Intro to the Bureau of Prisons

The Bureau of Prisons

Most people who become a target of the Department of Justice, and are indicted, will be sentenced and given prison sentences. A vast majority of these people will, in fact, serve time. When faced with prison time, the only asset a defendant has in his or her possession is knowledge. Knowledge is the only the one can really take into prison.

So what is the Bureau of Prisons?

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is responsible for all federal defendants who are convicted and sentenced to any prison term. It is a gigantic, intimidating monolith to the untrained eye and is often regarded as a lawless agency that does whatever it wishes. This is officially and mostly untrue. Understanding how the Bureau of Prisons works is the first step in influencing it to your advantage. Below are a few key knowledge bits that will get you started in your path to figuring it out.

Regions : The BOP is divided into six separate regions. For sentences of less than 5 years, a newly classified inmate will normally be sent to (“designated” to) an institution within their region. The regions are: Western, North Central, South Central, North East, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast The You can see a regional breakdown of the United States on the home page of the Bureau of Prisons on it’s homepage.

Security Levels There are four main security level designators for BOP institutions. They are Maximum, Medium, Low, and Minimum. To add a wrinkle to this simple list, the BOP calls its facilities which house these security levels by different names.

  • Maximum Security inmates are housed in United States Penitentiaries (USPs)
  • Medium Security inmates are housed in Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs) or USPs
  • Low Security inmates are housed in FCIs
  • Minimum Security inmates are housed in Federal Prison Camps (FPC)

Now these are not the only types of institutions the BOP operates. There are facilities with special purposes like medical complexes and the ADX SuperMax in Florence, CO that houses the most dangerous federal inmates. You can read about all the different types of facilities owned by the BOP

What the BOP doesn’t mention on their page is that it contracts with multiple private-company prisons to house in-transit and overflow inmates. There are mixed reviews about these privately run prisons, but most are not favorable and the existence and use of these prisons isn’t widely publicized by the BOP.


The BOP has a standard hierarchy that it uses to delegate command starting with the Attorney General of the United States, then he Director of the Bureau of Prisons. From there the Director of the Central Office oversees policy and the Directors of the Regional Offices. The Regional Office directors oversee the Institutional Wardens. Lastly there are normally two Assistant Wardens per institution (one is for programs, one is for operations), each cell-block-unit has a Unit Manager, who oversees the Unit Counselor and Unit Case Manager.


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