The Federal Bureau of Prisons houses inmates at five different prison security levels. These include Minimum, Low, Medium, High, and Administrative. This page explains each prison security level, how inmate custody and classification level security points are calculated, and provides links to more detailed information about each different type of prison. Learn more about inmate classification levels and the classification of prisoners here.
Contact the Zoukis Consulting Group if you or a loved one are incarcerated in federal prison. We can help with your prison preparation needs, challenge prison security level designations, and help illuminate the process. Click here for a one-hour initial consultation.
Table of contents
- An Introduction to Prison Security Levels
- Different Prison Security Levels
- Quality of Life in Different Federal Prisons
- Minimum-Security Prisons
- Low-Security Prisons
- Medium-Security Prisons
- High-Security Prisons
- Administrative-Security Prisons
- Classification of Prisoners According to Degree of Security
- Prison Security Points
- Base Point Scoring (i.e., Case Factors)
- Custody Points Scoring (i.e., In-Prison Factors)
- Final Prison Security Level Determination
- Federal Prison Security Levels Points Tables
- Overriding Prison Security Level Calculations
- Public Safety Factors (PSFs)
- Management Variables (MGTVs)
- Hire Prison Security Level Experts Today
An Introduction to Prison Security Levels
Inmate classification levels have a significant impact on the lives and experiences of inmates. The most significant determinator of inmate qualify of life is prison level. For this reason, the Zoukis Consulting Group spends considerable time on the classification of prisoners.
Prison Security Levels
The Bureau of Prisons classifies prisons primarily by one of five security levels:
Medical and Mental Health Care Levels
In addition to the security level, the Bureau of Prisons also classifies every federal prison by medical care and mental health care levels. Generally, the higher the medical and mental health care level, the better care inmates receive.
For federal inmates with medical or mental health conditions, the quality of care available at an institution can make a tremendous difference in their prison experience and quality of life. Sometimes the difference quite literally amounts to life or death.
Please see our medical and mental health care levels page for more information about these classifications.
Different Prison Security Levels
Every federal prison is classified as one of five security levels (i.e., minimum, low, medium, high, and administrative). The level assigned to a prison dictates the physical security parameters of the prison, the staff-to-inmate ratio, and the freedoms afforded inmates. As a general rule, inmates are housed in institutions with security classifications corresponding to their designated security level.
Please click on the links for each inmate classification level to learn more about the specific security prison. These pages provide more comprehensive information about the particular inmate custody level.
Quality of Life in Different Federal Prisons
The federal prison experience can differ significantly from institution to institution. The most significant factor is the security level assigned to the prison.
This security level placement directly correlates to inmate quality of life. The lower the inmate classification level, the higher quality of life. And the higher the inmate custody level, the lower the quality of life. As such, the classification of prisoners significantly impacts each inmate’s daily life.
Prisons differ based on the inmate populations they house, inmate housing format, prison security components (e.g., perimeter patrols, guard towers, security barriers, detection devices, etc.), and staff-to-inmate ratios. Essentially, the lower the risk of the population, the lower the security level. On the other hand, the higher the risk, the higher the security level.
For example, high-security federal prisons tend to be extremely dangerous environments. Abject violence is common at these institutions. On the other hand, minimum-security prisons are usually relatively safe. Violence is highly unusual at minimum-security federal prison camps.
Minimum security prisons are the lowest Federal Bureau of Prisons security level. They are also known as Federal Prison Camps (FPCs), Satellite Prison Camps (SPCs), and minimum custody. Federal Prison Camps house approximately 15.4 percent of the Bureau’s inmate population.
Minimum security federal prisons primarily house inmates with less than ten years remaining on their sentence and who are convicted of nonviolent offenses. Inmates typically live in dormitory-style housing. There are few (if any) fences, lower staffing levels, and minimal violence.
Several categories of inmates are prohibited from federal prison camp placement. These include sex offenders, deportable aliens, and inmates with histories of threatening government officials, escape, and violence.
While opinions may differ, most federal prisoners believe the minimum-security inmate classification level is by far the best and safest security level. Within the classification of prisoners, only the lowest level offenders are housed at Federal Prison Camps.
Low-security prisons are also known as federal correctional institutions. They typically house inmates in dormitory-style housing, although some low-security federal prisons also have rooms adjacent to the dormitories. Low-security federal prisons house approximately 36 percent of the federal prison population.
The difference between low- and minimum-security prisons is that fences surround all low-security federal correctional institutions. Some have two rows of fencing, although they typically do not have the traditional spools of razor wire prevalent at higher security institutions.
Violence is also minimal at these low-security prisons. Prisoners typically must have less than 20 years remaining on their sentences to be eligible for placement. Sex offenders are permitted at low security federal correctional institutions. Staffing levels are higher than at federal prison camps but lower than medium- and high-security federal correctional institutions.
Medium security prisons are also known as federal correctional institutions. They tend to house inmates in cells. Approximately 32.4 percent of the federal inmate population is housed at the minimum-security level.
All medium-security federal correctional institutions are surrounded by spools of razor wire and multiple fences. Armed perimeter vehicles circle the prison day and night.
It is common for medium-security federal prisoners to have violence in their histories. Depending on the prison, violence can be prevalent and severe. This highly depends on the specific institution. Some medium-security prisons are relatively safe, while others are particularly violent.
Prisoners must have less than 30 years remaining on their sentences to be housed at medium-security federal correctional institutions. Most prisoners are permitted to be housed at medium-security federal prisons. Staffing levels are higher than at low-security prisons but lower than at high-security federal prisons.
High-security prisons are also known as United States Penitentiaries and maximum custody. These are the highest regular security federal prisons. Approximately 12.4 percent of federal inmates are housed at the high-security level.
Inmates are housed in cells, and many have significant histories of violence. These are some of the most violent prisons in the United States. While not common, high-security federal prisoners regularly die due to gang and interpersonal violence.
All high-security federal prisons have multiple reinforced fences or an actual wall surrounding them. Most USPs also have gun towers surrounding them.
All types of prisoners are permitted to be housed at high-security federal prisons. Some groups, such as sex offenders and informants, have difficulty remaining at these prisons. They typically experience significant violence and ongoing harassment.
As far as regular security federal prisons, high-security federal prisons have the highest staffing levels. Lockdowns due to violence and group disturbances are common at these prisons.
Most inmates agree that high inmate custody level prisons are the most dangerous federal prisons. The classification of prisoners matrix takes this into account.
Administrative security federal prisons are different from the other prison security levels. Instead of being a specific security level, they tend to house inmates based on their particular institutional mission. Only special classifications of prisoners are housed at these facilities.
The following list presents the different types of administrative security federal prisons:
- Federal Medical Centers (FMCs)
- Medical Center for Federal Prisoners (MCFP)
- Federal Detention Centers (FDCs)
- Federal Transit Center (FTC)
- Metropolitan Detention Centers (MDCs)
- Metropolitan Correctional Centers (MCCs)
- Administrative-Maximum Security Penitentiary (ADX)
Federal Medical Centers (FMCs)
Federal Medical Centers (FMCs) house inmates requiring serious, ongoing medical attention. Very few prisoners are housed in Federal Medical Centers.
Medical Center for Federal Prisoners
Medical Center for Federal Prisoners Springfield (MCFP Springfield) is the Bureau’s primary lockdown mental health hospital. It houses federal inmates who have severe mental illnesses.
Federal Detention Centers and Metropolitan Detention Centers
Federal Detention Centers (FDCs) and Metropolitan Detention Centers (MDCs) primarily house pretrial detainees. These are inmates who have not yet been convicted or sentenced to imprisonment.
Federal Transfer Center
Federal Transfer Center Oklahoma City (FTC Oklahoma City) is the Bureau of Prisons’ transit hub for male and female inmates. Inmates who are traveling long distances tend to travel through FTC Oklahoma City. This administrative security federal prison is next to the Will Rogers World Airport. Inmates traveling long distances often fly from this institution to airports closer to their final destination.
Metropolitan Correctional Centers
Metropolitan Correctional Centers (MCCs) are administrative security prisons located in larger metropolitan areas. These institutions typically house pretrial detainees awaiting court proceedings. MCCs also sometimes house inmates serving short sentences.
Administrative-Maximum Security Penitentiary
Administrative Maximum Facility Florence (ADX Florence) is the highest-security federal prison in the United States. The facility is classified as a supermax prison. It houses inmates deemed to require the highest level of control and supervision. Inmates convicted of terrorism and those who engage in severe violence are typically housed at ADX Florence.
Classification of Prisoners According to Degree of Security
The Federal Bureau of Prisons utilizes a classification system to determine the classification of prisoners. Briefly, this assessment determines a Security Point Total score which primarily determines the security level of incarceration. Many state departments of corrections utilize similar systems.
While other factors are also considered (e.g., medical care level, mental health care level, specific defendant factors, etc.), the Security Point Total is the best prison security level determinator. This is the centerpiece of the classification of prisoners.
Initial Prison Designation
Federal inmates are assigned to a specific level of security based on their custody and classification score. The Bureau of Prisons’ Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC) initially calculates this security score. This initial classification of prisoners is typically completed within three days of receiving the required documentation.
Initial Designation Documentation and Process
DSCC obtains documentation from the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Probation Department when making initial designation determinations. These documents include the Pre-Sentence Report (PSR), Judgment and Commitment Order, and Statement of Reasons. DSCC then bases its prison security level determinations on these documents.
This initial designation determination typically follows a standardized process:
- The inmate is sentenced.
- The Clerk of Court sends the Judgment and Commitment Order to DSCC.
- The U.S. Marshals Service advises DSCC that the inmate is ready for designation to federal prison.
- If any required documents are missing, DSCC contacts the responsible agencies.
- DSCC performs a custody and classification analysis to determine the security level and make an initial designation.
Factors Considered When Making Initial Designation Determinations
Using the above-referenced documents, DSCC team members calculate an inmate’s Security Point Total. This process includes considering applicable Public Safety Factors and Management Variables. A dedicated DSCC team (the “Hotel Team”) is responsible for initial designation determinations.
DSCC officials use nine categories of information to classify inmates to particular prison security levels and individual federal prisons. Many factors are considered when making initial designation determinations, including:
- Indicated prison security level.
- Inmate staff supervision needs.
- The defendant’s physical health and mental health care needs.
- Different prisons’ current bed space.
- Proximity to release residence.
- Any judicial recommendations.
- Separation orders amongst inmates.
- Special security measures required for the specific inmate.
Once this process is completed, DSCC notifies the U.S. Marshals Service of the placement determination. Inmates in custody are then routed for transfer to their designated institution. The U.S. Marshals Service facilitates transportation to the designated institution.
Defendants on pre-trial release go through a somewhat different process. While the same internal DSCC process applies, the U.S. Marshals Service mails them a letter. This letter advises the specific facility and the date and time to surrender.
Redesignation | Recalculating Security Point Scores
Once an inmate is in custody, their case manager can recalculate their prison security level. This is performed at the prison where the inmate is eventually housed. Following initial designation, it then becomes the duty of the inmate’s case manager to rescore the inmate periodically.
While it is easy to view this as the case manager correcting errors, this is too simplistic of a view. Instead, inmates’ custody levels and security points change with time. For example, after serving a few years, the inmate’s age may dictate a reduced prison security level. Likewise, if the inmate is convicted of a prison disciplinary infraction, this would increase their security points, possibly enough to increase their security level.
Reasons for Redesignations and Transfers
There are many reasons why an inmate may require redesignation or transfer to another prison. This can be both at the inmate’s request and based on the case manager’s determination.
For example, prisoners may want to transfer closer to home to facilitate visits. Likewise, their inmate classification level may have changed due to good or bad behavior. Other reasons for transfer include medical or psychiatric treatment, participation in a specific educational or vocational training program, and others.
Annual Program Review
Case managers are responsible for periodic custody and classification rescoring. This typically occurs during the annual Program Review. The inmate meets with at least two unit team members during these reviews. These meetings tend to be short and inconsequential affairs.
According to Bureau policy, the first Program Review occurs approximately seven months following the inmate’s initial designation. Future Program Reviews occur at least every 12 months. This is the typical point when the classification of prisoners changes.
If the inmate’s security score has changed in the prior year, they may be asked whether they would like to transfer to a lower-security prison. While this is typically when such determinations are made, case managers are permitted to transfer inmates outside of this annual Program Review. Likewise, inmates can approach their case managers to transfer to another facility. Both lateral transfers (i.e., transfers to the same security facility) and lower-security transfers are common.
The warden can approve transfers within the same federal correctional complex (i.e., a lower security prison adjacent to the current institution). If the transfer is to an entirely different facility, the case manager must submit a redesignation request to DSCC, who then makes the final transfer determination.
Please note inter-complex transfers are common and quick. On the other hand, transfers to other federal prisons tend to be slower. Once the case manager files the transfer request with DSCC, this department then considers both the rationale for transfer and makes a final transfer determination.
For example, while an inmate may be seeking a transfer to a particular institution, DSCC has the authority to transfer the inmate where they choose. While an inmate may request a specific placement, DSCC determines the actual transfer location. This is one area of risk in the classification of prisoners.
Prison Security Points
The Federal Bureau of Prisons utilizes a comprehensive security point matrix to determine prison security levels. This matrix considers many factors divided into base points (i.e., static factors about the inmate and their case) and custody points (i.e., in-prison conduct).
Custody classification is the process of determining an inmate’s assigned supervision level. This process includes considering the inmate’s criminal history, in-prison behavior, and other factors.
The following sections explain how each category of points is scored.
Base Point Scoring (i.e., Case Factors)
Base points are static factors that rarely change. Broadly, inmates want to have low base points because each of these classification points increases their Security Point Total. This is a critical factor in the classification of prisoners. This section explains how base points are scored.
Base Point Factors
The Bureau considers the following nine base point factors:
- Type of Detainer
- Current Offense Severity
- Criminal History Score
- History of Escapes and Escape Attempts
- History of Violence
- Voluntary Surrender Status
- Education Level
- Drug and/or Alcohol Abuse
Type of Detainer
Detainers are outstanding or pending charges. Bureau policy allows zero to seven security points for outstanding detainers, charges, and warrants. The number of security points assessed depends on the severity of the offense behavior associated with the detainer.
The Bureau uses an Offense Severity Scale to determine detainer severity. The following detainer severity categories produce the indicated security points:
- Low Severity Detainer (1 Point)
- Moderate Severity Detainer (3 Points)
- High Severity Detainer (5 Points)
- Greatest Severity Detainer (7 Points)
Pending detainers can have a significant impact on inmate classification and custody levels. As such, it is important to resolve pending detainers as quickly as possible.
Current Offense Severity
The Offense Severity category assigns points based on the severity of the inmate’s current offense. Points assessed in this category range from zero to seven. The Bureau’s program statement presents the following five possible offense severity scores:
- Lowest (0 Points)
- Low-Moderate (1 Point)
- Moderate (3 Points)
- High (5 Points)
- Greatest (7 Points)
When determining the severity of the instant offense, the Bureau does not limit itself to the crime of conviction. Severity points are assessed based on the most severe documented instant offense behavior, regardless of conviction.
This means that Bureau officials will consider the contents of the inmate’s Pre-Sentence Report when determining and scoring the offense severity. While this is unusual, a mis-scoring of offense severity level can result in an increased inmate custody and classification level.
Criminal History Score
This category correlates directly with the inmate’s criminal history score. This information is pulled directly from the inmate’s Pre-Sentence Report. It is based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines’ criminal history point total, as found by the judge at sentencing.
The following U.S. Sentencing Guidelines criminal history point total correlates to security points for designation purposes:
- 0-1 (0 Points)
- 2-3 (2 Points)
- 4-6 (4 Points)
- 7-9 (6 Points)
- 10-12 (8 Points)
- 13+ (10 Points)
History of Escapes and Escape Attempts
The History of Escapes or Escape Attempts category considers any history of actual or attempted escape. Zero to three points are assessed based on the seriousness and recency of the escape or attempted escape.
Minor Escape is defined as an escape from an “open institution or program” not involving the “actual threat of violence.” For example, this could be escaping from a minimum-security prison, halfway house, or not returning from a furlough. This also includes flight to avoid prosecution and bail violations resulting in the defendant’s absconding.
Serious Escape is defined as an escape from “secure custody” with or without the “threat of violence.” This includes escape from an open facility that included the actual threat of violence. Only instances of documented findings of guilt may be counted under the Serious Escape category.
Bureau staff are sometimes known to assign the wrong history of escape severity. Please contact the Zoukis Consulting Group if you believe this has occurred. Our team can help resolve matters like these, which can impact inmate custody and classification levels.
History of Violence
This category scores points for an inmate’s prior history of violence. Zero to seven points are assessed, depending on the seriousness and recency of the violent behavior.
The Bureau delineates between Minor Violence and Serious Violence. Minor Violence constitutes “aggressive or intimidating behavior” that is unlikely to “cause serious bodily harm or death.” Serious Violence is violence that would likely “cause serious bodily harm or death.”
Note that only behavior which resulted in a documented finding of guilt may be considered a prior act of violence. However, if such a finding was made, the violence severity is determined by the offense behavior, nor necessarily the specific offense of conviction.
This is another area where case managers sometimes err. The history of violence category concerns both severity of violence and the time since the violent act occurred. A scoring error here can result in an improper higher inmate classification and custody level.
Voluntary Surrender Status
Voluntary Surrender Status is when a defendant is released on pretrial release. They remain at home instead of staying in the county jail during case processing. Then, they are directed to self-surrender to a particular institution once sentenced.
This category is unusual because it is the only field that permits a negative value of security points. If the inmate voluntarily surrendered, three security points are deducted. If the inmate is remanded to the county jail and the U.S. Marshals Service transfers them into custody, they have a zero point value.
The Bureau places high importance on inmate age in its prison security level classification matrix. Generally, the younger the inmate’s age, the higher the assessed security points.
The following table presents assessed security points based on inmate age:
- 18-24 (8 Points)
- 25-35 (4 Points)
- 36-54 (2 Points)
- 55+ (0 Points)
As with the other discussed categories, case managers sometimes forget to update this field. This classification of prisoners error can result in needlessly high inmate custody and classification level.
The Education Level category assesses security points based on educational attainment. Inmates with a GED or high school diploma are not assessed any points. Inmates currently pursuing a GED or high school diploma are assessed one security point. And inmates who do not have a GED or high school diploma and are not making progress towards earning one are assessed two security points.
Drug and/or Alcohol Abuse
The Drug and Alcohol Abuse category assigns security points for inmates with substance abuse histories.
Any conviction or finding of guilt for an offense related to drug or alcohol use within the previous five years results in one scored security point. Such crimes may include driving under the influence or a positive drug test.
The Bureau also scores this one point based on an inmate’s self-report of drug or alcohol abuse within the previous five years. Drug or alcohol abuse taking place more than five years before the inmate’s classification is not scored.
While Bureau policy is clear regarding how to apply the drug and alcohol abuse point, Bureau staff sometimes rely on impermissible information to assess this base point. Please contact us if you believe this has occurred. While only one point, this can result in a higher inmate custody and classification level.
Custody Points Scoring (i.e., In-Prison Factors)
Unlike base points, custody points regularly change due to in-prison conduct. Inmates generally want their custody points to be as high as possible because this correlates to a lower Total Security Score. This section explains how custody points are scored and where they fit into the classification of prisoners scheme.
Custody Point Factors
As with base points, many factors are considered for in-prison conduct (i.e., inmate custody level scoring), including the following six factors:
- Percentage of Time Served
- Program Participation
- Living Skills
- Type of Disciplinary Infraction
- Frequency of Disciplinary Infraction
- Family and Community Ties
Percentage of Time Served
This category measures the percentage of time served. To determine the time served percentage, staff divides the total number of months already completed by the number of months expected to be served. This calculation results in a percentage of time served.
The following time served percentages equate to the following point values:
- 0-25 Percent: 3 Points
- 26-75 Percent: 4 Points
- 76-90 Percent: 5 Points
- 91+ Percent: 6 Points
This category measures the inmate’s active educational, vocational, and psychiatric program participation. Bureau staff can assign Good, Average, and Poor scores in this field.
Good program participation is defined as “active participat[ion] in multiple recommended programs.” Two points are assigned for Good program participation.
Average program participation is appropriate when the inmate “could be participating in multiple recommended programs but chooses to be involved in one at a time.” One point is assigned for Average program participation.
Finally, Poor program participation is when the inmate refuses to participate in recommended programs. Zero points are assigned for Poor program participation.
The Living Skills category measures the inmate’s “demeanor, attitude, personal accountability and nature of interactions with staff and other inmates.” Sanitation and personal hygiene issues are also addressed in this category.
This is an area where case managers often erroneously score inmates. While this inmate custody and classification level factor is not significant, depending on individualized circumstances, it may make sense to challenge this assessment.
Type of Disciplinary Infraction
This category awards points based on an inmate’s Type and Number of Most Serious Incident Reports. Between zero and five points are scored, depending on the severity of any incident report. Additionally, different severity incident reports carry differing response periods. For example, any Greatest Severity incident reports are considered for ten years following the incident.
Frequency of Disciplinary Infraction
This category evaluates the number of incident reports in the past year. Different point values are assigned based on the number of incident reports:
- None = 3 Points
- 1 Incident Report = 2 Points
- 2-5 Incident Reports = 1 Point
- 6+ Incident Reports = 0 Points
The team at the Zoukis Consulting Group has significant experience defending clients at prison disciplinary hearings. Adverse disciplinary findings can have a significant impact on inmate custody and classification levels.
Family and Community Ties
This final classification category concerns the inmate’s family and community ties. Scoring depends on “the inmate’s efforts to build, maintain and strengthen family/community ties.”
For example, inmates with Average or Good family and community ties receive four points. On the other hand, inmates with no demonstrated initiative to further or enhance relationships with supportive family members receive three points.
Please contact the Zoukis Consulting Group if you have questions about custody scoring. Evaluating prison security levels and custody scoring involves a complex interplay amongst various Bureau policies.
Final Prison Security Level Determination
Once the base and custody points are calculated, these figures are applied to a variance grid. Simplified, this grid considers both the Base Score and the Custody Score to determine any applicable variance. This is a critical factor many forget in the classification of prisoners.
The Bureau has two different variance score grids based on inmate gender. On the male table, inmates can receive a +8 to -5 score. For female federal prisoners, this variance can range from +15 to -16.
The final step in prison security level scoring is to apply the variance to the Base Score. For example, if a male inmate has an 11 Base Score and a 12 Custody Score, a +1 variance would be applied. This results in a 12 Total Security Score.
Federal Prison Security Levels Points Tables
The Federal Bureau of Prisons utilizes a scoring table to determine every inmate’s prison security level. Different scoring tables are used for male inmates and female inmates. Each security point table is presented below:
Male Inmate Prison Security Level Table
- Minimum Security: 0-11 Points
- Low Security: 12-15 Points
- Medium Security: 16-23 Points
- High Security: 24+ Points
- Administrative Security: All Point Totals
Female Inmate Prison Security Level Table
- Minimum Security: 0-15 Points
- Low Security: 16-30 Points
- Medium Security: N/A
- High Security: 31+ Points
- Administrative Security: All Point Totals
Overriding Prison Security Level Calculations
While the Security Point Total is the best guide to prison designation, two other factors can override this determination: Management Variables and Public Safety Factors. These factors significantly impact the classification of federal prisoners.
Both Management Variables and Public Safety Factors can be thought of as Security Point Total overrides. They are always based on specific individualized inmate conduct or the conduct related to the crimes of conviction.
Both Management Variables and Public Safety Factors can override the traditional prison security level placement. This can result in placement at a federal prison either higher or lower than that indicated by the security score assessment. Likewise, Management Variables can be used to place inmates at a specific institution or within a particular program.
Public Safety Factors (PSFs)
Public Safety Factors consider non-security point factors that “require additional security measures be employed” to ensure the “safety and protection of the public.”
They are based on “relevant factual information” regarding the following categories of information:
- Current Offense
- Criminal History
- Institutional Behavior
Each applied PSF results in a different outcome; typically, placement at a higher security prison than the Security Point Total indication.
The Bureau can apply 11 different Public Safety Factors in their classification of prisoners matrix:
- Disruptive Group
- Greatest Severity Offense
- Sex Offender
- Threat to Government Official
- Deportable Alien
- Sentence Length
- Violent Behavior
- Serious Escape
- Prison Disturbance
- Juvenile Violence
- Serious Telephone Abuse
The following sections profile each of the 11 available Public Safety Factors.
The Disruptive Group Public Safety Factor applies to male inmates who are validated members of disruptive groups. This requires identification in the Central Inmate Monitoring System. An applied Disruptive Group PSF requires the inmate to be assigned to the high-security level.
As previously discussed, high-security federal prisons are the most dangerous and violent federal facilities. Please contact us if your loved one is assigned to a high-security prison. Our team may be able to identify inmate custody and classification errors that result in a lower security level designation.
Greatest Severity Offense
The Bureau utilizes an offense severity table to determine how to assign security points based on crime of conviction. Greatest Severity Offenses are the most severe offense conduct. Inmates with this PSF are housed in at least a low-security federal prison. This PSF is only applied to male inmates.
The Sex Offender PSF applies to male and female inmates in numerous contexts. While this could constitute a current or past sexual offense, this PSF also applies when the presentence report or other official documentation “clearly indicates” certain underlying conduct, including:
- Offense conduct includes non-consensual sexual contact (e.g., rape, sexual assault, or sexual battery).
- Offenses related to child pornography possession, distribution, or mailing.
- Any sexual contact with a minor or physically incapacitated individual (e.g., indecent liberties with a minor, statutory rape, sexual abuse of the mentally ill, rape by administering a drug or substance).
- Sexual act not already identified, but which is aggressive or abusive (rape by instrument, minor prostitution offenses, incest, etc.).
Inmates with the Sex Offender Public Safety Factor are housed in at least a low-security federal prison. DSCC staff have refused to waive this PSF over the past several years. As such, challenging this classification of prisoners is typically unsuccessful.
Threat to Government Official
This PSF applies when a male or female inmate threatens a government official with harm. The inmate must be classified as such within the Central Inmate Monitoring System. This PSF requires placement in at least a low-security federal prison.
T The Deportable Alien PSF may be applied when the inmate is not a U.S. citizen or a naturalized U.S. Citizen. It applies to both male and female inmates. If U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declines to deport or otherwise determines that deportation proceedings are unwarranted, this Public Safety Factor will be remoted. This PSF requires at least low-security placement.
The Sentence Length PSF considers the time remaining on the inmate’s sentence. This PSF can only be applied to male inmates.
The Bureau divides this PSF into three categories based on sentence length:
- 10+ Years Remaining to Serve = Low Security
- 20+ Years Remaining to Serve = Medium Security
- 30+ Years Remaining to Serve = High Security
Bureau staff are sometimes willing to waive the Sentence Length PSF. This can have significant quality of life impacts for inmates housed at the medium- and high-security levels. Contact us today to learn more about challenging the Sentence Length PSF. This can result in a lower inmate custody and classification level.
The Violent Behavior Public Safety Factor only applies to female inmates. This requires two convictions or disciplinary findings for “serious incidents of violence within the last five years[.]” This PSF requires placement in at least a low-security federal prison.
The Serious Escape Public Safety Factor applies to male and female inmates.
It applies when a female inmate has a history of serious escape within the past ten years. The inmate must be housed at FMC Carswell in the Administrative Unit when applied.
This PSF also applies to male inmates with a history of escaping from a “secure facility . . . with or without the threat of violence[.]” This PSF requires housing male inmates in at least the medium security level.
The Prison Disturbance PSF applies to both male and female inmates. It is only used when there was a “serious incident of violence within the institution” and requires a finding of guilt.
An example of a qualifying prison disciplinary conviction includes Engaging or Encouraging a Riot. This conduct must be in “conjunction with a period of simultaneous institution disruptions.”
Male inmates with this PSF are housed at the high-security level. Females with the Prison Disturbance Public Safety Factor are housed at the FMC Carswell Administrative Unit.
It can be very difficult to challenge this Public Safety Factor. We may be able to challenge this PSF’s application depending on the underlying rationale. If successful, this would result in a lower inmate custody and classification level designation.
This Public Safety Factor applies to both male and female juvenile inmates. It requires a documented “single instance of violent behavior,” which resulted in a guilty finding.
The Bureau defines violence as “aggressive behavior causing serious bodily harm[.]” This also includes conduct that leads to death and aggressive or intimidating behavior “likely to cause serious bodily harm or death[.]”
Serious Telephone Abuse
The Serious Telephone Abuse PSF applies to both male and female inmates. This requires the inmate to use the inmate telephone system to “further criminal activities” or “promote illicit organizations[.]” A guilty finding is not necessary to apply this Public Safety Factor.
The Bureau outlines underlying conduct that qualifies for application of this PSF:
- The inmate meets the definition of leader/organizer or primary motivator.
- The inmate utilizes the telephone to communicate threats of bodily injury, death, assaults, or homicides.
- Significant fraudulent activity was facilitated through inmate telephones.
- Inmates who arrange for the introduction of narcotics or alcohol into the institution.
Additionally, federal law enforcement can request this Public Safety Factor. This PSF also applies when an inmate is found guilty of a 100 or 200 level offense for telephone conduct. Likewise, Bureau intelligence officials can request this PSF’s application if they have “reasonable suspicion and/or documented intelligence supporting telephone abuse.”
Inmates with the Serious Telephone Abuse Public Safety Factor are housed in at least a low-security federal prison.
Management Variables (MGTVs)
While Management Variables can result in the same outcomes as Public Safety Factors, they are far more versatile. Instead of solely restricting the prison security level an inmate can be housed at, they can also have other outcomes. PSFs are another critical classification of prisoners factor.
For example, while the Greater Security Management Variable increases an inmate’s security level, the Lesser Security Management variable reduces the scored security level. Likewise, other management variables can move inmates closer to home, ensure their placement in particular programs, and even waive imposed Public Safety Factors.
The following 11 Management Variables are available to inmates:
- Judicial Recommendation
- Release Residence
- Population Management
- Central Inmate Monitoring Assignment
- Medical or Psychiatric
- Program Participation
- Work Cadre
- PSF Waived
- Long-Term Detainee
- Greater Security
- Lesser Security
This Management Variable applies when a sentencing judge recommends a specific program or institutional placement.
For example, the judge may recommend an inmate participates in the Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program. Another typical example is when a judge recommends an inmate’s placement at a Sex Offender Management Program facility.
Please note that the Bureau is statutorily required to consider judicial recommendations. There is no legal requirement that the Bureau complies with any such judicial recommendation. As such, this is a somewhat vague classification of prisoners factor.
Criminal defense lawyers often request judicial recommendations for placement at the wrong security level. In these cases, the judge lawfully recommends the placement to the Bureau, but since it is for the incorrect security level, the Bureau disregards the recommendation.
The Release Residence Management Variable is applied by DSCC when transferring an inmate to an institution closer to their home. Note the Bureau considers institutions within 500 driving miles of the release residence as being “reasonably close” for designation purposes.
Security level considerations tend to trump release residence proximity concerns until an inmate is nearing the end of their prison term. Thus, this Management Variable is typically requested by case managers when inmates are within 36 months of release.
Our firm has had significant success in challenging prison placement based on release residence considerations. Please contact the Zoukis Consulting Group if you would like to seek a transfer closer to home. Typically, we start by assessing the inmate’s custody and classification level scoring to determine if we can seek a transfer to a lower-security institution. If successful, this would result in a transfer to a lower-security federal prison.
The Population Management Management Variable applies in several possible circumstances. The net result is a placement at a facility not commensurate with governing Bureau policy.
For example, if all institutions the inmate qualifies for placement in are overcrowded, the Bureau can use this Management Variable to place them at a higher security institution.
Another example is when gang or other security concerns restrict where an inmate may be housed. This management variable allows for prison placement in an otherwise atypical location in these cases.
This Management Variable is rarely used. Additionally, when applied, there are usually ways to challenge this inmate custody and classification level placement.
Central Inmate Monitoring Assignment
The Central Inmate Monitoring Assignment is used in cases where specific inmates require additional supervision. For example, when inmates are deemed a threat to government officials, this Management Variable may be applied to house an inmate at a higher security institution. This is a rarely applied classification of prisoners tool.
Medical or Psychiatric
The Medical or Psychiatric Management Variable is employed when an inmate requires placement at a medical or mental health facility.
This requires the inmate to exhibit serious psychiatric issues. Likewise, inmates requiring “medical or surgical treatment” may require this designation for placement at a Federal Medical Center.
This is a temporary Management Variable that lasts no more than six months.
The Program Participation Management Variable is typically used when an inmate participates in a program unique to a single institution.
This Management Variable is applied as an override to an inmate’s security level, allowing placement at a lower security institution for program participation reasons. This Management Variable expires after 18 months.
The Work Cadre Management Variable is applied at secure institutions that do not have a satellite prison camp. It enables certain inmates to work outside the institution’s perimeter where they otherwise would be prohibited from doing so.
This Public Safety Factor allows the DSCC Administrator to waive otherwise properly imposed PSFs. When this PSF is imposed, inmates must be housed at one security level lower than their scored management security level.
Only the DSCC Administrator may approve the PSF Waived Public Safety Factor. Contact us if you are interested in seeking a PSF waiver. Our team of federal prison policy experts can review your case to determine the strength of your case. This can have a significant impact on the classification of prisoners.
Long-term detainees undergo a different security scoring process than typical federal inmates. While they are assigned an initial custody and security level, institutional staff do not rescore them. For affected individuals, this creates a serious classification of prisoners concern.
Long-Term Detainees include three specific groups of inmates:
- Mariel Cuban detainees who entered the U.S. during the Mariel boatlift in 1980.
- Cubans who entered the U.S. from Cuba or other countries other than the Mariel boatlift.
- Detainees from countries that ICE has identified that refuse to receive its citizens.
Institutional staff desiring to transfer these inmates must apply for the Long-Term Detainee PSF, explaining why a different security level is more appropriate. This request is forwarded to the Central Office’s Detention Services Branch, Correctional Programs Division, for review and authorization.
The Greater Security Management Variable is used when an inmate presents a greater security risk than their assigned security level. This is typically the result of pending charges, detainers, escape risk, or related factors.
Application of this Management Variable increases the inmate’s security level by at least one level. For example, low-security inmates with this Management Variable may be housed at medium- or high-security federal prisons.
The Lesser Security Management Variable applies when Bureau staff believe the inmate should be housed at a lower security level than their classification scoring indicates. It acts as a security point override, lowering the inmate’s security level.
This Management Variable is commonly applied when a detainer is removed or an inmate exhibits positive institutional adjustment. Another common application is when inmates are scored at a higher security level due to their age, but prison staff believes a lower security level would be more appropriate.
Hire Prison Security Level Experts Today
Custody and Classification scoring is a highly complex, policy-driven process. Please contact us at the Zoukis Consulting Group if you or a loved one are interested in challenging a prison security level classification. Our team of Bureau of Prisons’ policy experts can evaluate your case and explain how we may be able to help. Book an initial consultation today!
Published Apr 7, 2016 by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA | Last Updated by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA on May 12, 2023 at 12:12 pm