What To Know About Inmate Counts

Outside of the fences to keep prisoners inside, counts are perhaps the next most important security feature of any federal prison, as they show prison officials that all of their prisoners are still accounted for.

Types of Inmate Counts

In the Federal Bureau of Prisons there are five regular types of counts:

  1. Official counts: During these counts every prisoner is required to return to their cell or bunk area, stand, and be counted. The guards who conduct the counts then convey their numbers to the activities lieutenant, who, upon a good count, clears it. Following a good 10:30 a.m. weekend count or 4 p.m. count, prisoners are permitted to leave their cell and bunk areas. Following a good 9 p.m. count, prisoners are permitted to go about their business, albeit usually only in their cell or bunk areas.
  2. Census counts: Census counts are conducted on weekdays following the 7:40 a.m. and 12:40 p.m. work call moves. These counts are not stand-up counts, but still require each prisoner in their housing unit to be noted as in the housing unit and requires them to briefly go to their bunk or cell area and wait for the unit officer to mark them as being present. The point of the census count is to ensure prisoners who have jobs or are supposed to be in school actually are. A modification of this is the lockdown census count, where all prisoners are accounted for in every area of the prison as opposed to just in the housing unit. This type of count is called a “lockdown” count because prisoners in the housing units are locked down during the count and the compound is secured until the census count has cleared.
  3. Bed book counts: Bed book counts are much like official counts, but the unit officer comes around with a three-ring binder that has each prisoner’s photo and bunk assignment on it. As they conduct the count each prisoner is required to state their name and inmate number. This type of count is usually only used when a particular housing unit has several recounts which don’t match up with the correct number.
  4. Fog/adverse weather counts: Fog and adverse weather counts occur when fog or severe storms are present. Bad fog, power outages, and turbulent weather can trigger these. Closely related are emergency counts, which can occur for any security-related reason (e.g., someone is missing, there is the fear that someone has escaped, etc.). For all of these types of counts, regular official stand-up count protocols are employed. The time it takes to complete fog counts depend on which activities lieutenant is on duty. You will most likely be locked in your cell for an hour or two until the fog clears. While the unit officer will conduct a count, you most likely won’t be released from your cell until the activities lieutenant feels that the fog has dissipated enough.
  5. Emergency counts: These counts are done on an emergency basis.

While prison officials conduct counts throughout the night at designated times, the only official counts that federal prisoners need to concern themselves with are the weekday counts (at 4 p.m. and 9 p.m) and the weekend stand-up counts (at 10:30 a.m., 4 p.m., and 9 p.m.).

During a count, you should return to your assigned bunk or cell and prepare to be counted by the unit officer. If it’s a stand-up count, then simply remain quiet and stand up until the prison guards counting walk by your cell or assigned bunk. Some lower security federal prisons prefer for everyone in the housing unit to remain standing until they have finished counting.

Counts can take a variable amount of time to complete depending on how fast the guards are and what type of count it is. For example, the 10:30 a.m. weekend count requires prisoners to be locked into their cells (or remain in their bunk areas) from 10:30 a.m. until approximately 11:15 a.m. Likewise, the 4 p.m. official count requires prisoners to be in their assigned housing areas from 3:30 p.m. until roughly 4:30 p.m. If there is an issue with a count (for example if there is a miscount) this could extend outwards towards 5 p.m. as the guards recount. If the guards continue to miscount, they will conduct a bed book count which will extend the count time even longer.

You should always be at your bunk or cell during a count. If you’re not, the consequences will depend on who catches you and where you’re supposed to be. At best, you might be told to go to where you are supposed to be following the census or lockdown census. At worst, you might receive an incident report for being out of bounds (Code 316).

Refusing to lock yourself into your cell for a count will result in a trip to the Special Housing Unit and, most likely, an incident report, too. Refusing to stand for a count could result in the same, or merely an incident report for refusing to obey an order (Code 307), interfering with a count (Code 321), or refusing to stand for count (Code 320).

Contact us for more information on inmate counts.

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