Most federal inmates will experience a BOP prison transfer from one institution to another. This could be by prison bus, airplane, or other means. With more than 200 institutions, the Federal Bureau of Prisons processes tens of thousands of inmate movements every year. This page explains the federal inmate transfer process and what you need to know. Learn more about inmate transfer information below.
Please contact us at the Zoukis Consulting Group if you or a loved one would like to seek a prison transfer. Our team can provide an overview of the federal inmate transfer process, draft your prison transfer request, and help you resolve any issues that arise. Consider us your prime federal inmate transfer information source.
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Table of contents
- Federal Inmate Transfer Process: Initial Designation and Classification
- The Prison Transfer Experience
- Riding the Bus
- One Federal Inmate’s Prison Transfer Process Experience
- Air Travel – Con Air
- BOP Prison Airplane Transfer Experience
- Oklahoma Federal Prison Transfer Holdover
- Holdover Facilities
- Your Federal Inmate Transfer Process Experts
Federal Inmate Transfer Process: Initial Designation and Classification
Most federal inmates enter the travel pipeline following sentencing in federal court. While still in United States Marshals Service custody, newly committed inmates are assigned an initial designation based on the Marshals Service’s “custody and classification” score. The score is sent to the Federal Bureau of Prisons Designation and Sentence Computation Center in Grand Prairie, Texas. DSCC then assigns the inmate to a particular prison.
Federal inmates confined at non-Bureau of Prisons institutions are usually delivered to the Marshals Service at federal courthouses or inmate transfer rally points. These non-federal institutions could be county jails or state prisons. The rally point might be a local airport if an “airlift” for inmates occurs.
Once underway, most inmates travel by bus, van, or airplane to one of many federal holding facilities. Some are located at actual Federal Bureau of Prisons institutions (e.g., USP Atlanta, MDC Brooklyn, MCC San Diego, etc.). The federal prison system also operates the FTC Oklahoma City dedicated transit center. From these sites, inmates are transported to their designated facility.
The Prison Transfer Experience
The federal prison transfer process is diverse and significantly depends on the mode of transportation. The following sections discuss inmate transfer information for each type of prison transfer.
Most inmates travel while handcuffed through a waist chain with ankle shackles. Those inmates assigned “maximum” custody often endure “black box” handcuffs, which utilize a metal or hard plastic cover between the handcuffs to make escape less likely. Because arm movement is significantly reduced, black box travel is less than appealing.
Inmates enjoy fewer restraints at the lower end of the prison security level spectrum. For example, minimum- and low-security inmates are often only handcuffed.
While the BOP transfer experience leaves much to be desired, prisoners are generally safe during the inmate transfer process. With this being said, here are a few insider’s tips to keep in mind:
- Inmates should inhale and extend their stomachs if waist chains are used. This will allow for more room during the journey.
- Speak up when handcuffs or shackles are applied if they feel too tight. It is rare for staff to adjust restraints once travel is underway. They will usually heed a politely offered complaint on this subject, so speak up!
- Prisoners should always try to seek looser restraints. When handcuffs or leg shackles are affixed, say they are too tight. Any extra room will make the journey much more comfortable.
Riding the Bus
Most Federal Bureau of Prisons travel is fulfilled via a fleet of buses.
These vehicles generally conform to a standard model. For example, these prison transport busses often have seating for 40 inmates on a Greyhound-like coach. Most buses have padded vinyl seats. Toilet and water sources are in the rear.
Prisoners can usually select their own seats. Bus rides tend to be long, sometimes all-day affairs. This is primarily due to frequent stops and a general lack of urgency.
Box lunches are sometimes served. These typically include sandwiches, crackers, and an apple. Inmates eat these while on the road and handcuffed.
Three prison staff members are usually on the bus. These include a lieutenant and two correctional officers, one of whom rides in the back. All prison guards are armed with live ammunition weapons.
They also have nonlethal weapons (e.g., pepper spray, rubber bullets, etc.). While staff generally do not enforce discipline on bus trips, they expect inmates to comply fully with all directives, especially when entering and exiting the bus.
Inmates should calmly move away if trouble arises (e.g., fights, non-medical emergencies, etc.). Staff respond to such events with force and generally don’t concern themselves with accuracy when spraying CS gas, other chemical agents, or firing non-lethal projectiles.
One Federal Inmate’s Prison Transfer Process Experience
Kristin Davis wrote a book about her journey through the federal prison system. In her book, she profiled her seven-day, 350-mile prison journey. She explains each bus ride was 10 hours long, during which she was handcuffed.
Kristin was not told where she was going or the date she would be leaving. She told her family members she might be out of touch for a week and then started her journey. This is critical inmate transfer information that most new arrivals don’t know.
The bus was split into two cages, one for men and the other for women. They were cuffed using black boxes. Her cuffs were on so tightly she could not lower her hands enough to rest them in her lap.
Kristin’s story is somewhat harsher than most, but it does distill a salient point: Be prepared for anything when traveling via the Federal Bureau of Prisons bus fleet.
Air Travel – Con Air
Air travel within the federal prison system is not accurately depicted in movies like Con Air. Traveling by prison plane is usually uneventful, relatively comfortable, and mostly boring. This section discusses the airplane federal inmate transfer process.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons uses its fleet of DC-9s for the most part. This BOP prison transfer fleet is complemented by commercial passenger jets when required.
Most federal prison airplanes are refurbished after use by major airline services. They are relatively clean and, not incidentally, appear to be well-maintained. None are known to have crashed or otherwise been involved in major safety-related incidents.
Federal Bureau of Prisons staff, U.S. Marshals Service personnel, and employees of private contractor JPATS supervise these flights. A deputy U.S. Marshal is usually responsible for inmate matters on the flights. Additionally, at least one medical officer is always on board.
BOP Prison Airplane Transfer Experience
Getting on or off a federal prison flight is the most trying aspect of most flights. Inmates arrive on buses that wait on the tarmac in a remote area of a commercial or military airport. These waits are sometimes for several hours.
Inmates getting are lined up in rows on the tarmac to be searched and have their identities verified. This occurs both when boarding and deplaning. Inmates can spend upwards of an hour waiting to board, dressed only in a jumpsuit or pants and a t-shirt regardless of the weather. Shivering in January snow while the parka-clad staff chat and smoke cigarettes is not a quickly forgotten experience.
Staff herd inmates to particular seats when boarding the plane. Once the flight is underway, a bathroom break is usually called, and a parade of inmates ensues. Box lunches are served if a flight encompasses the midday period. Inmates remain handcuffed while eating.
Inmates must comply with every directive issued by staff on the plane. Arguing over seat placement, food, bathroom use, or other issues brings swift and sometimes brutal responses. Tasering is not uncommon if refusing to sit down, and unruly passengers can find themselves duct-taped and gagged. Control of the airplane is deemed an absolute requirement.
Oklahoma Federal Prison Transfer Holdover
Most federal prison system flights end up at Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Inmates find themselves part of an assembly-line process that involves walking from the plane to a ramp where chains are removed.
Inmates are then placed in a series of holding cells where they are processed for eventual placement in a cell upstairs. This procedure can take several hours and is exhausting for even the most experienced inmate. This process is repeated in reverse upon departure.
Fortunately, most inmates passing through “OK City” spend less than a month there. The stay is usually dull.
Inmate housing units resemble newer county jail blocks, complete with a recreation deck for outside air. Each housing unit has TVs, telephones, and computer stations for inmates already enrolled in the TRULINCS inmate email system.
The federal inmate transfer process is the most arduous part of many inmates’ prison experiences. The BOP prison transfer process is often frustrating, long, and exhausting.
Inmates traveling in the Southeast might find themselves stuck in the holding units at USP Atlanta. Weeks can be spent in decrepit cells with one hour of daily shower or recreation time Monday through Friday. Other facilities dump transit inmates in Special Housing Units. Services and amenities are minimal, and inmates must simply endure.
Newly committed inmates should remember that their conduct in transit will follow them to their final destination. This includes disciplinary proceedings and less formal issues such as disputes with other inmates. The best advice for anyone in transit is to speak sparingly and wisely while minding their own business. This is the safest course of action.
Your Federal Inmate Transfer Process Experts
Contact the Zoukis Consulting Group if you or a loved one are charged or convicted of a federal crime. Our team of expert prison consultants and partner federal criminal defense attorneys can help resolve any in-prison matters.
Specific to inmate transfer information, our team can explain the federal inmate transfer process, draft policy-oriented requests for transfers, and help secure a transfer closer to home.
Book a one-hour initial consultation today to speak with a BOP prison transfer expert.
Published Mar 16, 2022 by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA | Last Updated by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA on Mar 26, 2023 at 1:50 am