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 Inmate Security Designation and Custody Classification 

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Michael Santos

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Our team at Prison Professors has thousands of stories that reveal why an understanding of Inmate Security Designation and Custody Classification is so crucial. We’ll start with the case of Erik.

A federal judge sentenced Erik to serve a 48-month sentence for wire fraud. Prior to being charged, Erik said that he didn’t know the meaning of wire fraud. He didn’t consider himself a criminal. Many people make bad decisions during the course of their careers. Sometimes, those bad decisions lead to criminal prosecution. Erik owned, for example, a small finance company. Some financial structuring problems led prosecutors to indict Erik. Inappropriate use of Email and the Internet led to his guilty conviction. Regardless of his self-perception of not being a criminal, a federal judge ordered Erik to surrender to a Federal Prison Camp so that he could serve a 48-month sentence.

Inmate Security Designation and Custody Classification

Had Erik understood the Inmate Security Designation and Custody Classification system, he would have behaved differently, he said. Instead, Erik made decisions when he first surrendered to federal prison. Those bad decisions really complicated his journey.

As anyone can see from our calculators that we make available at, Erik should have finished his time in federal prison early. With credit for good time, credit for completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Program, and credit for halfway house, Erik should have served about two years in prison. Then he should have transferred to a halfway house. But Erik didn’t understand the federal prison system. He made decisions inside that resulted in his serving more than his original 48-month sentence.

Erik’s decisions led authorities to prosecute Erik a second time. They charged him with having possession of contraband in prison. Although he could have returned to his family in less than two years, Erik ended up serving the entire four-year sentence. He also received a new felony conviction and an additional six-month term. Instead of serving his time in a minimum-security camp, Erik served substantial portions locked in the segregated housing unit and then in a low-security prison.

How did that happen?

Erik’s struggle came because he did not know the importance of his decisions in prison. He did not consider himself a criminal. And he thought that others wouldn’t consider him a criminal. By not understanding the prison system and motivations of the people who operate the system, Erik put himself on weaker ground.

Erik’s self-perception didn’t have any bearing on how prison staff would treat him. Staff members would consider him an “inmate.” As such, they would judge him in accordance with what the various Program Statements prescribed.

The following sequence of events occurred. Erik surrendered to prison in accordance with the judge’s order. As soon as he settled in, he wanted to use the phone. He didn’t know the rules associated with the phone system. To use the phone, Erik had to wait for staff members to set up a list of approved numbers that he could call from his account.

Erik grew frustrated because he couldn’t use the phone in a timely manner. He wanted to talk with his parents, but the phone number wasn’t approved. Not knowing the rules, Erik asked his wife to patch him through on a conference call. Staff members learned about the three-way call.

After finding him guilty of violating the phone rules, a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (DHO) sanctioned Erik with the loss of telephone privileges for six months. Erik responded by using a cell phone that he borrowed from another prisoner. Cell phones are contraband. Staff members caught him. Possession of a cell phone brought a series of new problems. Because it wasn’t only contraband, it was also new criminal conduct. As a result of his decisions:

  • Erik lost his good time.
  • He lost eligibility for RDAP and the time off that would have resulted had he completed the program successfully.
  • Prosecutors charged him with new criminal conduct.
  • He underwent more expenses with legal fees.
  • Eric pleaded guilty to a second felony and he received a new six-month sentence that ran consecutively to his first sentence.
  • He served more than a year in the Special Housing Unit-otherwise known as the hole.
  • Eric served the remainder of his time in a low-security prison, where he faced other problems.

Erik liked to say that he wasn’t a criminal. Yet those who worked in the system did not concern themselves with Erik’s self-perception. They judged him in accordance with objective information. They followed policies and procedures, knowing that.

  1. Eric pleaded guilty to the white-collar crime of wire fraud.
  2. A judge sentenced him to serve a 48-month sentence.
  3. BOP staff members relied upon Program Statement 5100.08 for his Inmate Security Designation and Custody Classification.
  4. The objective scoring showed that he should serve his time inside of a minimum-security Federal Prison Camp.
  5. Eric’s adjustment in prison resulted in a new scoring.
  6. Eric received a Public Safety Factor (PSF) that resulted in his serving the remainder of his time in a higher-security environment.

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