Federal Prison | Federal Bureau of Prisons

The Federal Bureau of Prisons incarcerates 153,248 federal prisoners across 37 states. These inmates are held in 127 stand-alone federal prisons, 68 satellite prison camps, and 12 private prisons.

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 prisons (36.5%) and medium-security federal prisons (31.6%). Minimum-security prisons, or Federal Prison Camps, house 15.9 percent of federal prisoners, while high-security prisons house 12.5 percent.

Federal Prisons Directory

Looking for a specific federal prison or its contact information? Check out our Federal Prison Directory.

You can also quickly find contact information in our BOP Contact Directory and Halfway House Contact Directory.

Buy a copy of Christopher Zoukis’s Directory of Federal Prisons: The Unofficial Guide to Bureau of Prisons Institutions (Middle Street Publishing, 2020) for an updated and more comprehensive profiling of every federal prison, including other resources. This guide contains extensive information about every federal prison, including interviews with inmates currently serving time at many prisons. And 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

Private Prisons

Residential Rentry Management Locations

Federal Prison Organization

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is administratively organized in a top-down fashion. The Central Office, located in Washington, D.C., consists of the Director, the General Counsel, and the executive-level offices of the Health Services, Correctional Programs and Information, Policy and Public Affairs divisions. 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 amongst six geographic regions governed by a regional office headed by a regional director. The six regions include the Mid-Atlantic Region (MXR), North Central Region (NCR), Northeast Region (NER), South Central Region (SCR), Southeast Region (SER), and Western Region (WXR). The Federal Bureau of Prison’s 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 at the institutional level between administrative functions and correctional/security functions. The Warden is the top administrator. Reporting to the Warden are various Associate Wardens, Unit Managers, Case Managers, Correctional Counselors, and other administrators.

The Captain is in charge of all correctional and security-related matters. Beneath the Captain is the lieutenants and front-line correctional officers. Click here for a complete guide to federal prison staffing position opportunities and the hiring process. Please note that all hiring is conducted through USA.gov.

Federal Prison Security Levels

Each FBOP facility is assigned one of five security levels. Minimum-security prisons, also known as federal prison camps, generally have no 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 inmates of all security levels. Many federal detainees are housed in contract detention facilities.

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 tasked with calculating an inmate’s sentence and determining housing location. Staff at the DSCC, located in Grand Prairie, Texas, consider various factors when designating 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.).

Inmate Demographics

As of December 17, 2020, the Bureau of Prisons housed 153,248 federal inmates in its institutions. Inmate population totals are updated daily.

Most inmates are held in either low- or medium-security FCIs (36.5 percent in low-security FCIs and 31.6 percent in medium-security FCIs). About 15.9 percent of all inmates live in minimum-security camps. United States Penitentiaries hold 12.5 percent of all federal 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%).

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 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 house, home confinement, 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. For most of the next century, local and state facilities housed federal prisoners. By the late 1890s, seven prisons were established to house federal prisoners.

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. This 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. It took twenty-five years for USP Leavenworth to be constructed. The prison was built by inmates who lived in an adjacent old military fort.

Following the construction of USP Leavenworth, USP Atlanta (GA) was opened in 1902, and USP McNeil Island (WA) was opened in 1909. Constructed in 1875, USP McNeil Island was previously a territorial jail. The first federal prison for women, Federal Prison Camp Alderson, opened in 1928. The infamous Alcatraz prison in San Francisco Bay was opened in 1934.

The Agency’s Creation

Congress formally established the Federal Bureau of Prisons was in 1930. According to the BOP, 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. According to the Bureau, “[e]xcept for a few fluctuations, the number of inmates did not change significantly between 1940 and 1980 (when the population was 24,252).”

Exponential Growth

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 prison system experienced significant inmate population growth, from 24,000 to approximately 58,000 federal prisoners.

Between 1987 and 1992 alone, the Bureau opened twenty new 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].” It should be highlighted 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. During 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 Department of Justice. While the Bureau has continued to add bed- pace by building new facilities and revamping old ones at significant expense, its prisons now hover at about 109.9 percent of designed capacity. This is a drop from the 1992 peak of 165 percent over design capacity.

This overcrowding was deemed a hazard to staff, inmates, and the public in the recent Government Accountability Office report Bureau of Prisons: Growing Inmate Crowding Negatively Affects Inmates, Staff, and Infrastructure. The same overcrowding is experienced by many, if not all, state prisons. The house is becoming more expensive, crowded, and crumbling, yet no solutions or plans are currently being implemented to find a path out of the overburdened reality.