go into protective custody) and to await a transfer to an easier, ideally SOMP, yard. Tougher sorts might opt to fight it out, but this is a dangerous gamble.
- Your chances of being civilly committed as a sex offender are slim to none. Only those with a hands-on offense (either instant or prior) are eligible for civil commitment. The government also has to prove that you have a mental defect that would make not reoffending problematic for you. Those who are caught with risk relevant materials, such as pictures of children, have to worry most about this. A good way to evaluate if you are at risk for civil commitment is to ask a Psychology Department representative if you qualify for the Non-Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP-NR). Only sex offenders deemed to be low risk are permitted to take the program. So, if you are eligible for the program, then you probably have nothing to worry about. Even if you only qualify for the residential program, you still probably have nothing to worry about.
- If you are wondering if you should take the Sex Offender Treatment Program, you need to think about whether you feel you need help. It can be a great opportunity to receive that help. But risk can come along with participating in such programs. Most Psychology Department staff leading SOTP programs honestly want to help those in their groups. But the Federal Bureau of Prisons does have a dark history of abusing these groups by using them as a mechanism to collect the admissions necessary to civilly commitment offenders. This is well documented in the Butner Study and the research and articles that have been published about it. Today, more than a decade later, it appears as though the BOP has stopped using the SOTP programs for such nefarious purposes.
- If you want to balance your own safety while still taking the SOTP program, feel free to participate in sex offender treatment. But do not admit new victims or discuss a mental inability to control yourself or to stop yourself from reoffending. It’s important to get help, but such admissions will put you at great risk. If you fall into this category, seriously consider the residential treatment program, but be careful what you disclose.
- If you want the judge to recommend you for a SOMP facility, you must speak to your attorney about a judicial recommendation. He or she should know the procedure at your local U.S. District Court for judicial recommendations.
- It isn’t easy surviving prison as a sex offender. Your history is what it is. There is no way to hide from it. If others confront you, you can try to be tough and respond, “What’s it to you?” or “You got some kind of problem?”, but lying and denying is often not the best way to go, because your paperwork can easily be run to determine what you are in prison for. All you can do is strive to be a better man (or woman) today and show those around you that you are not what your charges state, but someone who has grown and turned toward a better path.
Contact us for more information on surviving prison as a sex offender or other aspects of prison life.
Sex Offenders in Prison
The topic of sex offenders in the Federal Bureau of Prisons is very taboo. As such, not many news outlets, prison consultants, or attorneys like to publicly touch upon it.
We at the Prison Law Blog are not like these entities. When we see a need, we strive to fulfill it. Here you will find basic information on sex offenders and where they are placed throughout the U.S. prison system.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has a total inmate population of 215,383; at present, 11,699 are incarcerated for federal sex offenses (most often possession, receipt, or production of child pornography). This amounts to 6.1% of the Federal Bureau of Prisons entire inmate population.
There are 162 federal institutions (62 of which are true stand-alone prisons). For the vast majority, these are general character prisons, tasked with housing a broad swath of inmates convicted of any number of federal crimes. While these prisons are of many different security levels, they are regular prisons, housing all variety of offenders (including federal sex offenders).
Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP) Prisons
Due to the special needs of incarcerated sex offenders (e.g., enhanced monitoring for offending behaviors, protection from other inmates, the sometimes more sophisticated criminality of this population, etc.), the Federal Bureau of Prisons has 10 prisons which specifically house sex offenders. These are called Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP) institutions, which house inmates with a variety of instant offenses, but also a stronger psychology department, which takes a more active role in the monitoring of sex offender populations for deviant or “risk relevant” behaviors.
According to the BOP, “This higher concentration of sex offenders within a [SOMP] institution helps offenders feel more comfortable acknowledging their concerns and seeking treatment.” While this could be the case for some, it is more likely that incarcerated sex offenders are happy to merely be at a prison where they aren’t going to be assaulted, and, possibly killed for the nature of their instant offense, or for a prior conviction of similar character.
The sad fact is that the stories are true. Incarcerated sex offenders have a rough time in prison. At the higher security levels (e.g., high and medium security federal prisons), they tend to be harassed, attacked, and brutalized. This is part of an institutional culture if not supported by the prison administration, then accepted by it as inevitable. This creates real problems for incarcerated sex offenders who often must “check in” to the Special Housing Unit (i.e., solitary confinement) for their own protection. If not, they are known to be “beat off” a yard, where a group of fellow prisoners knock the sex offender to the ground (often in the chow hall or in front of the lieutenant’s office), and stomp them in sight of the prison guards. When this happens, the guards know it’s time for the sex offender to be placed in the hole for their own protection (called Protective Custody) and possibly transferred elsewhere.
In an effort to protect inmate sex offender populations, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has tasked a total of 10 prisons to specifically house sex offenders (either those who are in prison for a sexual offense or those who have one in their criminal history). These are the SOMP prisons. Due to the higher percentage of sex offenders at these prison (some suggest upwards of 40-60% of the inmate population at these prisons), they tend to be much easier prisons, where inmates incarcerated of less savory crimes can survive.
Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP) Prisons in the Federal Bureau of Prison
Administrative Security Sex Offender Prisons
- 1. FMC Carswell (Fort Worth, TX)
- 2. FMC Devens (Ayers, MA)
Low Security Sex Offender Prisons
- 3. FCI Elkton (Elkton, OH)
- 4. FCI Englewood (Littleton, CO)
- 5. FCI Seagoville (Seagoville, TX)
Medium Security Sex Offender Prisons
- 6. FCI Marianna (Marianna, FL)
- 7. USP Marion (Marion, IL)
- 8. FCI Petersburg Medium (Petersburg, VA)
- 9. FCI Tucson (Tucson, AZ)
High Security Sex Offender Prisons
- 10. USP Tucson (Tucson, AZ)
Sex Offender Treatment Programs in Federal Prisons
At these institutions, the Federal Bureau of Prisons also offers their Sex Offender Treatment Programs (SOTP). The BOP offers both residential (SOTP-R) and non-residential sex offender (SOTP-NR) treatment programs. The difference is in the intensity of the programs, residential or non-residential treatment modality, and which inmates can enroll in this voluntary treatment. Federal prisoners can learn more about these treatment programs, and can enroll in them, by speaking with a member of their prison’s Psychology Department or by reading our blog post on the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ recently promulgated sex offender management program statement.
Non-Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP-NR)
The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Non-Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program is offered at all of the above mentioned federal prisons, with the exception of FMC Devens and USP Marion. This program is restricted to “offenders evaluated to have low to moderate risk of reoffending.” The program lasts 9 to 12 months and participants meet 2 to 3 times each week in their prison’s Psychology Department for the treatment sessions. According to the BOP, program participants “learn basic skills and concepts to help them understand their past offenses and to reduce the risk of future offending,” through various levels of treatment.
Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP-R)
The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program is, at present, offered only at USP Marion and FMC Devens. Program participation is restricted to “offenders with an elevated risk of reoffending.” This program is 12 to 18 months in duration and participants engage in treatment 5 days each week. Due to the residential treatment modality, monitoring, supervision, and treatment is intensive. According to the BOP, “Participants benefit from a therapeutic community on a residential housing unit where they work to reduce their risk of future offending.” The residential housing units also have increased conduct regulations, i.e., restrictions on certain media and recreational activities, such as role playing games.