The United States Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) implements five different security levels to offer protection against “escape, harm to staff and other prisoners, and smuggling contraband into the prison” (Samaha, 2005, p.450). Security levels are based on several factors. Some of these factors include the type of perimeter security, external patrols, internal security features, detection devices, number of towers, type of housing, and staff-to-inmate ratio. There are five prison security levels operated by BOP: minimum security, low security, medium security, high security and administrative.
Minimum security facilities are also called Federal Prison Camps (FPCs). FPCs have reduced level of staff supervision and usually do not have or have limited perimeter security. Minimum security facilities mainly house low-risk, first-time, nonviolent inmates. These inmates are usually serving short sentences. Sometimes these facilities served as intermediate housing for prisoners who are on their way to parole. Many of minimum security facilities are placed on military bases or near larger institutions. In this way, prisoners are used as the labor force of these facilities.
Low security Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs) have double-fenced perimeter security. The level of staff supervision is higher in low security facilities as compared in minimum security institutions. The third type of security category is medium security. Medium FCIs have strengthened perimeters and more security personnel.
Medium security FCIs also have greater internal controls as compared to minimum and low security facilities. These facilities offer several work and treatment programs for offenders serving various sentences. Inmates who have shown good adjustments at higher levels or those who misbehaved at minimum security prisons may be transferred to medium facility prisons.
High or close security institutions are also called United States Penitentiaries (USPs). Inmates with histories of violence or those who pose threat to others are placed in USPs. Prisoners serving lengthy confinement such as life sentences are also housed in these facilities. USPs have highly-secured perimeters such as double fences and armed towers to avoid prisoner escape. High security institutions also have the highest level of staff-to-inmate ratio. Movements of inmates are tightly controlled because of their dangerous nature.
Administrative level is the fifth type of prison security level. Administrative facilities have special purposes. Some of these purposes include the detention of offenders waiting for trial, treatment of inmates with serious or chronic medical problems, and containment of inmates considered to be extremely violent or dangerous. Administrative institutions are able to house inmates in all types of security levels. Administrative facilities in the United States include Metropolitan Correctional Centers, Federal Detention Centers, Metropolitan Detention Centers, the Federal Transfer Center, Federal Medical Centers, the Administrative-Maximum U.S. Penitentiary and the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners.
Of all types of offenders, minimum security inmates are the easiest to go or adapt back to life outside the prison because of several reasons. First, minimum security facilities provide dormitory housing, allowing inmates to interact and communicate with each other. Also, minimum security facilities do not only offer vocational training and treatment programs, but “emphasize trust and a normal lifestyle” (Samaha, 2005, p. 456). Furthermore, these facilities also provide academic education, counseling and work-study programs. Some of these institutions even provide family visiting facilities where prisoners are allowed to stay with their families for a minimum number of days.
Samaha, J. (2005). Criminal Justice. Stamford, Connecticut: Cengage Learning