Surviving prison as a sex offender is tough. This is especially true for sex offenders in prison with offenses including possessing, distributing, or producing child pornography, or soliciting minors for sexual activity. While this is often a scary prospect, at the Zoukis Consulting Group, we are here to help. This page explains this sensitive issue, helps to illuminate the reality of what happens to sex offenders in prison and discusses available sex offender treatment programs.
If you or a loved one are facing time in prison for a sexual offense, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today. Book a one-hour initial consultation to discuss your concerns and learn how the Zoukis Consulting Group may be able to help.
Table of contents
- Sex Offenders in Prison
- Federal Sexual Offenses in Federal Prison
- What Happens to Sex Offenders in Prison?
- The Risk Posed to Sex Offenders in Prison
- Sex Offender Prison Preparation
- How Do Sex Offenders Survive Prison?
- Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP) Prisons
- Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP) Prisons in the Federal Bureau of Prison
- Sex Offender Treatment Programs in Federal Prisons
- Civil Commitment
- Contact Us Today to Learn How Sex Offenders Survive in Prison
Sex Offenders in Prison
The topic of sex offenders in prison is triggering for many. While most media promote hysteria, at the Zoukis Consulting Group, we believe all people are redeemable. Equally true, we believe promoting fear and anxiety only serves to harm.
While many don’t want to discuss the taboo topic of convicted sex offenders in prison, it is, unfortunately, an unavoidable reality for many heading to prison. Thousands of Americans go to prison each year for sexual offenses. If you or your loved one is one of these people, you face a whole other stressful aspect of incarceration. Preparing for prison as a sex offender can be even scarier than other offenses regarding safety and psychological concerns.
We pride ourselves on being non-judgemental. We want to help all criminal defendants who are going to prison. Likewise, we understand that family members serve their own type of time when a loved one is in prison. At the Zoukis Consulting Group, we strive to make all lives better, incarcerated clients and non-incarcerated family members.
Continue reading to learn more about surviving prison as a sex offender and what happens to sex offenders in prison.
Federal Sexual Offenses in Federal Prison
The Federal Bureau of Prisons has a total inmate population of approximately 153,300. These inmates can be grouped by offense conduct. Currently, about 16,450 federal prisoners are incarcerated for sexual offenses. This equates to roughly 11.6 percent of the federal inmate population.
The most common type of federal sexual offense is the possession and distribution of child pornography. Criminal defendants also go to federal prison for other sex-related crimes, including:
- Sexual Exploitation of a Minor
- Child Prostitution
- Child Exploitation Enterprises
- Solicitation of a Minor for Sexual Activity
At present, there are 127 individual federal prisons across 37 states. Additionally, there are 68 satellite prison camps and 12 private facilities. The vast majority of these institutions are general population facilities. They house a broad swath of inmates convicted of any number of federal crimes, including criminal defendants convicted of sexual offenses.
A common misconception is that these prisoners are housed at special federal prisons. This is essentially not true, but we discuss a few exceptions below. Generally speaking, federal sexual offenders are housed at all security levels, except for minimum-security Federal Prison Camps.
What Happens to Sex Offenders in Prison?
Sex offenders, like all criminal defendants, face the typical concerns about what prison is like. Additionally, they often have offense-specific concerns. This section discusses both of these matters.
As with all prisoners, the most critical quality of life indicator is security level. The higher the security level, the worse the experience. Likewise, the lower the prison’s security, the better the quality of life. This is true for all inmates, sex offenders, and otherwise.
The most significant difference for sex offenders is that they need to be concerned about the nature of their offense. Other inmates don’t have to worry about this concern. But this is not a concern at all federal prisons.
Prison culture significantly impacts whether a particular institution is safe or unsafe for those convicted of sexual offenses. As such, the best starting point is considering the specific institutional culture. The security level significantly impacts what happens to sex offenders in prison.
Low-Security Federal Prisons
By way of general rules, sex offenders are typically safe in low-security federal prisons. These tend to be dormitory settings housing typically non-violent inmates. The best way to think about this is that if an inmate is caught for a violent act, they are usually transferred to a medium-security prison.
At most, these prisoners may experience some level of ostracization, but typically not actual violence. While this can feel uncomfortable, this rarely rises to a genuine safety concern. For example, fellow inmates may tell the person not to sit with them in the chow hall.
You may be worried about being assaulted by other prisoners. This is unlikely to occur if you are at a low-security federal prison or a SOMP facility. Prisoners in lower-security facilities tend to be preparing to go home and don’t want to risk their release when it comes time to make halfway house decisions. At SOMP facilities, there are so many sex offenders (often upwards of 40% of the total population) that the yards are easy, and the stigma is significantly reduced.
Medium-Security Federal Prisons
When considering medium- and high-security federal prisons, the calculous can change. Some medium-security federal prisons are harder than others. This can prove problematic for affected criminal defendants.
For example, FCI Beaumont Medium and FCI Victorville Medium are unsafe yards for sex offenders. On the other hand, FCI Petersburg Medium is a safe facility for these inmates. Understanding these differentiations makes it much easier surviving prison as a sex offender. These factors also dictate what happens to sex offenders in prison.
At the medium-security level, responses to sex offenders vary widely. For example, this is a complete non-issue at FCI Petersburg Medium. On the other hand, at rougher medium-security federal prisons, these prisoners need to be cautious.
In particularly violent prisons, sex offenders are attacked by fellow inmates. We don’t share this to promote fear but to help foster safety and awareness.
If you are housed at a non-SOMP medium or high-security federal prison, the risk of assault can be higher, primarily due to prison politics. At some easier medium-security federal prisons, you might be able to walk the yard and only be ostracized and excluded, but it can be a risky gamble.
High-Security Federal Prisons
The situation changes at the high-security level. It is commonly believed that sex offenders are only safe at USP Tucson. We have heard reports that sex offenders are also safe at USP Coleman 2 as long as they remain undercover (i.e., inmates don’t know about the sexual offense). Generally speaking, those charged with sexual crimes are not safe at any other high-security federal prison.
At the high-security level, the response to sex offenders is relatively consistent. If an inmate admits to being a sex offender or is known as such, they are typically “checked-in.” This means either told to go into protective custody or attacked by fellow inmates.
Due to the precarious position these inmates are in at the high-security level, we strongly advise affected inmates not to enter the general population. The only exception is USP Tucson.
It is at the high-security federal prison level where you will have problems. It would be better to “check-in” (ask to go into protective custody) and await a transfer to an easier, ideally SOMP, yard. Tougher sorts might opt to fight it out, but this is a dangerous gamble. This is not an intelligent way to surviving prison as a sex offender.
The Risk Posed to Sex Offenders in Prison
The sad fact is that the stories are true. Incarcerated sex offenders sometimes have a rough time in prison. It can be challenging learning how to survive prison as a sex offender.
At higher security levels (e.g., high- and medium-security federal prisons), sex offenders tend to be harassed, attacked, and brutalized. This is part of an institutional culture if not supported by the prison administration, then accepted as inevitable. This creates real problems for incarcerated sex offenders who often must “check-in” to the Special Housing Unit (i.e., solitary confinement) for their protection.
If sex offenders don’t check-in at rougher yards, they are sometimes “beat off” a yard. This is where a group of fellow prisoners knock the sex offender to the ground (often in the chow hall or in front of the lieutenant’s office) and stomp them in prison guards’ view. When this happens, the guards know it’s time for the sex offender to be placed in the hole for their protection (i.e., Protective Custody) and possibly transferred elsewhere.
To protect inmate sex offender populations, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has tasked nine prisons to specifically house sex offenders. These SOMP facilities have a higher percentage of sex offenders. Some suggest upwards of 40 to 60 percent of the inmate population is incarcerated for a sexual offense. These SOMP facilities tend to be much easier prisons, where inmates incarcerated for like offenses can survive and even thrive.
When considering how to survive prison as a sex offender, start by seeking SOMP placement. This virtually eliminates the age-old question of what happens to sex offenders in prison.
Sex Offender Prison Preparation
If you are charged with a federal sex offense, you are likely wondering how to survive prison as a sex offender. Luckily, the Zoukis Consulting Group stands ready to help. Our firm regularly helps to answer those tricky questions like, “How do sex offenders survive prison?”
Our firm regularly assists clients charged with all manner of offenses to prepare for a period of federal incarceration. For sex offender clients, this includes our regular prison preparation, but with a slightly different focus. For example, if we work on your case pre-sentence, we will likely suggest seeking a judicial recommendation for Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP) designation. Many of our clients find these facilities much easier than regular federal prisons.
We include a strong focus on the types of issues that sex offenders often contend with (e.g., what they are in prison for, interacting with others, intimidation, etc.). This preparation also includes a review of sex offender monitoring conducted by Federal Bureau of Prisons officials towards this target population.
When thinking about sex offender prison preparation, the key is to view the situation holistically. You are not merely a scarlet letter. You are a person with a family and with unique needs.
The Zoukis Consulting Group appreciates every client as a person and will do everything in our power to make your life better. We will teach you how sex offenders survive prison.
How Do Sex Offenders Survive Prison?
Surviving in prison as a sex offender can be a challenging task. This is particularly true at rougher medium-security federal prisons and most high-security federal prisons. While individual circumstances vary, at the Zoukis Consulting Group, we’ve identified several themes that help our clients.
Seek a Judicial Recommendation for SOMP Placement
Judicial recommendations allow sentencing judges to recommend specific prison designation and program participation. We always seek judicial recommendations to SOMP facilities for our clients charged with sexual offenses. This significantly increases the likelihood of SOMP designation and a softer and safer prison experience.
Speak with your attorney regarding seeking a judicial recommendation for SOMP placement. Attorneys typically request these recommendations within the sentencing memorandum. If your attorney is unaware of this option, please contact us at the Zoukis Consulting Group. Our team of expert prison consultants regularly draft policy-oriented judicial recommendation requests for attorneys to use.
While many want to know what happens to sex offenders in prison, this is the wrong question. The correct question regarding how sex offenders survive prison is how the strategic use of judicial recommendations applies in your case.
“What Are You in For?”
It isn’t easy surviving prison as a sex offender. Likewise, the question of what happens to sex offenders in prison is a sobering one. Your history is what it is. There is no way to hide from it. But there are ways to manage these in-prison conflicts.
If others confront you, you can try to be tough and respond, “What’s it to you?” or “You got some kind of problem?” This resistance sometimes resolves the issue.
Lying and denying is often not the best way to resolve these issues. Your paperwork can easily be pulled to determine why you are in prison.
With this being said, we have assisted clients in flying under the radar. This usually works for a period. For example, this can be a worthwhile option if you are in a federal detention center and only need to buy a few months before transferring to a SOMP facility.
Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP) Prisons
The Federal Bureau of Prisons created the Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP) to solve sex offender management issues. It is an institutional designation which means that the prison has a more robust Psychology Department, a Sex Offender Treatment Program (either residential or non-residential), and a higher percentage of sexual offenders in the general population.
The Bureau explains the need for SOMP facilities somewhat differently. According to the Bureau, SOMP facilities are designed to fulfill the unique needs of incarcerated sexual offenders, including:
- Enhanced monitoring for offending behaviors
- Protection from other inmates
- The sometimes more sophisticated criminality of this population
This special mission makes SOMP facilities easier for sex offenders to survive. They enable these inmates to stay at the prison without threat to their lives. By housing this specialized population in certain prisons, prison officials can also monitor them more effectively. When asking what happens to sex offenders in prison at SOMP facilities, the answer is simple: nothing.
The Bureau’s take is also somewhat different from our clients convicted of sexual offenses. For example, the Bureau states, “This higher concentration of sex offenders within [SOMP] institution[s] helps offenders feel more comfortable acknowledging their concerns and seeking treatment.” While this could be the case for some, it is more likely that incarcerated sex offenders are happy to be at a prison where they won’t be assaulted or possibly killed for the nature of their offense.
Sex offenders housed at SOMP facilities don’t have much to worry about as far as prison politics and their safety are concerned. But those housed at non-SOMP facilities, particularly at the medium- and high-security levels, run the risk of being assaulted or otherwise harmed. At the lower security levels, being at a non-SOMP facility is less of an issue, as most prisoners ostracize sex offenders instead of actively causing them harm.
Current SOMP facilities include the low-security FCI Seagoville (TX), FCI Elkton (OH) and FCI Englewood (CO), the medium-security FCI Petersburg (VA), FCI Marianna (FL), and USP Marion (IL), and the high-security USP Tucson (AZ).
Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP) Prisons in the Federal Bureau of Prison
Administrative Security Sex Offender Prisons
Low Security Sex Offender Prisons
Medium Security Sex Offender Prisons
High Security Sex Offender Prisons
- USP Tucson (Tucson, AZ)
Sex Offender Treatment Programs in Federal Prisons
The Federal Bureau of Prisons offers the Sex Offender Treatment Programs (SOTP) only at SOMP institutions. This sex offender therapy program consists of two varieties:
- Non-Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP-NR)
- Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP-R)
The difference between these programs is the intensity of the sex offender therapy program, its residential or non-residential treatment modality, and which inmates can enroll in this voluntary treatment. The non-residential program lasts 9 to 12 months, whereas the residential treatment program lasts between 12 and 18 months. While most SOMP facilities have a non-residential program, the residential version is available at several facilities (e.g., FMC Devens).
Sex offenders deemed to be at low risk of recidivism are only permitted to take the non-residential program. In contrast, the residential program is the only program available to those considered high risk. Participation in treatment programs can lessen the risk of being civilly committed, but disclosures made during treatment can be used to prove the need for civil commitment.
Federal prisoners can learn more about these treatment programs by speaking with a member of their prison’s Psychology Department. Additionally, each program is discussed below.
Non-Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP-NR)
The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Non-Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program is offered at every SOMP facility except FMC Devens. This program is restricted to “offenders evaluated to have low to moderate risk of reoffending.”
The program lasts 9 to 12 months, and participants meet two to three times each week in their prison’s Psychology Department for the treatment sessions. According to the BOP, program participants “learn basic skills and concepts to help them understand their past offenses and reduce the risk of future offending” through various levels of treatment.
Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP-R)
The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program is, at present, offered only FMC Devens. Program participation is restricted to “offenders with an elevated risk of reoffending.”
This program is 12 to 18 months, and participants engage in treatment five days each week. Due to the residential treatment modality, monitoring, supervision, and therapy are intensive.
According to the BOP, “Participants benefit from a therapeutic community on a residential housing unit where they work to reduce their risk of future offending.” The residential housing units also have increased conduct regulations. For example, these residential treatment units impose restrictions on specific media and recreational activities, such as role-playing games.
While not the most enjoyable experience, placement in the residential treatment program is an easy answer to how to survive prison as a sex offender. This is because all program participants are incarcerated for sexual offenses.
Sex Offender Therapy Program Safety Concerns
Before taking the Sex Offender Treatment Program, you need to think about whether you feel you need help. These programs can be an excellent opportunity to receive that help. But risk can come along with participating in such programs.
Most Psychology Department staff leading SOTP programs honestly want to help those in their groups. But the Federal Bureau of Prisons does have a dark history of abusing these groups.
This abuse is seen by prison staff using them as a mechanism to collect the admissions necessary to civilly commit offenders. This is well documented in the Butner Study and resulting research and articles. Today, more than a decade later, it appears as though the BOP has stopped using the SOTP programs for such nefarious purposes.
If you want to balance your safety while still taking the SOTP program, feel free to participate in sex offender treatment. But do not admit new victims or discuss a mental inability to control yourself or stop yourself from reoffending.
It’s essential to get help for such matters, but admitting new victims will place you at significant risk. If you fall into this category, consider the residential treatment program seriously, but be careful what you disclose.
Your chances of being civilly committed as a sex offender are slim to none. Only those with a hands-on offense (instant or prior) are eligible for civil commitment. The government also has to prove that you have a mental defect that would make not reoffending problematic for you.
Those caught in prison with risk-relevant materials, such as pictures of children, have to worry most about this. An excellent way to evaluate if you are at risk for civil commitment is to ask a Psychology Department representative if you qualify for the Non-Residential Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP-NR). Only sex offenders deemed to be low risk are permitted to take the program.
If you are eligible for the non-residential program, you probably have nothing to worry about. Even if you only qualify for the residential program, you still probably have nothing to worry about.
For those at higher risk of civil commitment, a smart strategy is to show treatment progress. Not only will treatment serve as sexual abuse relapse prevention, but it also reduces the risk of civil commitment.
Contact Us Today to Learn How Sex Offenders Survive in Prison
For more information about prison life and how to prepare for prison as a sex offender, please book an initial consultation. Our team of experienced prison consultants is ready to assist you with learning how to survive prison as a sex offender.
Published Apr 7, 2016 by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA | Last Updated by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA on Jun 10, 2023 at 5:20 pm