Federal Bureau of Prisons

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Federal Bureau of Prisons
Seal of the Federal Bureau of Prisons
Agency overview
FormedMay 14, 1930; 94 years ago (May 14, 1930)
HeadquartersFederal Home Loan Bank Board Building,
Washington, D.C., U.S.
MottoCourage. Respect. Integrity. Correctional Excellence.
Annual budgetUS$9.3 billion (FY 2021)[2]
Agency executives
  • Colette S. Peters, Director
  • William Lothrop, Jr., Deputy Director
  • Kathleen Toomey, Associate Deputy Director
  • Seth Bogin, co-Chief of Staff
  • Rina Desai, co-Chief of Staff
Parent agencyDepartment of Justice
The Federal Home Loan Bank Board Building, which houses the main office of the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Washington, D.C.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is responsible for all Federal prisons and provide for the care, custody, and control of federal prisoners.


The federal prison system had existed for more than 30 years before the BOP was established. Although its wardens functioned almost autonomously, the Superintendent of Prisons, a Department of Justice official in Washington, was nominally in charge of federal prisons.[3] The passage of the "Three Prisons Act" in 1891 authorized the first three federal penitentiaries: USP Leavenworth, USP Atlanta, and USP McNeil Island with limited supervision by the Department of Justice.[4]

Until 1907, prison matters were handled by the Justice Department General Agent, with responsibility for Justice Department accounts, oversight of internal operations, certain criminal investigations as well as prison operations. In 1907, the General Agent was abolished, and its functions were distributed between three new offices: the Division of Accounts (which evolved into the Justice Management Division); the Office of the Chief Examiner (which evolved in 1908 into the Bureau of Investigation, and in the early 1920s into the Federal Bureau of Investigation); and the Office of the Superintendent of Prisons and Prisoners, later called the Superintendent of Prisons (which evolved in 1930 into the Bureau of Prisons).

The exterior of Federal Correctional Institution, Milan

The Bureau of Prisons was established within the Department of Justice on May 14, 1930 by the United States Congress,[5] and was charged with the "management and regulation of all Federal penal and correctional institutions."[6] This responsibility covered the administration of the 11 federal prisons in operation at the time. By the end of 1930, the system had expanded to 14 institutions with 13,000 inmates, and a decade later in 1940, the system had 24 institutions with 24,360 incarcerated.

The state of Alaska assumed jurisdiction over its corrections on January 3, 1959, using the Alaska Department of Corrections; prior to statehood, the BOP had correctional jurisdiction over Alaska.[7]

As a result of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 and subsequent legislation, which pushed for longer sentences, less judicial discretion, and harsher sentences for drug-related offenses, the federal inmate population doubled in the 1980s and again in the 1990s. The population increase decelerated in the early 2000s, but the population continued to increase until 2014.[8] [9]

The National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997 transferred responsibility for adult felons convicted of violating District of Columbia laws to the BOP.

Administration and employees[edit]

The current director of the Bureau of Prisons is Colette S. Peters.[10][11]

As of 2020, 62.5% of Bureau employees are white, 21.3% are black, 12.6% are Hispanic, 2.3% are Asian, and 1.3% are Native American. 72% are male.[12] There is roughly one corrections officer for every 12.5 prisoners.[13]

All BOP law enforcement employees undergo 200 hours of formal training in their first year of employment and an additional 120 hours of training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia.[14]

Past directors[edit]

Portrait[15] Director Took office Left office
Sanford Bates 1930 1937
James V. Bennett 1937 1964
Myrl E. Alexander 1964 1970
Norman A. Carlson 1970 1987
J. Michael Quinlan July 1987 1992
Kathleen Hawk Sawyer December 4, 1992 April 4, 2003
Harley G. Lappin April 4, 2003 December 21, 2011
Charles E. Samuels Jr. December 21, 2011 January 9, 2016
Mark S. Inch September 18, 2017 May 18, 2018
Hugh Hurwitz (acting) May 2018 August 19, 2019
Kathleen Hawk Sawyer August 19, 2019 February 25, 2020
Michael D. Carvajal February 25, 2020 August 2, 2022
Colette S. Peters August 2, 2022 Present

Types of federal prisons[edit]

The United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, a unit for male prisoners requiring medical care

The BOP has five security levels:

  • Federal Prison Camps (FPCs), the BOP minimum-security facilities, feature a lack of or a limited amount of perimeter fencing and a relatively low staff-to-inmate ratio.
  • Low-security Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs) have double-fenced perimeters, and inmates live mostly in cubicles or dormitory housing.
  • Medium-security FCIs and some United States Penitentiaries (USPs) are classified to hold medium-security inmates. The medium facilities have strengthened perimeters which often consist of double fences with electronic detection systems. Medium-security facilities mostly have cell housing.
  • Most U.S. Penitentiaries are classified as high-security facilities. The perimeters are highly secured and often have reinforced fences or walls.
  • Federal Correctional Complexes (FCCs) are co-locations of BOP facilities with different security levels and/or genders.[16]
  • Administrative Security Facilities are prisons with special missions and capabilities. An example would be Federal Medical Centers, which house sick and injured inmates getting medical care that is beyond the capabilities of a normal institution.

Some units have small, adjacent, minimum-security "satellite camps". Twenty-eight institutions hold female inmates. As of 2010, about 15% of Bureau inmates are in facilities operated by third parties, mostly private companies, while others are in local and state facilities. Some are in privately operated Residential Reentry Centers (RRC) or Community Corrections Centers. The Bureau uses contract facilities to manage its own prison population because they are "especially useful" for housing low-security, specialized groups of people, such as sentenced criminal aliens.[17]

Correctional officers[edit]

In the BOP, correctional officers are uniformed federal law enforcement officers who are responsible for the care, custody, and control of federal inmates. The BOP has a Special Operations Response Team and Disturbance Control Team.

Inmate population[edit]

Past inmate population totals[18]
FY Population Change
2000 145,125 +11,436
2001 156,572 +11,447
2002 163,436 +6,864
2003 172,499 +9,063
2004 179,895 +7,396
2005 187,394 +7,499
2006 192,584 +5,190
2007 200,020 +7,436
2008 201,668 +1,648
2009 208,759 +7,091
2010 210,227 +1,468
2011 217,768 +7,541
2012 218,687 +919
2013 219,298 +611
2014 214,149 -5,149
2015 205,723 -8,426
2016 192,170 -13,553
2017 185,617 -6,553
2018 181,698 -3,919
2019 177,214 -4,484

As of 2021, the Bureau was responsible for approximately 131,040 inmates,[18] in 122 facilities.[19] 57.9% of inmates were white, 38.2% were black, 2.5% native American, and 1.5% Asian; 93.3% were male.[20] 30.4% were of Hispanic ethnicity, which may be any of these four races.[21] 75% of inmates were between the ages of 26 and 50.[22]

As of 1999, 14,000 prisoners were in 16 federal prisons in the state of Texas.[23]

As of 2010, almost 8,000 felons in 90 facilities, sentenced under D.C. laws, made up about 6% of the total Bureau population.[24]

As of August 2020, 46.2% of inmates were incarcerated for drug offenses.[25]

The BOP receives all prisoner transfer treaty inmates sent from foreign countries, even if their crimes would have been tried in state, DC, or territorial courts if committed in the United States.[26]

Female inmates[edit]

As of 2015, 27 Bureau facilities house women. The Bureau has a Mothers and Infants Nurturing Together (MINT) program for women who enter the system as inmates while pregnant. The Bureau pays for abortion only if it is life-threatening for the woman, but it may allow for abortions in non-life-threatening cases if non-BOP funds are used.[27]

In 2017, four Democratic Senators, including Kamala Harris, introduced a bill explicitly requiring tampons and pads to be free for female prisoners. In August 2017, the Bureau introduced a memorandum requiring free tampons and pads. The previous 1996 memorandum stated "products for female hygiene needs shall be available" without requiring them to be free of charge.[28]

A 2018 review by the Evaluation and Inspections Division, Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice, found the Bureau's programming and policy decisions did not fully consider the needs of female inmates in the areas of trauma treatment programming, pregnancy programming, and feminine hygiene.[29]

Juvenile inmates[edit]

As of 2010, juveniles sent into Bureau custody are between 17 and 20 and must have been under 18 at the time of the offense. According to the Bureau, most of the juveniles it receives had committed violent crimes and had "an unfavorable history of responding to interventions and preventive measures in the community." In 2010, most federal juvenile inmates were from Arizona, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and the District of Columbia.[30]

The Bureau contracts with facilities that house juvenile offenders. Title 18, U.S.C. 5039 specifies that "No juvenile committed...may be placed or retained in an adult jail or correctional institution in which he has regular contact with adults incarcerated because they have been convicted of a crime or are awaiting trial on criminal charges." The definition includes secure facilities and community-based correctional facilities. Federally sentenced juveniles may be moved into federal adult facilities at certain points; juveniles sentenced as adults are moved into adult facilities when they turn 18 and juveniles that were sentenced as juveniles are moved into adult facilities when they turn 21.[31]

Death row inmates[edit]

United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute, the location of the federal death row for men and the federal execution chamber

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 reinstituted the federal death penalty.[32] On July 19, 1993, the federal government designated the United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute in Indiana as the site of execution for both males and females sentenced to execution. The Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Texas holds the female inmates who have been sentenced to death.

Some male death row inmates are instead held at ADX Florence.[33]

As of January 16, 2020, 49 federal inmates are on death row.[34] Under the Trump administration, the BOP carried out 13 executions.[35]

Overpopulation and responses[edit]

Parole was abolished for federal inmates in 1987 and inmates must serve at least 85% of their original sentence before being considered for good-behavior release. The current sentencing guidelines were adopted in response to rising crime rates in the 1980s and early 1990s, especially for drug-related offenses.[36][37] Some analysts and activists believe that strict federal sentencing guidelines have led to overcrowding and needlessly incarcerated thousands of non-violent drug offenders who would be better served by drug treatment programs.[38]

The yearly increases in the federal inmate population have raised concerns from criminal justice experts[39] and even among DOJ officials themselves. Michael Horowitz, the DOJ Inspector General, wrote a memorandum concerning this issue:

First, despite a slight decrease in the total number of federal inmates in fiscal year (FY) 2014, the Department projects that the costs of the federal prison system will continue to increase in the years ahead, consuming a large share of the Department's budget. Second, federal prisons remain significantly overcrowded and therefore face a number of important safety and security issues.[40]

COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

By July 30, 2020, there were 2,910 federal inmates and 500 BOP staff who had confirmed positive test results for COVID-19 during the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic. 7312 inmates and 683 staff have recovered. There have been 99 federal inmate deaths and two BOP staff member deaths attributed to COVID-19.[41]

The BOP conducted executions during the pandemic that reportedly did not adhere to physical distancing rules, leading to criticism that the BOP was facilitating "superspreader" events. Staff reportedly refused to wear face masks, a violation of court orders, and knowingly withheld information about confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses from people who had interacted with infected individuals along with hindering contact tracing efforts and allowing staff members who had been exposed to COVID-19 to refuse testing and work. Public health experts called for a delay in executions as they could not be carried out safely without risking the spread of COVID-19.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "BOP:About Our Agency". Federal Bureau of Prisons. May 2, 2020. Archived from the original on April 30, 2020. Retrieved May 2, 2020. 36,697 Employees
  2. ^ "FY 2021 Budget Summary". U.S. Justice Department.
  3. ^ John W. Roberts (1997). "The Federal Bureau of Prisons: Its Mission, Its History, and Its Partnership with Probation and Pretrial Services". Federal Probation. 61: 53. ISSN 0014-9128. OCLC 2062391.
  4. ^ Bosworth, Mary (2002). The U.S. Federal Prison System. SAGE. p. 4. ISBN 978-0761923046.
  5. ^ Pub. L.Tooltip Public Law (United States) 71–218, 46 Stat. 325, enacted May 14, 1930
  6. ^ "Statutory Authority to Contract With the Private Sector for Secure Facilities". US Department of Justice. Archived from the original on February 9, 2010. Retrieved November 17, 2013.
  7. ^ "History of Lemon Creek Correctional Center" (Archive). Alaska Department of Corrections. Retrieved on December 13, 2015.
  8. ^ Delgado, Marlo (July 2016). "Federal Bureau of Prisons". JailData.com. Retrieved September 13, 2016.
  9. ^ "[1]"
  10. ^ BOP: Leadership
  11. ^ Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Announces Selection of Colette S. Peters as Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons
  12. ^ "Staff Statistics". Federal Bureau of Prisons. US Department of Justice. May 2, 2020. Archived from the original on January 23, 2020. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  13. ^ Reilly, Steve (May 6, 2018). "Prison violence rises as budgets slashed". USA Today. pp. 1A, 2A. Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  14. ^ "World-class correctional instruction". Federal Bureau of Prisons: About Our Facilities. US Department of Justice. Archived from the original on April 12, 2020. Retrieved November 2, 2015.
  15. ^ "Past Directors". www.bop.gov.
  16. ^ "Prison Types & General Information Archived September 15, 2012, at the Wayback Machine." Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved May 21, 2010.
  17. ^ "CI Rivers Contact Information." Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved January 12, 2010.
  18. ^ a b "Population Statistics". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Archived from the original on April 28, 2020. Retrieved March 14, 2021.
  19. ^ "BOP: Our Locations". www.bop.gov. Archived from the original on April 28, 2020. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  20. ^ "BOP Statistics: Inmate Race". Federal Bureau of Prisons. US Department of Justice. August 9, 2021. Retrieved August 9, 2021.
  21. ^ "BOP Statistics: Inmate Ethnicity". Federal Bureau of Prisons. US Department of Justice. August 9, 2021. Retrieved August 9, 2021.
  22. ^ "BOP Statistics: Average Inmate Age". www.bop.gov. Retrieved April 16, 2018.
  23. ^ Tedford, Deborah. "Opening of U.S. detention center delivers some much-needed space." Houston Chronicle. October 16, 1999. p. A35 MetFront. NewsBank Record: 3171576. Available from the Houston Public Library. "Sixteen of the nation's 94 federal prisons are in Texas and house 14,000 convicts, Marler said."
  24. ^ Fornaci, Philip (Director of the DC Prisoners' Project). "Federal Bureau of Prisons Oversight Hearing" (Archive). Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary. July 21, 2009. Retrieved on February 5, 2016.
  25. ^ "BOP Statistics: Inmate Offenses". www.bop.gov. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
  26. ^ "Transfer Of State Prisoners." United States Department of Justice. Retrieved on April 14, 2016.
  27. ^ "Female offenders." Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved on December 13, 2015.
  28. ^ Tolan, Casey (August 11, 2017). "Bureau of Prisons requires free tampons for female inmates, following Harris bill". Mercury News. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
  29. ^ Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons' Management of Its Female Inmate Population. Washington, DC: Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice, Evaluation and Inspections Division. September 2018. Retrieved September 22, 2018.
  30. ^ "Juveniles in the Bureau". Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved on January 1, 2010.
  31. ^ "Community Corrections FAQs Archived December 2, 2010, at the Wayback Machine." Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved September 14, 2010.
  32. ^ "The Bureau Celebrates 80th Anniversary Archived May 28, 2010, at the Wayback Machine ." Federal Bureau of Prisons. May 14, 2010. Retrieved on October 3, 2010.
  33. ^ Sargent, Hillary; Dwyer, Dialynn (July 17, 2015). "Tsarnaev moved to supermax prison. Here's how he'll live". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on September 1, 2015. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
  34. ^ "BOP Statistics: Sentences Imposed". www.bop.gov. Retrieved December 12, 2020.
  35. ^ Michael Tarm & Michael Kunzelman, Trump administration carries out 13th and final execution, Associated Press (January 15, 2021).
  36. ^ "Federal Bureau of Prisons – Statistics". Federal Bureau of Prisons. US Department of Justice. November 2, 2015. Retrieved November 2, 2015.
  37. ^ La Vigne, Nancy; Samuels, Julie (December 12, 2012). "The Growth & Increasing Cost of the Federal Prison System: Drivers and Potential Solutions" (PDF). urban.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 29, 2015. Retrieved November 2, 2015.
  38. ^ Schwartzapfel, Beth (July 23, 2015). "Federal Prisons Could Release 1,000 Times More Drug Offenders Than Obama Did". The Marshall Project. Retrieved November 2, 2015.
  39. ^ "A Voice from Prison Blog | Criminal Justice Reform & Constitutional Rights". A Voice from Prison. Retrieved October 24, 2022.
  40. ^ Cohen, Andrew (November 17, 2014). "Obama's Prison Crisis". The Marshall Project. Retrieved November 2, 2015.
  41. ^ "BOP: COVID-19 Update". bop.gov. Federal Bureau of Prisons. May 1, 2020. Archived from the original on April 29, 2020. Retrieved May 2, 2020. The BOP has 128,696 federal inmates in BOP-managed institutions and 13,757 in community-based facilities. The BOP staff complement is approximately 36,000. As of 07/30/2020, there are 2910 federal inmates and 500 BOP staff who have confirmed positive test results for COVID-19 nationwide. Currently, 7312 inmates and 683 staff have recovered. There have been 99 federal inmate deaths and 1 BOP staff member deaths attributed to COVID-19 disease.
  42. ^ "AP analysis: Federal executions likely a COVID superspreader". AP NEWS. February 5, 2021. Retrieved February 6, 2021.

Further reading[edit]

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