The Federal Bureau of Prisons ( BOP or FBOP ) is a United States federal law enforcement agency . A subdivision of the U.S. Department of Justice , the BOP is responsible for the administration of the federal prison system. The system handles inmates who have violated, or are accused of violating, federal law . The BOP additionally holds inmates who have committed felonies in Washington, D.C.

The BOP is additionally responsible for carrying out all judicially ordered federal executions (other than those carried out under military law ) in the United States.


The Federal Prison System 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] starting with the passage of the "Three Prisons Act' in 1891, which authorised the Federal Government's first three penitentiaries: USP Leavenworth , USP Atlanta , and USP McNeil Island with limited supervision by the United States Department of Justice afterwards. [4]

Until 1907, prison matters were handled by the Justice Department's General Agent . The General Agent was responsible for Justice Department accounts, oversight of internal operations, and certain criminal investigations, as well as prison operations. In 1907, the General Agent's office was abolished, and its functions were distributed among three new offices: the Division of Accounts (which evolved into the Justice Management Division); the Office of the Chief Examiner (which later evolved by 1908, into the Bureau of Investigation, and later by 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 then evolved by 1930 into the Bureau of Prisons).

Pursuant to Pub. L. No. 71-218, 46 Stat. 325 (1930), the Bureau of Prisons was established by the U.S. Congress within the U.S. Department of Justice (which itself was created in 1870, to be headed by the Attorney General , whose office was first established in the first Presidential Cabinet under President Washington and created in 1789, along with the Secretaries of State , Treasury and War ). The new Prison Bureau was now under the Administration of the thirty-first President Herbert Hoover , (1874-1964), and was charged with the "management and regulation of all Federal penal and correctional institutions." [5] This responsibility covered the administration of the 11 federal prisons in operation at the time. By the end of the year 1930, the system had already expanded to 14 institutions with 13,000 inmates. By a decade later in 1940, the Federal prison 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]

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.


As of 2015, 63 percent of BOP employees are white, twenty-one percent are black, twelve percent are Hispanic, two percent are Asian and eight percent identify themselves as another race. 73 percent are male. [8]

All BOP employees undergo 200 hours of formal training in their first year of employment. Employees must additionally complete additional 120 hours of training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia. [9]

Types of federal prisons

The BOP has five security levels. Federal Prison Camps (FPCs), the BOP minimum security facilities, 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 in mostly cubicle or dormitory housing. Medium security FCIs and a few United States Penitentiaries (USPs) are classified to hold medium security inmates. The medium facilities have strengthened perimeters, which most 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, highly secured, most often have reinforced fences or walls. Federal Correctional Complexes (FCCs) are co-locations of BOP facilities with different security levels and/or genders. [10] Some units have small, minimum security camps, known as "satellite camps," adjacent to the main facilities. 28 Bureau of Prisons institutions hold female inmates.

As of 2010 about fifteen percent of the inmates under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Prisons are in facilities operated by third parties. Most of them are in facilities operated by private companies. Others are in facilities operated by local and state governments. Some are in Residential Reentry Centers (RRC) (AKA: Community Corrections Centers) operated by private companies. The bureau uses contract facilities to manage its own prison population. The bureau stated that contract facilities are "especially useful" for housing low-security, specialised groups of people, like sentenced criminal aliens. [11]

Inmate population

As of 2015, US federal prisons currently hold approximately 205,000 inmates in 122 facilities.

Also as of 2015, 59 percent of federal inmates are white and 38 percent are black; 93 percent are male. [12]

As of August 2013, of the male inmates, fifteen percent were housed in the Northeast, nineteen percent were housed in the Southeast, sixteen percent were housed in the Mid-Atlantic region, twelve percent were housed in the North Central region, twenty-four percent were housed in the South Central region, and thirteen percent were housed in the Western region. Of the female inmates, nine percent were housed in the Northeast, twenty-two percent were housed in the Southeast, seventeen percent were housed in the Mid-Atlantic region, eleven percent were housed in the North Central region, twenty-three percent were housed in the South Central region, and eighteen percent were housed in the Western region.

As of August 2013, of the male inmates, thirteen percent received sentences while being in the Northeast, ten percent of men received them in the Southeast, eleven percent received them in the Mid-Atlantic region, twelve percent received them in the North Central region, twenty-eight percent received them in the South Central region, and twenty-six percent were sentenced in the Western region. Of the female inmates, thirteen percent received sentences while being in the Northeast, thirteen percent of women received them in the Southeast, thirteen percent received them in the Mid-Atlantic region, fourteen percent received them in the North Central region, twenty-six percent received them in the South Central region, and twenty-two percent were sentenced in the Western region.

As of 1999 14,000 prisoners were in 16 federal prisons in the state of Texas. [3]

As of 2010 felons sentenced under D.C. law made up almost 8,000 prisoners, or about six percent of the total BOP population, and they resided in 90 facilities. [3]

The BOP receives all prisoner transfer treaty inmates sent from foreign countries, even if their crimes would have been, if committed in the United States, tried in state, DC, or territorial courts. [3]

Female inmates

As of 2015 27 BOP facilities house women. The BOP has the Mothers and Infants Nurturing Together (MINT) programme for women who enter the BOP as inmates while pregnant. The BOP only pays for abortion if it is life-threatening for the woman, but it might allow for abortions in non-life-threatening cases if non-BOP funds are used. [3]

With the 2014 repurposing of FCI Danbury for men, female inmates in the Northeast no longer had a prison in their region, and the imbalance of female inmates in regards to their locations in the BOP increased.

Juvenile inmates

As of 2010 typically juveniles sent into BOP custody are between 17 and 20, must have been under 18 at the time of the offence and had been convicted of sex-related offenses. This is because the most severe crimes committed on Indian Reservations are most of the time taken to federal court. According to the BOP, most of the juveniles it receives had committed violent crimes and had "an unfavourable history of responding to interventions and preventive measures in the community." As of that year most federal juvenile inmates were from Arizona , Montana , South Dakota , and the District of Columbia (in no particular order). [3]

The BOP contracts with facilities that house juvenile offenders. Title 18 U.S.C. 5039 specifies that "No juvenile committed, whether pursuant to an adjudication of delinquency or conviction for an offense, to the custody of the Attorney General might be placed or retained in an adult gaol 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 might be moved into federal adult facilities at certain points; juveniles sentenced as adults are moved into adult facilities when they turn 18. Juveniles sentenced as juveniles are moved into adult facilities when they turn 21. [3]

Death row inmates

The Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 reinstituted the federal death penalty. [3] On July 19, 1993, the federal government designated the United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute in Indiana as the site where male federal inmates sentenced to death would be held and where federal inmates of both genders would be executed. 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 . [3]

Overpopulation and responses

Parole was abolished for federal inmates in 1987 and inmates must serve at least 85 percent of their original sentence before being considered for good-behavior release. In addition, strict-sentencing guidelines were adopted in response to rising crime rates in the 1980s and early 1990s, especially for drug-related offenses. [3] [4] US violent crime has dropped after then, but a few analysts and activists believe that additional factors played a much more significant part in falling crime rates. In addition, they hold 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. [4]

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

"First, notwithstanding a slight decrease in the total number of federal inmates in financial 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." [4]