The United States’ correctional agencies determine where law offenders will serve their sentences. The Department of Corrections handles this responsibility at the state level. Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) takes on this role at the federal level.
Authorities use a classification system for deciding what custody level to assign an offender and what facility to detain them.
The fifth level of the BOP’s five-level classification for prisons is the administrative level.
Inmates with the highest security risk, or those with dangerous and violent offenses and criminal histories, are in the custody of these administrative prisons.
What are America’s level 5 prisons like? How does the U.S. justice system determine the facility where a prisoner should be assigned?
This article will discuss the types of law offenders that go to level 5 prisons. It also gives an overview of the classification and scoring system for determining the law offenders’ prison placement.
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What Are the Level 5 Prisons in the U.S.?
Level 5 or administrative security prisons have unique missions, including housing offenders with chronic and severe health conditions. However, authorities can also send escape-prone criminals and high-risk inmates to this correctional facility.
For example, the United States Penitentiary Florence in Colorado is an administrative-maximum security facility (ADMAX or ADX).
A 2018 District of Columbia Corrections Information Council report describes ADX units as “the most secure prison in the BOP.”
Nearly all prisoners in these facilities are in solitary confinement for most of the day and prison staff wear slash-resistant vests and carry lethal weapons.
While the ADX is an all-male facility, the Federal Medical Center Carswell Administrative Unit in Texas holds female inmates with aggressive or jailbreak-prone behavior.
Federal Inmate Criteria for Being Held at the Administrative Level
Administrative security prisons allow inmates into their custody if:
- The prisoners are classified as prone to escape or dangerous
- The inmates are undergoing trial
- The detainees need medical attention or special programming
- The prisoners are in transit from one facility to another
Administrative Security Prisons
Administrative security prisons come in the following forms:
Metropolitan Correctional Centers (MCCs)
MCCs are high-rise facilities in large urban areas, typically beside federal courts and other government buildings.
These centers house defendants with:
- Short sentences and do not expect to transfer to a federal prison
- Court proceedings and are awaiting sentencing
- Pending appeals on their sentence and need to attend court hearings
Federal Detention Centers (FDCs) and Metropolitan Detention Centers (MDCs)
Like MCCs, FDCs and MDCs hold federal law offenders who are about to face trial and are still awaiting their convictions.
Federal Medical Centers (FMCs)
Federal medical centers employ licensed healthcare professionals who attend to prisoners from all security levels that need treatment for their chronic or severe health conditions.
Medical Center for Federal Prisoners (MCFP)
MCFP Springfield in Missouri is a male-only correctional institution with a 20-bed psychiatric hospital. The center has one and two-person cells and open dormitories.
Prisoners can receive counseling and mental health services from a psychologist or join self-image and other voluntary groups.
Drug abuse programs, cognitive behavioral therapy, and a mix of school-work programs are also available in this facility.
Federal Transfer Center (FTC)
Inmates in this facility live in cells found in one or two-level housing units.
Administrative-Maximum Security Penitentiary
ADX Florence is an administrative-maximum security penitentiary also known as America’s supermax prison.
Another high-security prison, the United States Penitentiary Marion, was the first to acquire the title of supermax prison in 1983 after the murder of two officers and one inmate within six days. This incident led to daily, 23-hour lockdowns for prisoners at the facility.
However, the prison became a medium-security institution in 2007.
Prisoners Classification According to Degree of Security
The Department of Corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons use a classification system to decide on the custody level of a prisoner.
The system uses a scoring method to determine the security level of the person who is up for incarceration.
Initial Prison Designation
The Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC) calculates the initial custody and classification score. This process can take three working days.
Redesignation | Recalculating Security Point Scores
The inmates’ security points change with time. Once DSCC finishes their computation and the offenders go to their assigned correctional institution, the inmates’ case manager can adjust the score.
Case managers focus on the offenders’ needs and ability to remain crime- and substance-free. These officers also monitor the prisoner’s progress and update other officers involved in rehabilitation and reentry to the community.
These officers typically recalculate during annual reviews. However, the first review occurs less than a year after offenders start their sentences based on their initial score.
Prison Security Points
The process of determining the inmates’ assigned supervision level—or the kind of facility where they will be assigned—is called custody classification.
The BOP uses a security point matrix to determine an offender’s score. This matrix consists of static factors like the inmates’ criminal history and custody points or their conduct while in jail or prison.
Base Point Scoring (i.e., Case Factors)
The offenders’ custody classification depends on their security point total. The lower their base points, the lower their assigned correctional institution’s security level.
The base point factors include the following details about the offender:
Type of Detainer
Detainers refer to the prisoners’ pending or outstanding charges. The BOP uses the offense severity scale for scoring the offender for this factor.
The score can range from one to seven, depending on the harshness of the behavior associated with those charges.
Current Offense Severity
Authorities use the same offense severity scale for scoring offenders for their current offenses.
Bureau officials consider an inmate’s pre-sentence report besides their conviction in determining the score.
Criminal History Score
The offender’s score for this factor depends on their criminal history point total found on their pre-sentence report.
Authorities use the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines to determine the score for the report.
Escape and Escape Attempt History
Officials classify prison escapes into two: minor escapes happen when offenders flee from lower security correctional facilities.
Meanwhile, serious escapes occur in higher security prisons, regardless of whether the inmate acted with violence or not.
History of Violence
The score for this factor ranges from zero to seven, depending on whether the violent act was minor or serious.
Voluntary Surrender Status
This factor is the only item in the scoring system with a negative value. Officers can subtract three points from the base score if documents show the inmate voluntarily surrendered.
In a voluntary surrender, no law enforcement officer had to escort an inmate to their detention facility or the U.S. Marshalls Office.
The points system for this factor shows declining values as an offender’s age goes higher.
Offenders working on a high school or GED diploma get one point, while two points go to inmates without such a diploma. Diploma holders get a zero on this item.
Drug or Alcohol Abuse
Offenders can get one point for committing a drug or alcohol-related offense within the past five years.
Self-reported drug and alcohol abuse also counts for one point. However, authorities place a zero score if the case occurred more than five years ago.
Custody Points Scoring (i.e., In-Prison Factors)
Offenders must score low in the base point scoring system so that authorities can consider them low-security risk inmates.
However, the opposite is true for the custody points scoring.
Prisoners need to score as high as possible to fall under a more favorable custodial classification. The items under this scoring category are:
- Percentage of time served: The staff divides the number of months the inmate has completed by the number of months remaining in their sentence to get this percentage.
- Program participation: Inmates get a poor, average, or good score depending on their initiative in attending psychiatric, educational, and vocational programs.
- Living skills: These skills refer to the inmate’s attitude, demeanor, nature of interaction with facility staff and other prisoners, and personal accountability.
- Type and number of most serious incident reports: Disciplinary infractions or violations of facility rules can get a score of up to five points, depending on the severity of the incident.
The more severe the incident, the lower the score. Inmates with no incident reports get five points.
- Frequency of incident reports: Offenders can get up to three points, depending on how many incident reports they incurred in the past year.
Inmates with no incident reports receive three points. A zero score goes to prisoners with over six incidents.
- Family and community ties: Inmates showing signs of maintaining and building ties with family members and the community can get as high as four points. The score is only three points if inmates show no or minimal engagement.
Final Prison Security Level Determination
After officials calculate the base and custody points, they apply a variance score on the total base points depending on the inmate’s gender.
Based on BOP’s grid, variance scores for male federal prisoners range from +8 to -5. Meanwhile, the variance ranges from +15 to -16 for female prisoners.
The variance is the score in the box where the inmate’s base score on the y-axis intersects with their custody score on the x-axis.
The officer adds or subtracts the custody variance, depending on whether it is a positive or negative number, from the offender’s base score to get their total security score.
Federal Prison Security Levels Points Tables
After getting the inmate’s total security score, the BOP refers to the security level table to determine the prisoner’s final security level.
Male and female inmates have their respective tables.
Male Inmate Prison Security Level Table
Below is the security level designation for male offenders:
- Minimum security: 0 to 11 points
- Low-security: 12 to 15 points
- Medium-security: 16-23 points
- High security: 24-plus points
- Administrative security: all point totals
Female Inmate Prison Security Level Table
Below is the security level designation for female offenders:
- Minimum security: 0 to 15 points
- Low-security: 16 to 30 points
- High-security: 31-plus points
- Administrative security: all point totals
Overriding Prison Security Level Calculations
Two other factors can affect an offender’s prison designation. Public safety factors and management variables can override the original prison security level placement.
Public Safety Factors (PSFs)
The BOP has 11 public safety factors (PSFs). Each PSF falls under a specific security level assignment.
Low-security: Deportable alien (not a U.S. citizen or naturalized U.S. citizen), juvenile violence, greatest severity offense, sex offender, serious telephone abuse, a threat to government officials, and less than 10 years remaining on sentence
Medium-security: Serious escape, less than 20 years remaining on sentence
High-security: Association with a disruptive group, prison disturbance, less than 30 years on sentence (including those facing death penalty and non-parolable life sentence)
Serious escape incidents among female inmates result in a high-security prison designation.
Management Variables (MGTVs)
Classification officers also look into 11 management variables:
- Judicial recommendation: The BOP can consider a program or institutional placement recommended by the judge.
- Release residence: Authorities can assign an inmate closer to home when they are within 36 months of their release.
- Population management: The bureau may assign an offender to a different institution if the original facility is deemed too overcrowded or has severe security concerns.
- Central inmate monitoring assignment: Some inmates need additional supervision, for instance, if they may pose a security threat to government officials.
Officers have to assign offenders to higher security facilities in such cases.
- Medical or psychiatric: Authorities will consider sending inmates to a federal medical facility if they have health issues, especially if the prisoner requires medical or surgical treatment.
- Program participation: When inmates have to undergo a particular program for their rehabilitation, officers may decide to place them in a facility offering that program.
- Work cadre: Classification officials may assign prisoners to facilities with work programs if their current prison does not offer such programs.
- PSF waived: When the DSCC waives the inmates’ public safety factors, the prisoner’s security level can go one level lower than their total security score.
- Long-term detainee: Prison staff handles long-term detainees differently than regular federal inmates, particularly those from overseas.
Officers coordinate directly with the BOP’s Detention Services branch for transfer plans.
- Greater and lesser security: Officials consider an inmate’s risk to security depending on their detainer or pending charges and escape attempts.
Applying this variable results in transferring a prisoner to another facility with one security level higher or lower than their current placement.
Quality of Life in Different Federal Prisons
The freedom and opportunities an inmate can experience during incarceration can differ from one prison to another.
However, in general, lower-level security facilities offer prisoners a higher quality of life. Inmates in these facilities reside in non-solitary housing units, join various activities, and accept visitors.
An Introduction to Different Prison Security Levels
As mentioned earlier, U.S. prisons—particularly federal correctional institutions—come under a five-level security classification.
The minimum, low, medium, high, and administrative security levels represent the main types of prisons under the BOP’s supervision.
Here are their different functions and characteristics:
Minimum Security Prisons
Minimum security facilities or federal prison camps (FPCs) have the lowest level of security among all federal prisons.
Inmates have 10 or fewer years remaining on their sentences, so they are busy with work and other pre-release programs.
Prisoners live in dorm-like units, and the staff-to-inmate ratio is low compared to low-security facilities.
Low-security federal correctional institutions (FCIs) also hold prisoners in dorm-type housing. Inmates are work-focused, although they have 19 or fewer years left on their sentences.
However, unlike minimum security prisons, low-security FCIs include offenders with violent criminal records. Hence, the staff size is more significant than in FPCs. Double fencing can also surround the actual prison.
Medium-security prisons have cell-type housing for inmates with 30 years or more remaining on their sentences.
The staff-to-inmate ratio is higher at these facilities than in lower-security prisons. Double fencing with electronic detection systems typically surrounds the perimeters.
High-security prisons (United States penitentiaries or USPs) have the highest level of security. These facilities also have the highest staff-to-prisoner ratio as their inmate populations include the most dangerous or violent offenders.
The BOP confines prisoners in single-occupant cells. These facilities can often lock down due to violence and group disturbances.
Some states like Connecticut and Washington have level 4 facilities for high-security criminals.
Administrative-level prisons can serve as pre-trial holding hubs.
These facilities also serve as hospital-type institutions for inmates who are undergoing treatment programs, particularly for chronic diseases, and detention centers for highly dangerous criminals.
Several facilities of varying security levels make up federal correctional complexes.
Nearby prisons can also share their staff and other resources.
Local or state governments have other correctional facilities for detaining specific offenders. They include the following:
Places like Virginia state and Washington’s Whatcom County have work centers for minimum security and program offenders. Inmates at these facilities do not have murder convictions or escape incident reports in the past 15 years.
Some states have field units that hold offenders who are convicted of less dangerous local crimes. For instance, such facilities in Virginia do not include individuals who committed murder, sex offenses, kidnapping, or abduction.
States like Massachusetts have pre-release facilities where inmates nearly finished with their sentences join educational and work programs with minimal supervision.
Medical and Mental Health Care Levels
Medical care facilities are classified into four levels.
Authorities send the most severely impaired inmates, including those requiring daily nursing care, to level 4 facilities.
Mental health care levels also have four levels. Like medical care facilities, level 4 mental care facilities accommodate prisoners who cannot function normally in correctional facilities due to their acute mental impairment.
Prisons vs. Jails
Law enforcement at the county or city levels operates jails while the state or federal government-run prisons. Prisons are either run by the state or national government.
Jail terms usually last for a year or less, while prison terms extend over a year.
State prisons hold law offenders who violate state laws. State offenders underwent court proceedings in city or county courts and investigations by local law enforcement officials.
Examples of state crimes include traffic violations, theft, murder, rape, and contract breaches.
Law offenders convicted of breaking federal laws go to federal prisons. Federal violations consist of the following:
- Crimes on government property
- Crimes defrauding the federal government
- Crimes committed across state lines
- Immigration and customs violations
1. Department of Correction
3. Inmate Security Classification
4. Custody Classification and Levels
5. Collaborative Comprehensive Case Plans
6. Deschutes County Adult Jail Inmate Classification