BOP Director on Designations 

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The former BOP Director, Hugh Hurwitz, continues his discussion with us. In the previous segment, he spoke with us about the First Step Act. In this segment, Hugh speaks with us about designations in the federal Bureau of Prisons, and other matters that may interest people after sentencing.

The bullet points below highlight the questions I asked the former Bureau of Prisons Director Hugh Hurwitz. The timestamp will take you to the specific area of the video where you can hear the former director’s responses to my questions.

1. How does the Bureau of Prisons determine where a person should serve a sentence?

When determining where a person should serve a sentence in prison, administrators in The Bureau of Prisons will rely upon the historical record. They will consider the information presented through the presentence investigation report, the judgment order, and the judge’s statement of reasons. Those documents will give an administrator an understanding of the person. 

The administrators will rely upon the court’s information to begin an initial designation. The custody and classification policy offers guidance on how the administrators will score a person. They use an objective grid that measures all types of static factors, such as criminal history, the severity of the offense, sentence length, and so forth. We offer different articles that fully explain the custody and classification system. For example, the following article will help:

Administrators may also consider an individual’s needs based upon what they learn from the presentence investigation report. They may send the person to a facility with programs to accommodate those needs, or they may send him to a prison that may minimize his exposure to danger. Some people in prison do not play well with others. 

The more a person understands the Bureau of Prisons, the better prepared a person becomes to advocate for himself. People should remember that administrators making designations will not know anything other than what they read in the PSR, the Judgment order, and the judge’s Statement of Reasons. If a person prepares well, he will build a record to influence what’s in those documents. Effective self-advocacy begins with thorough preparation. Although a person may rely upon counsel, the person should work on his own behalf, too.

2. Will the BOP team in Grand Prairie interact with an advocacy team?

The designation team in Grand Prairie, Texas, does not solicit input from the person’s advocacy team members. They look at the documents that the US Marshals supply, including the presentence investigation report, the judge’s statement of reasons, and the judgment order. From those documents, administrators rely upon the custody and classification to make an initial designation.

Although the administrators at the BOP’s Grand Prairie designation center will not reach out to the person’s advocacy team, the person may want to initiate an advocacy campaign early. As always, the well-informed, well-prepared person will position himself better to influence a more favorable decision.

What can a person do? A lot!

  • Build a record that may influence what the probation officer writes in the presentence investigation report (PSR).
  • Create a mitigation strategy that helps the defense attorney influence what the judge writes in his statement of reasons for imposing the sentence.
  • Convert the probation officer into a part of the advocacy team.
  • Convert the magistrate judge into a part of the advocacy team.
  • Research the Bureau of Prisons to understand the nuances of the institution.

By learning more, a person can become more successful in influencing what the people in Grand Prairie will see. Then, a person may write letters to administrators in Grand Prairie or call the people in Grand Prairie. Advocacy is not easy. But if a person learns to advocate for himself or hires a team to advocate on his behalf, he may become more successful. 

The person should not assume that the defense attorney has the experience to navigate the complexities of the Bureau of Prisons. Although an attorney may request a judicial recommendation, the Bureau of Prisons will give more weight to some judicial suggestions than others. When the judge says: “I hereby sentence you to the custody of the attorney general,” the BOP has discretion. Judges may make designation recommendations during sentencing, but they cannot dictate where the BOP sends a person, and a court will not review the BOP’s decision.

3. Why does the BOP send some people to detention centers for the sentence?

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) sends some people to detention centers to participate in the work cadre while serving a sentence. Administrators assign people to work on various jobs in every prison. The people on a work cadre prepare the food, maintain the grounds, do the laundry, perform clerical services, and take care of the landscaping. In detention centers, the people frequently go out for court or medical proceedings. They may not always be available for work. Administrators assign some low- and minimum-security people to federal detention centers to help the staff with operations.

When people serve sentences in detention centers, they cannot access as many programs. Detention centers resemble large jails, confining people of all security levels to a single housing unit. They rarely have recreation yards. Administrators may award Earned Time Credits to incentivize people on the work cadre, but they will not have access to the quantity of programs that may exist in other prisons. Once tablet-like devices become more accessible to people in federal prison, administrators may open access to more programs that qualify for Earned Time Credit.

To avoid being designated to a detention center, a person should prepare in advance, as described in the bullet point above. If administrators designate a person to a detention center, the person may have difficulty transferring to another facility.

4. Can people serving sentences in prison create courses for Earned Time Credit?

To create programs that may qualify for Earned Time Credit, a person must work through a process. A person in prison will need to work in collaboration with a local staff member. But the local staff member cannot unilaterally assign Earned Time Credits to a program. Instead, the staff member must submit the program to a committee in the DC Central Office. The committee members may assess the program’s validity and determine if it meets the standard for Earned Time Credit.

On the flip side, a person can work to create programs that may bring value to the lives of others. Whether the person creates those teaching programs before surrendering to prison or while in prison, the person will create value. When a person works to help others, that person creates meaning. The effort helps restore confidence and gives a sense of purpose to the person’s life. Further, by documenting such contributions, the person may become more successful in building a self-advocacy campaign.

I wrote many books and courses while I served my sentence. Back then, the system did not authorize Earned Time Credits. Nevertheless, the work helped me to build a self-advocacy campaign. A unit manager, for example, submitted a request for a management variable that would authorize me to serve my final ten years in a minimum-security camp. Then, they persuaded a case manager to recommend that I serve my last 12 months in a halfway house. Those efforts also influenced my probation officer to grant me a higher level of liberty upon my release. For these reasons, I encourage people to consider helping others. The more we help our community, the more we help ourselves.

5. What are the different security levels in the Bureau of Prisons?

The Bureau of Prisons divides its institutions into many different security levels. Administrators rate the typical institutions as being:

  • high-security,
  • medium-security,
  • low-security, or
  • minimum-security.

Besides the standard security levels, the Bureau of Prisons operates other institutions to accommodate people with special needs. For example, the Administrative Maximum security prison, the ADX, confines people under much more strict controls. People serving time in the ADX have a documented history of extreme violence, gang affiliation, or predatory, violent behavior. Many people have those same characteristics, but their records may not reflect disruptive behavior.

The ADX has much higher staff levels to oversee the population. People serve their time inside their cells. Anytime they leave their cells, staff members lock them in leg irons, and handcuffs fastened to chains around their waist. The ADX is the most secure prison in the nation, holding people convicted of terrorism offenses, violent gang leaders, and people that authorities determined are a threat to staff or others in the community.

The Special Management Unit, the SMU, has intense security, too. But it’s not quite as restrictive as the ADX. Other types of non-standard institutions include witness-protection programs. 

When administrators transferred me to camp, I had more than 17 years of prison behind me. The administrators sent me to the camp in Florence, Colorado. While there, the counselor assigned me to work in the laundry of the ADX. In that role, I recognized the names of many people that served time in the ADX cells. Some of those people served time with me in other prisons. While I went to camp, they went to a much more restrictive environment. I offer this insight for people to understand the relevance of a person’s decisions in prison. Good decisions will lead to better outcomes. Bad choices will exacerbate a difficult predicament.

6. How does medical care work inside the Bureau of Prisons?

The Bureau of Prisons assigns a “care level” to every prison and person who enters the prison system. Administrators then try to match the medical needs of the person who can provide care inside the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Its institutions fall into one of our categories:

Care Level 1:These institutions hold people that the BOP considers healthy, requiring very little clinical support. The nearest big hospital in the community may take longer than an hour to reach, as they’re in rural areas. For that reason, the BOP will designate people that do not need much medical care to Care-Level-1 prisons.

Care Level 2: If administrators think the person will require clinical care every quarter, they may send the person to Care-level-2 prison. Those prisons will be within a one-hour driving time to a major hospital treatment center.

Care Level 3: People who suffer from a diagnosis like cancer or require regular clinical care will serve their sentence in a Care-level-3 prison. For example, Terminal Island is a Care-Level-3 facility in California. It has more medical personnel on staff than prisons rated as being lower care levels. Further, it’s near many trauma hospitals in the Los Angeles area.

Care Level 4: Designations to these BOP hospitals require a medical referral. The Federal Medical Centers collaborate with other health centers, including the Mayo Clinic. They include the following prisons:

  1. Federal Medical Center in Springfield, Illinois
  2. Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Missouri
  3. Federal Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky
  4. Federal Medical Center in Fort Devin, Massachusetts
  5. Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina
  6. Federal Medical Center in Carswell, Texas (for women)

If a person requires medical attention, it may make sense to populate the record with information showing why. Once a person gets to prison, doctors will perform their assessment and may make a referral to a medical center. 

7. How does the BOP classify women who are serving sentences?

The BOP classifies women in the same way that it classifies men. Generally speaking, Director Hurwitz told us that women are less volatile. They have lower levels of violence. For that reason, the BOP confines most women in low-security prisons or minimum-security camps. Like men, however, the women will go through the same custody-and-classification system. They also will go through the same risk assessments.

8. How does the BOP operate the treaty-transfer program for foreign citizens?

The BOP doesn’t operate the treaty-transfer program, but it contributes to the program. The Department of Justice handles the treaty transfer program through its Office of Enforcement. To apply for a treaty transfer, a person must meet specific criteria:

  • The person must be serving a sentence with a release date,
  • The person must be a citizen of a foreign country that has a treaty relationship with the United States,
  • The person must have at least six months remaining to serve,
  • The person cannot have a history of violence,
  • The person cannot have an outstanding financial obligation to the United States,
  • If the person is from Mexico, the person cannot be serving a sentence for an immigration offense. 

Director Hurwitz said that, as he could recall, a qualified individual could begin the process for a treaty transfer immediately upon entry into the Bureau of Prisons. The following page from the BOP website will offer more guidance to people who want to apply for a treaty transfer:

A person should always strive to understand the policies and procedures governing BOP and DOJ decisions. The more a person prepares, the better a person can be to self-advocate. Despite the policies and procedures, as Director Hurwitz said, it’s a large agency, and not every person adheres to the guidelines, or they may interpret those policies differently. As Stephen Covey advised, seek first to understand, then to be understood. If the BOP denies a person’s request for a treaty transfer, rules require the person to wait two years before applying again.

9. Can people in halfway houses or home confinement work independently, or for a family-owned business?

The former Director Hugh Hurwitz told us that the BOP recognizes that many people work from home and work for family-owned businesses. The BOP does not have a rule prohibiting people from working in family-owned businesses. Sometimes, the halfway house may be reluctant to grant requests for people to work from home or work in family-owned businesses. When that happens, a person should try to persuade the halfway house administrator to authorize a work-from-home job. If the halfway house administrator does not allow the work-from-home job or permit the person to work in a family-owned business, the former director said that the person should work through the administrative remedy process. If that process doesn’t succeed, the person can hire a lawyer for assistance—but the director said that a person should not need to hire a lawyer to resolve this challenge.

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