“WHY CAN’T YOU GET CLOSE TO HOME????????????”
I’d like to discuss one of the most important things that affect the a federal prisoner, his family, and his friends: At which prison(s) will he do his time? Most prisoner want to be as close to home as possible, in the lowest – security prison as possible. There are other factors to, that prisoner consider when thinking about where they would like to do their time. Some prisons have certain features other do not. For example, a prisoner who enjoy weightlifting might be quite a bit happier at one of the federal prisons that has weights(most do not), while a prisoner who enjoys running an hour or two a day may prefer one that has a long paved running track that is in good condition, over one that has a short gravel track.
There are many federal prisons, scattered all over the country. Each prison has its own rated security level. at many locations there are two, three, or even more federal prison adjacent to each other, each with its own security level. when a federal prisoner is sentenced, his lawyer can ask the judge at sentencing to recommend a specific prison. however, it is important to keep in mind the the judges recommendation is exactly that: just a recommendation. under the law, the recommendation has no binding effect on the BOP. see 118 U.S.C section 3621(b).
There are five security levels in the BOP. Minimum, Low , Medium, High and Administrative. There is a system for determining what security level a prisoner will fall under. In general, a point system is used. Minimum security prisoner normally have 0-11 points, low 12-15, medium 16-23, and high 24+. administrative is for special cases. there are several exceptions to the point system that override the amount of points an inmate has. for example, if a prisoner has 3 points, but has more than 10 years left on his sentence, he will often be housed at a minimum security facility, and will most likely be housed at a low security facility, because in addition to the points requirement, inmates at minimum security facilities must have less than 10 years remaining on their sentence. there are also other exceptions. For example, most inmates who have pending charges other then the one they are serving time for will not be housed at a minimum security prison, even if they have 0-11 points.
Many lawyers are not familiar with the details of BOP policy. A lawyer who is unfamiliar with the intricacies of the BOP may ask the judge to recommend a prison that is close to his clients home, not knowing that is does not match his clients security level. In that case, although the judge will probably make the recommendation(since most judges are ignorant regarding many of details of how the BOP actually works), the client will not be sent to that prison.
lets say a prisoner starts his sentence at a medium-security prison, far from home. security levels are usually re-calculated every year. however, they are also re-calculated when an inmate receives an incident report, which increases his points. there are several ways that this prisoner can be transferred some where else. If his points go up enough, because of one or more incident reports, he will be sent to a high security prison. if they drop lower because he stay out of trouble, he can be sent to a low security prison. it may be he already has low points, and is only there because he has more then 20 years left on his very long sentence, since inmates at low security must have less than 20 years left on their sentence. in that case, once he has done enough time to where has less than 20 years left, he can go to a low security prison.
There is another type of transfer, call a “nearer release transfer.” these are supposed to be used when an inmate is far from home, and wishes to transfer to a prison closer to home. these transfers do no necessarily have to be a lower or higher security prison. For example, in theory the prisoner at one minimum security prison can transfer to another minimum security prison that is closer to the address he plans on being released to. but what does “far from home” mean to the BOP? the BOP defines “close to home” as anywhere within 500 miles, in a straight line distance on a map. in other word, even if it would take 600 miles of driving to get from a prisoners home to the prison, as long as someone could draw a straight line from the home to the prison that is less than 500 miles long, the BOP counts this as “close to home,” and will not even consider a nearer release transfer.
Even if, under the BOP’s definition, the prisoner is “far” from home, and even if there are many federal prison matching his custody level that are closer to his home, there are still more loopholes that the bop uses. one is the “clear conduct” loophole. even if a prisoner is very far from home, and otherwise qualifies, the bop will grant a nearer release transfer unless he has 18 consecutive months of “clear conduct” at the institution he is in. in other words, he cannot have any incident reports for 18 months before the transfer, no matter how minor. lets use an example: John is about 1000 miles from home, housed at a minimum security institution in Kentucky. his wife, who lives in their house in Florida, can only visit twice a year with their two young children, because finances are tight. after being at the prison for 1 year, John asks his case manager if he can transfer to a minimum security prison in Pensacola, Florida, which is 40 miles from his house. he wants to be closer to his family, and see them more often. his case manager informs him that he has to have 18 months of clear conduct first. five months later, John oversleeps, and, to avoid getting to work late, does not make his bed. An officer writes him an incident report for failing to make his bed. Although his only punishment is commissary restriction for 30 days (he is not allowed to buy food from the commissary for a month, only hygiene products and medicine), John will not be eligible for a nearer release transfer for another 18 months.
even if john does not receive any incident reports for 18 months, he can still be denied a nearer release transfer. how? simple. the case manager can apply for a “management variable” from the bops designation and sentence computation center (DSCC) in grand prairie, Texas. these applications are almost always approved. they can last a few months, or even a year or two. there are many reason they can be placed on an inmate, and not necessarily because he did anything wrong.
lets take another example: Mike is about 250 miles from home, at a low security prison. he knows that in a few months his points will drop, and he will be eligible to go to a minimum security prison camp. the one closet to his home is a bit closer, about 200 miles from home, and he wants to go there. the problem is this: mike knows that even if he ask to go there, the DSCC, which decides where each prison will be sent, might send him somewhere else, even if that somewhere is much further away from home. when times comes, Mike goes ahead applies for the transfer. he ask for the minimum security prison camp that is 200 miles from home. but, sure enough, three weeks later his case manager informs him that he is going to a different prison camp, which is 400 miles away from home. mike points out to his case manager that his family will have to drive many more hours to visit him., and that he had asked for the minimum security prison closet to his home. he asks that he be sent there, as he had asked before. his case manager say it was the DSCC’s decision, and that there’s nothing that can be done, since there is no mechanism in policy for a prisoner to get the DSCC to change what prison they have already decided to send him to. Now, mike might decide that he would rather stay at the low security prison than go to a minimum security prison that is even further away from home. so he might purposely get in trouble, for example by buying a contraband cigarette and smoking it in front of a guard. this way, he will receive some punishment for the cigarette, but his transfer to the minimum security prison will be cancelled, and he will be able to stay where he is for a while, closer to home.
These scenarios i have given as examples are by no means rare. In fact, they are very common. Situations like this happen to thousands of federal prisoners. When the BOP is questioned about why so many inmates are placed at prison far from home when there are prison closer to their homes that match their security levels, and why they are not allowed to transfer closer to home once they are within 500 air miles, they usually rely on a handful of excuses. In the past , one that was commonly used was insufficient bed space at certain prison. However, the population of the BOP has dropped in recent years. Also, it is now very easy to find out what the current population of each federal prison in the country is, how many beds each prison has, and approximately how many empty beds are available at each prison. There are many inmates who have requested a transfer to a prison closer to home that has hundreds of beds are available, and have been sent somewhere else anyway. Another common excuse is that some specific inmates can obviously not be housed with other specific inmates. For example, lets say bob and tom are both from Nashville Tennessee, and are classified as minimum security inmates. they both want to go to Millington, which is in Tennessee. it is the closest minimum security federal prison to Nashville. but bob testified against tom, so both of them cannot go there. One of them will have to be further from home. This is a valid point, but does not apply to many of the prisoners who have had this problem.
One of the ironies of the BOP’s policies is that prisoner who have worked their way down to minimum security prison, by doing everything that is demanded of them, such as staying out of trouble, attending education programs, working, etc., and have ended up far from home, but less than 500 air miles away , have no way of getting closer to home. They are already at the lowest security level in the BOP, so generally the only way they can get moved is by getting in enough trouble to be sent to a high security prison. Here’s another real life example: Dan is from Pennsylvania. He works his way down from a low security prison that is about 200 miles from home, to a minimum security prison. He ask to be sent to Schuylkill, which is only a one hour drive from his home. Instead, he is sent to the minimum security prison in Manchester, Ky. Manchester is 490 miles from Dan’s home. He has seven years left on his sentence. Even though Schuylkill has plenty of empty beds, the only way Dan can leave Manchester before his finishes his sentence would be to purposely get in trouble and get sent to a higher security prison, which might not be closer to home than Manchester is. He doesn’t want to get in trouble. So, because he behaved, he is now stuck 490 miles from home for the next seven years.
The BOP’s policies regarding this subject are found in the BOP program statement 5100.08. However, even if a prisoner appears to be eligible for a transfer under the program statement, the policy gives a great deal of discretion to staff at the institutional level. For example, there are many cases where a prisoner has all the requirements necessary to be transferred to a lower security prison, but his case manager decides he or she is going to keep him where he is for another year or more. All he or she has to do is ask the DSCC to apply a “greater security management variable,” and it will almost always be approved. Pretty much any excuse will work, even if the prisoner has never received an incident report. The prisoner can appeal to the warden, but wardens very rarely overrule their staff.
So in closing, if someone you love i in federal prison, and what they are telling you regarding a transfer doesn’t make much sense to you, they are probably telling you the truth. The systems is not designed or intended to put prisoners as close to home as possible. It is designed to meet the needs of the BOP. If they want more beds filled at a prison in the middle of nowhere, so that they can keep it open, they are going to fill those beds. It doesn’t matter to them if the people filling those beds live hundreds of miles away. If you decide to read Program Statement 5100.08 for yourself, you may notice that, at the very beginning, the BOP outlines its goals regarding this subject. Keeping prisoners close to home is not among them.