How the Bureau of Prisons Manages Risk Relevant Behaviors by Sex Offenders

How the Bureau of Prisons Manages Risk Relevant Behaviors by Sex Offenders

A trend has emerged in recent years concerning the treatment and management of incarcerated sex offenders: prison administrators are conjuring up new and more restrictive means of managing the sex offenders housed in their prison systems.

Over the years, a plethora of restrictive tools have been employed in this context. These have included banning all sexually explicit materials (e.g., pornographic magazines, girly photos, etc.), pictures of children (whether in bathing suits, partially clothed, or fully clothed), and even family photographs altogether. A common restriction is on publications such as Star Magazine, US Weekly, and National Geographic, which sometimes contain photos of children in bathing suits (or less, in the case of National Geographic). The courts have largely upheld such restrictions in the name of sound correctional judgment. See, e.g., Waterman v. Farmer, 183 F.3d 208, 214 (3d Cir. 1999).

Recently, the Bureau of Prisons has begun taking a more focused approach to the management of incarcerated sex offenders as well as potential “risk-relevant” behaviors by this population. Traditionally, BOP national policies don’t allow for specialized restrictions on specific populations. See Program Statement P5266.11, Incoming Publications and 28 C.F.R. § 540.72. For example, a publication deemed appropriate for the correctional setting is deemed appropriate for all offenders (e.g., drug offenders, sex offenders, white collar offenders, etc.). But prison administrators have determined that there is a need for restrictions that can be spot applied to sexual offenders. In the BOP, this led to the development of the Correctional Management Plan.

Known informally amongst the federal prison population as a “CMP,” Correctional Management Plans are the tip of the sex offender management spear. In general terms, if an inmate is “detected to have engaged in possible risk-relevant behavior” – typically an inmate being caught with problematic pictures or erotic stories – such materials are referred to for review by the Sex Offender Management Program Coordinator. Program Statement 5324.10, Sex Offender Programs, at § 4.3. This is a prison psychology staff member whose focus is on the treatment and management of sex offenders. The SOMP Coordinator typically places the inmate on call-out (i.e., a scheduled appointment) and discusses with them the seized materials (or the otherwise problematic behaviors). Id. at § 4.5.

At this point, there are generally three options available to staff:

  1. The materials are deemed erroneously seized and returned;
  2. The materials are deemed risk-relevant and seized, but only a warning is issued; or
  3. The materials are deemed risk-relevant and seized, and the inmate is referred for CMP development.

In the case of the final outcome, the inmate will typically be called back to review the proposed CMP. The CMP will impose additional restrictions on the inmate’s personal property, along with possible communication restrictions. Typically, inmates will be restricted from the possession of any pictures of naked, partially clothed, or fully clothed children; possession of any sexually stimulating materials (e.g., photos, erotic stories, etc.); and other related restrictions. Id. at § 4.6.4-.3. Generally speaking, such restrictions don’t add much to existing restrictions placed on all inmates. But what an imposed CMP does provide is a mechanism for program enforcement.

Failure to comply with the restrictions of a CMP can result in a Code 306 incident report for refusing a program assignment. For that matter, possession of anything not allowed for inmate retention can result in a Code 305 incident report for possession of unauthorized materials. See 28 C.F.R. § 541 and Program Statement 5270.09, Inmate Discipline Program, in Table 1. The difference between an inmate with a CMP and one without one is that fairly benign objects (such as family photographs) can be restricted, and the mere possession of such can result in the issuance of an incident report.

CMPs can only be issued to inmates who are housed at a Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP) facility. If an inmate is at a SOMP facility and staff wants to impose a CMP, the inmate will first have to be transferred to a SOMP facility.

Inmates with an imposed CMP are also subject to searches at the direction of staff. This protocol is often detailed in local institutional supplements for Sex Offender Programs if the institution is a SOMP facility. While not openly disclosed by staff, notices of such searches can be found in an inmate’s Psychology Data File, a special digital file created and updated by Psychology staff whenever a clinical encounter occurs or, as in this case, whenever they contact an inmate’s unit officer and instruct them to search the inmate’s cell for risk relevant materials. Furthermore, the underlying reasons for the imposition of a CMP, along with any violations, can be considered during civil commitment reviews. Program Statement 5394.01, Certification and Civil Commitment of Sexually Dangerous Persons.

While experiences will vary depending on the institution and SOMP Coordinator in question, inmates with a CMP can usually work their way off them. CMPs are only designed to be in place for as long as they are needed. In the past, I’ve counseled clients to talk with the SOMP Coordinator about creating a roadmap to program completion. During one of the bi-annual CMP reviews, the inmate may ask if they can have the CMP removed. Typically the SOMP Coordinator will refuse. At this point, the inmate should suggest that if they have six more months of clear conduct that the CMP be removed. If the SOMP Coordinator refuses, then the inmate should ask if they will consider removing some of the restrictions as part of the roadmap to program completion. Usually one of these two suggestions will work. Then, at each six-month review, the inmate should follow up along these lines. Eventually, the CMP should be removed, assuming clear conduct is rendered.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of the Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts (McFarland & Co., 2014). He also regularly contributes to The  Daily News, and Prison Legal News. Portions of this article were adapted from his Federal Prison Handbook.