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Preparation Prison Life After

05. Prison Designation

Custody Level

Finally, The Custody Level plays a role in determining an institution appropriate for an inmate based on the amount of supervision required by the institution.  There are four levels of custody

All inmates who are initially designated to a minimum security prison camp will receive a Custody Level of “Out” and all those initially designated to a Low will receive a Custody Level of “In.”  The inmate’s first custody classification will be scored at the first Unit Team meeting and program review in prison, approximately 7 months after arrival at an institution.  As will be covered later, to be eligible to leave a Federal Prison camp on furlough or for other reasons, the inmate must be at a “Community” custody level.

Like the Security Level calculated earlier, Custody Level is determined by a series of questions with corresponding points for the multiple choice answer.  The Custody Level evaluation is determined by the following:

1. Existing Detainer

a. None (0 points)

b. Low / Low Moderate (1 point)

c. Moderate (3 points)

d. High (5 points)

e. Greatest (7 points)


2. What was the severity of the Current Offense?

a. Lowest (0 points)

b. Low Moderate (1 point)

c. Moderate (3 points)

d. High (5 points)

e. Greatest (7 points)


3. Months To Release Date (calculated in the PSF but only considered here)


4. Criminal History (Taken Directly From the Judgement or PSR)

a. Category I (0 points)

b. Category II (2 points)

c. Category III (4 points)

d. Category IV (6 points)

e. Category V (8 points)

f. Category VI (10 points)


5. History of Escapes (if previously incarcerated)

a. None (0 points)

b. More than 15 years ago (1 point for Minor Escape, 3 points for Serious)

c. 10-15 years ago (1 point for Minor Escape, 3 points for Serious)

d. 5-10 years ago (2 points for Minor Escape, 3 points for Serious)

e. Less than 5 years ago (3 points for Minor Escape, 3 points for Serious)


6. History of Violence

a. None (0 points)

b. More than 15 Years ago (1 point Minor Offense, 2 points Serious)

c. 10-15 years ago (1 point Minor Offense, 4 points Serious)

d. 5-10 years ago (3 point Minor Offense, 6 points Serious)

e. Less than 5 years ago (5 points Minor Offense, 7 points Serious)


7. Voluntary Surrender

a. No (Points)

b. Yes (-3 Points)


8. Age

a. Under 25 years old (8 points)

b. 25-35 years old (4 points)

c. 36-54 years old (2 points)

d. 55+ years old (0 points)


9. Educational Level

a. No verified High School Degree / GED (2 Points)

b. Enrolled and making satisfactory progress to GED program (1 Point)

c. Verified High School Degree / GED (0 Point)


10. Drug / Alcohol Abuse

a. Less than 5 Years ago (1 Point)

b. Never or More than 5 Years ago (0 Point)

The Base Score is the sum of points in numbers 1-10 above.  If the number is a negative the Base Score will be set at zero.  This is the score used for defendants entering the prison system.

For inmates who are currently in custody, there is an additional scoring that will be part of the Unit Team reviews discussed later.  The factors used in determining Custody Level for existing inmates includes:

Once all of the information is entered into SENTRY, a list of the appropriate facilities will appear in order of proximity to the inmate’s legal residence (based on mileage calculated by SENTRY).  

For most people entering federal prison, the goal is to be at the lowest security level facility which is closest to home (friends and family).  However, you can see that there are a number of factors that do influence where a person is going to serve their sentence.

Even at higher security facilities within the BOP, security and safety are a top concern for both inmates and staff.  Incidents of escape or violence at BOP Minimum and Low facilities are rare.  While they do happen, they are rare.  An “escape” at a minimum security facility usually occurs when an inmate simply walks away from the compound.

It should be noted that first time, white-collar felons also go to higher security level prisons, not just Camps.  Most often, the determining factor for the higher security is the length of the prison term, though other factors can also lead to higher security designations.  A prison term of over 10 years (time remaining in sentence) could result in placement in a Low, over 20 years in a Medium.

One thing to remember, there is a big difference between a Minimum (Camp) and a Low security prison.  So when an attorney recommends her client go to a “Low”, you had better clarify that you want to go to a “Minimum”, which is a Prison Camp.  This is a fairly common mistake but one that can have a profound affect on the person doing the time.

While the majority of people receive an accurate score for designation, mistakes have been known to occur.  Since people are putting all this information into the computer manually and then making a decision on an individual that they do not know, they tend to make conservative decisions resulting in increased scores (higher security).   The PSR is the primary source for much of this information, so it is essential that the defendant and her counsel ensure that it is accurate.

When all of the information is completed by DSCC, recommendations for a prison designation are presented in order of prisons that that meet the inmates needs listed from closest to the release zip code (usually legal residence).  The closest facility to the legal residence is listed on top and then second closest, third closest, etc.  From that list, a designation is determined.