The Federal Bureau of Prisons incarcerates 153,248 federal prisoners across 37 states. FBOP inmates are housed in 127 stand-alone U.S. federal prisons, 68 satellite camps, and 12 private facilities.
In the fiscal year 2019, 76,656 criminal defendants were sentenced in federal courts for criminal justice violations. This constitutes a 10.2 percent increase in federal criminal sentencing over the fiscal year 2018. This is the single most significant percentage increase in federal criminal sentencing in the past 15 years.
Most federal inmates are housed in low-security (FCIs) (36.5%) and medium-security federal correctional institutions (31.6%). Minimum-security prisons, or BOP Federal Prison Camps (FPCs), house 15.9 percent of federal prisoners, while high-security prisons house 12.5 percent.
Table of contents
- Federal Bureau of Prisons Directory
- Federal Prisons by State
- Federal Bureau of Prisons Organization
- U.S. Federal Prison Security Levels
- Designation and Sentence Computation Center
- Inmate Demographics
- History of the Federal Bureau of Prisons
Federal Bureau of Prisons Directory
Looking for a specific Federal Bureau of Prison institution, the names of federal prisons, or its contact information? Check out our Federal Prison Directory, which profiles every federal prison by name.
For updated and comprehensive profiling of every federal prison, please see Christopher Zoukis’s Directory of Federal Prisons: The Unofficial Guide to Bureau of Prisons Institutions (Middle Street Publishing, 2020). This guide contains information about every U.S. federal prison, including interviews with inmates currently serving sentences at many federal correctional facilities.
For detailed information about life in federal facilities, pick up a copy of Christopher Zoukis’ Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2017).
Federal Prisons by State
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Puerto Rico
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Federal Bureau of Prisons Organization
The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is administratively organized in a top-down fashion. Central Office is located in Washington, DC. The office consists of the BOP Director and the General Counsel. Additionally, several executive-level offices are also housed in Central Office, including:
- Health Services
- Correctional Programs
- Information, Policy, and Public Affairs
Six geographically organized Regional Offices are under the supervision of the Central Office. Regional Offices oversee the individual institutions in their geographic area.
The federal facilities are divided into six geographic regions governed by a regional office headed by a regional director. The six regions are:
- Mid-Atlantic Region (MXR)
- North Central Region (NCR)
- Northeast Region (NER)
- South Central Region (SCR)
- Southeast Region (SER)
- Western Region (WXR)
Central Office in Washington, DC, oversees these regional offices. Each of the 127 prisons has its unique institutional makeup, policies, procedures, and general mode of operation.
Operations are generally divided between administrative and correctional/security functions at the institutional level. The Warden is the top administrator. Reporting to the Warden are various Associate Wardens, Unit Managers, Case Managers, Correctional Counselors, and other administrators. Prison staff is responsible for institutional programs and services, including treatment programs.
The Captain is in charge of all correctional and security-related matters. Beneath Captains are the lieutenants and front-line correctional officers. Click here for a complete guide to the Federal Bureau of Prison’s staffing position opportunities and the hiring process. USA.gov facilitates all employee hiring.
While a separate agency, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is under the supervision of the Attorney General’s Office.
U.S. Federal Prison Security Levels
Each Federal Bureau of Prisons facility is assigned one of five security levels. Minimum-security prisons, also known as U.S. federal prison camps, generally have limited or no perimeter fences, few security measures, and a low staff-to-inmate ratio. Low-security prisons and medium-security prisons, also known as Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs), have multiple barbed-wire fences, armed perimeter security patrols, and a higher staff-to-inmate ratio.
High-security federal prisons are known as United States Penitentiaries (USPs) and are usually surrounded by 40 to 50-foot walls, gun towers, and house violent or long-term prisoners.
Administrative security prisons have a variety of missions. Federal Medical Centers (FMCs), Federal Detention Centers (FDCs), and Federal Transfer Centers (FTCs) handle major medical issues, pretrial detention, and inmate movement, respectively. Administrative facilities may house federal prison inmates of all security levels. Contract detention facilities house many federal detainees.
The Administrative Maximum facility, also known as ADX Florence or ADMAX, is the Bureau’s “super-max” prison. This underground concrete bunker houses only the highest security-level prisoners.
Designation and Sentence Computation Center
The Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC) is the stand-alone BOP office that calculates inmate sentences and determines housing location. This office is in Grand Prairie, Texas. DSCC staff considers various factors when designating Federal Bureau of Prison inmates. Such factors include inmate-specific information (e.g., history of violence, age, sentence length, medical needs, etc.) and Bureau-specific information (e.g., population considerations, specific security issues, etc.).
As of December 17, 2020, the Bureau of Prisons housed 153,248 BOP federal inmates in its institutions. Inmate population totals are updated daily.
Low- and medium-security facilities house most federal BOP inmates:
- Low-Security Federal Correctional Institutions: 36.5 percent
- Medium-Security Federal Correctional Facilities: 31.6 percent
About 15.9 percent of inmates live in minimum-security prison camps (FPCs). United States Penitentiaries hold 12.5 percent of all federal BOP prisoners. Click here for the most up-to-date inmate population statistics.
The average age of a federal prisoner is 36. Most are male — 93.3 percent. Over 58 percent of the Bureau’s population is White (57.6%) or non-Hispanic (69.8%), and 38.6 percent is Black. Most federal inmates serve a 5- to 10-year sentence (26.9%) for a drug-related crime (46.3%).
Prison Staff Characteristics
As of December 5, 2020, the FBOP employed 37,640 staff members. Just under three-quarters of all BOP staff are male (71.5%). Most are white, non-Hispanic (62.3 percent). About 21.2 percent of all Bureau employees are black, and 12.9 percent are Hispanic.
With limited exceptions, prison guards are not law enforcement officers.
BOP-operated facilities house approximately 82 percent of the Bureau’s population. The remaining FBOP inmates live in one of the 12 facilities owned or operated by for-profit contractors, such as CoreCivic or the GEO Group, or other housing types (e.g., halfway houses, home confinement, community corrections centers, etc.).
History of the Federal Bureau of Prisons
The history of the Federal Bureau of Prisons started before the agency ever existed. The federal court system was created in 1789. State and local facilities housed federal prisoners for most of the next century. By the late 1890s, seven facilities were established to house prisoners in federal custody.
Three Prisons Act of 1891
The so-called Three Prisons Act of 1891 is credited as the official start of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The Act identified for Congress three sites for the federal government’s first penitentiaries. Congress was slow in developing these three facilities.
Six years had passed between passing the Three Prisons Act and breaking ground for the United States Penitentiary Leavenworth. The USP Leavenworth construction lasted 25 years. The prison was built by FBOP inmates residing in an adjacent old military fort.
USP Atlanta (GA) was opened in 1902, and USP McNeil Island (WA) in 1909. Constructed in 1875, USP McNeil Island was previously a territorial jail. The first federal facility for women, Federal Prison Camp Alderson, opened in 1928. The infamous Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay was opened in 1934.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Creation
Congress formally established the Federal Bureau of Prisons in 1930. The goal of the prison system was “[to] provide more progressive and humane care for Federal inmates, to professionalize the prison service, and to ensure consistent and centralized administration of the 11 federal prisons in operation at the time.”
By the end of 1930, the federal prison system operated fourteen institutions that housed over 13,000 federal prisoners. Ten years later, the Federal Bureau of Prisons had expanded to twenty-four institutions that housed over 24,360 federal inmates. “Except for a few fluctuations, the number of inmates did not change significantly between 1940 and 1980 (when the population was 24,252), explains the Bureau.
Although the number of federal inmates did not increase, the number of institutions nearly doubled from 24 to 44 by 1980. From 1980 to 1989, the Federal Bureau of Prisons experienced significant inmate population growth, from 24,000 to approximately 58,000 federal prisoners.
Between 1987 and 1992 alone, the Bureau opened twenty new U.S. federal prisons. Through the 1990s, the inmate population doubled again, reaching 136,000 by the end of 1999. Much of this growth was “[due to] efforts to combat illegal drugs, weapons, and immigration [violations].” Please note that these are only for violations of federal laws.
From the 1990s to May 2016, the Bureau of Prisons’ population grew to 195,947 men and women. In 2012, the Bureau had an operating budget of approximately $6.82 billion, second only to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s $8.1 billion within the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Bureau has continued to add bed space by building new facilities and revamping old ones at significant expense. Regardless, its prisons now hover at about 109.9 percent of design capacity. This overcrowding percentage is a reduction from the 1992 peak of 165 percent over design capacity.
A recent Government Accountability Office report — Bureau of Prisons: Growing Inmate Crowding Negatively Affects Inmates, Staff, and Infrastructure — deemed the federal prison system’s overcrowding a hazard to staff, inmates, and the public. Many state prison systems experience the same overcrowding. The house is becoming more expensive, crowded, and crumbling, yet solution implementation is fleeting.
Published Feb 22, 2018 by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA | Last Updated by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA on May 24, 2022 at 11:41 am