Prisonology interviews Jack Donson, Bureau of Prisons Case Manager - Retired, to discuss how a defendant is designated to a particular federal prison.
The Bureau of Prisons operates a facility in Grand Prairie, TX known as the Designation and Sentence Computation Center. There, groups of teams receive information generated in preparation for, and at, the sentencing hearing. That information is sent from the Clerk of the Court to the U.S. Marshals Service who then request a prison designation for the defendant. This section presents how the BOP uses this information to determine the federal prison designation.
Make sure the designation meets your and your family’s needs (Visitation hours, Programming (RDAP), Proximity To Family, Accommodations in area).
If you have a co-defendant or you have cooperated with the government against someone else, let your lawyer know if you have an issue of serving your sentence with that person. Check with your attorney to determine if there were any separation orders entered by the government during the prosecution.
Consider items that may prevent you from getting your desired designation. You are given the tools within this Topic to determine your Security Level.
Your Presentence Report must contain proof of your U.S. citizenship or Certificate of Naturalization, in order to avoid being sent to a prison that is of a higher classification. If you are not a U.S. Citizen, you will not be eligible for a prison camp.
You can call your Pretrial Services Officer or the USMS approximately 2-3 weeks after sentencing to get your verbal designation.
If your PSR is over 6 months old, the BOP is supposed to request an updated PSR. If they do not and there is something significant that has changed (e.g. family, health, etc.) have your attorney bring this to the attention of the U.S. Probation Officer who wrote your report.
Judicial recommendations for specific locations are NOT guaranteed due to population management and new facilities coming into operation. In the event of an unfavorable designation, there is a possibility, though slight, to change that decision. You have to have your lawyer contact DSCC directly or have her contact Prisonology for a consultation.
If you have a prison term that is likely to be relatively short, under 18 months, some designation result in placement at an Administrative Facility (higher security) even for white-collar or non-violent offenses. Your attorney should ask the judge to recommend a "Non-Administrative Facility" during the sentencing to avoid a less desirable designation.
Once you know the designation, take some time to schedule a ride to visit the area to look at accommodations in the area and just to check it out so that you know how long it will take to get there on your surrender day.
Go to BOP website and pull all relevant information on the prison (A&O Handbook, Visitation, Commissary List).
L.S. (Inmate) Prison Designation
"A week or so ago I received my long-awaited “call-up” letter from the Bureau of Prisons telling me when and where to report. I considered it good news not only because I got a letter in the first place – I’ve heard many stories of felons who never received a letter at all and were then punished for failing to report – but that they granted my request for XXXX [camp name withheld] Prison Camp.
Although the Bureau’s policy is to try to place prisoners within 500 miles of their release residence, in practice this may, for various reasons, not occur. In the weeks leading up to my receipt of the letter, I had many nightmares of the sort I discussed about being placed in South Dakota or the East Coast, places where I would have no hope of regular visits from my children. So when I saw XXXX on my letter, I gave a sigh of relief, put my nightmares out of mind, and continued with my countdown to prison.
Imagine my shock and surprise when noticed the abbreviation ‘USP’ for my designation. That stands for United States Penitentiary. I had never been in trouble in my life and received a sentence of 5 years.
I looked again at the letter. Here’s what it said: “You have been designated to XXXX USP SCP and are notified to surrender to the Bureau of Prison Facility.” I already knew, from my lawyer, what “USP” stands for. What the hell was “SCP”?
Thus began a frantic search of the internet for “SCP”, “USP”, and various combinations thereof. First I researched the Bureau’s designation procedures, a terribly bureaucratic and convoluted process for placing prisoners.
Next, I looked at the Bureau of Prisons site for XXXX. There I found mention of USP, which did, in fact, stand for “United States Penitentiary” but nothing about SCP. I broadened my search. There were surprisingly few results. I did, however, find numerous discussions on various prison chat sites regarding this very same quandary: what the hell does SCP mean? I was clearly not the first felon to confront with dismay this war of the acronyms.
Finally, after about an hour of searching, I found a discussion about another camp the Bureau refers to as SCP. While inconclusive, the discussion suggested that “SCP” stands for “satellite prison camp.” Why they abbreviate it as “SCP” and not “SPC” I still do not know. I gave a shaky sigh of relief.
At this point, still uncertain, I decided to contact a guy who I had told me about his own prison experience. He looked at a copy of the letter and reassured me. “You’ll report to the penitentiary,” he told me, “but should then transfer immediately to the camp.” He confirmed that “SCP” does, in fact, stand for satellite prison camp. “Don’t worry; you’re definitely going to a camp.”
Thankfully, there was a happy ending to this story to the extent that going to prison can, in fact, have a happy ending. Maybe I overreacted but I do feel extraordinarily fortunate to be going to a camp and not a “real” prison. Medium-security penitentiaries are full of bars and cells and violent felons. I have heard plenty of stories that didn’t have such a happy ending, stories of non-violent felons sentenced to high security prisons or prisons thousands of miles from home at the random will of some bureaucrat. There are, in fact, many things you can do to ensure the placement you want. While there are no guarantees, proper preparation is key because once the Bureau makes its designation there is virtually no recourse. The Bureau does not accept protests of its decisions; you are expected to go to wherever the letter orders you to go.
The moral of this story, I suppose, is that it is a great help to have someone to turn to, someone who knows the system and can decipher its incomprehensible acronyms and bureaucratic nonsense. I just wish I’d turned to a source first instead of spending frantic hours searching the internet. This is one of those examples that perfectly highlights what I’ve learned through personal experience: that criminal lawyers, even the very best, know far too little about the prison system. After all, their job is to shepherd you through court. What happens to you after you are sentenced is a whole new ballgame."