How will they determine which prison I go to?

Posted by Chris Morales on Fri, Sep 06, 2013 @ 09:10 AM

How will they determine which prison I go to?

Bureau of Prison (BOP) institutions is classified into one of five security levels: Minimum, Low, Medium, High and Administrative based on the level of security and staff supervision the institution is able to provide.

An institution’s level of security and staff supervision is based on the following factors:

  • Mobile Patrol
  • Internal Security
  • Towers
  • Type of Inmate Housing
  • Perimeter Barriers
  • Detection Devices
  • Inmate-to-Staff Ratio
  • Plus any special institutional mission (such as a Drug Abuse Program).

Similarly, BOP inmates are classified based on the following factors:

  • The level of security and supervision which the inmates requires
  • The inmate’s program needs such as substance abuse, educational/vocational training, individual counseling, group counseling, medical/mental health treatment

In summary, the initial assignment (designator) of an inmate to a particular institution is based primarily on two things:

  • The level of security and supervision the inmate requires
  • The level of security and staff supervision the institution is able to provide combined with the inmate’s program needs.

Some other factors that are also considered when placing an inmate in a particular institution include (but are not limited to):

  •  The inmate’s release residence
  • The level of overcrowding at an institution
  • Any security, location or program recommendation made by the sentencing court
  • Any central inmate monitoring issues
  • Any additional security measures to ensure the protection of victims, witnesses and the public in general
  • Any other fator(s) which may involve the inmate’s confinement, the protection of society and/or the safe and overly management of a BOP facility.

Security Classification

Initial designations to BOP institutions are initiated (in most cases) by staff at the Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC), Grand Prairie, Texas. There the staff will assess and enter information about the inmate into a computer database, (SENTRY). This information is received from the sentencing court, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Attorneys Office or other prosecuting authority and the U.S. Probation Office.

SENTRY then calculates a point score for that inmate which (for example, 18 points) is then matched with a commensurate security level institution.

Security Level

Custody Level




Community and Out

0-11 points

0-15 points


Out and In

12-16 points

16-30 points


Out and In

16-23 points



In and Maximum

24+ points

31+ points


All Custody Levels

All point totals

All points in total

*Female security level institutions are classified as Minimum, Low, High and Administrative.

An inmate’s security point score is not the only factor used in determining a commensurate security level for an inmate. The application PSF or MGTV (see definitions below) could effect placement at either a higher or lower level institution than the specified point total indicates. For details about points see the section in this book; What are points?

Once all necessary information has been entered into the SENTRY database, a DSCC or Medical Designation Officer, (hereafter, Designator) selects an institution for service of sentence based all the previously mentioned factors.

Re-designations (transfers) from one Bureau institution to another are considered in much the same manner using many of the same factors used at the time of initial designation. In addition, the inmate’s institutional adjustment and program performance are also carefully reviewed when re-designation is considered.

Finally, an initial custody level, (Community, In, Out, Maximum) is also assigned to the inmate that is consistent with the institution’s mission. An inmates’s custody level within any given security level institution is routinely reviewed and may change for various reasons during the period of incarceration. 

The Morales Law Firm would like to thank Mad Dogs guide to Club Fed (Instruction Manuel for Newcomers) for sharing this information with us.

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Tags: drugs, prison, security, drug abuse program, inmates