For most federal prisoners, the only official information they’ll ever read concerning prison policies and procedures is in their Admission and Orientation Handbook, on the regular bulletin boards or on the TRULINCS Electronic Bulletin Board. This is the extent of their policy research and understanding. Everything else comes from what is called “inmate.com,” which is basically rumors and gossip amongst the prisoners.
For those so inclined, there is much more information available concerning prison policies and procedures. This delves heavily into administrative law and regulations, so it is often more complex than most prisoners care to try to understand, but it can be helpful to know when an issue arises.
Cut down to its most basic form, Federal Bureau of Prisons policies are contained within documents called program statements. These program statements present official BOP policy for the various areas that they cover. For example, Program Statement 5270.09 covers the Inmate Discipline Program. If a federal prisoner, or anyone, for that matter, wanted to learn what the BOP’s policies and procedures are for disciplinary hearings and the like, all they would have to do is read PS 5270.09. The same is true for any number of other areas of prison life. Some program statements also call for local institutional supplements. These are effectively program statements that govern policies and protocols at individual federal prisons, often describing local protocols that national programs statements institute.
Going up one level, program statements are governed by federal regulations. In this case, Title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations governs Judicial Administration, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons operations. While there isn’t always a corresponding C.F.R. entry for each program statement, the C.F.R. does outline the more important areas of prison operations. For example, 28 C.F.R. Part 541 governs the BOP’s Inmate Discipline Program (PS 5270.09).
Most prisoners will have no need to ever bother with Federal Bureau of Prisons’ policy. When an issue arises, they can often find a talented jailhouse lawyer or prison consultant to dig into it for them. But when filing administrative remedies, appealing a disciplinary finding, or even trying to force Health Services to render treatment for a medical need, knowing what BOP policy stipulates can make all of the difference in the world.
In federal prison, you can find policy statements and federal regulations on the TRULINCS computers in the Electronic Law Library folio. For those outside of prison, program statements can be located at www.bop.gov.
To find specific topics hit the F2 key (which brings up a search box) and simply type in a few keywords concerning your issue. This search function helps those less familiar with BOP policy and federal regulations locate relevant information.
All prison operations are governed by have to follow policy and federal regulations, but more often than not you will find front-line staff don’t know what either states. Simply put, if they never read the policies, then they would have no idea what they say. It appears as though many front-line staff only listen to BOP instructors when it comes to prison policy, they don’t actually delve into the underlying policy itself.
If you believe a federal prison guard is violating policy, be sure to read the policy to ensure that you know what it actually states (rumors and common thoughts amongst the prison population tends to be wrong). Then, if negatively affected, speak with the officer to rectify the concern. If this still doesn’t work, and it is an important issue, file an administrative remedy.
Generally speaking there are books explaining BOP policy and procedure. But if you want to delve into the law of corrections, then the third Edition of the Prisoners’ Self Help Litigation Manual by John Boston and Dan Manville is terrific reading. Buying that book was the best $50 that I ever spent on my legal education.
You should be able to find institutional supplements in a comb-bound volume in your federal prison’s law library. The law library clerk should be able to help you locate it. Note that many federal prisons don’t bother to craft such institutional supplements, so there will be holes.
I once had a law professor who said that no one knows all of the law, but by the time that you deal with a specific issue for the fourth time that you will then have it down. This very much resonated with me. While reading through a program statement or a title is a good start, it takes a few times of dealing with a particular issue and applying the law to specific fact situations to really get it. So put in the time and learn the material. While it’s not easy to digest, it will eventually solidify in your head.