Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Security Levels in the Federal Bureau of Prisons by Christopher Zoukis

Today we welcome Christopher Zoukis to I'm Shelf-ish!  Christopher is the co-author of the reference/law book, Directory of Federal Prisons.  His co-author is Dr. Randall Radic.  Christopher is here to talk about security levels in the Federal Bureau of Prisons as part of his nationwide blog tour.
Security Levels in the Federal Bureau of Prisons
By Christopher Zoukis
The paramount concern of many first-time federal prison inmates is their safety and what security level they will be housed within.  We've all seen the HBO series Oz and read of brutal violence and sexual assaults in prison.  Thus, the first question which comes to mind is, "How do I protect myself once confined in a federal prison?"  Often the answer to this question revolves around what security level the inmate is housed in.  Let's set the record straight on the topic of surviving federal prison, what security level the inmate is housed at,
and remove all of the spin that often permeates such discussions.
The Housing of Diverse Prison Populations
Prisons are populated with those who violate societal norms by breaking the law.  No one goes to prison for singing too loudly in the choir, but they all aren't monsters either.  The truth of the matter is that federal prison inmates are housed in varying security levels depending upon their propensity for escape and violence.  As such, white collar offenders generally will not be housed with murderers or rapists or terrorists.  Instead, they will be housed with other white collar offenders (e.g., embezzlers, fraudsters, tax cheaters, etc.) and with low-level, non-violent, first-time drug offenders.  Likewise, prison inmates with extensive criminal history records will be housed with fellow inmates who have been engaging in crime for a very long time, too.  As such, for many inmates, surviving federal prison is not as hard as it might sound, owing to the fact that federal prison inmates are generally housed at security levels with others of their same propensities for violence and history of criminality.
The Dividing of the Prison Populations by Security Levels
Federal prison inmates who have shorter or less serious criminal histories will be housed at lower security levels (i.e., minimum security federal prisons and low security federal prisons), while those with extensive criminal histories (and, in particular, histories of violence or escape) will be housed at the higher security levels (i.e., medium security federal prisons and high security federal prisons).  The higher the security level, the more prevalent violence will be and the more inherently dangerous the prison experience is.  While these groupings do not stop -- or even limit -- violence or dangerousness, they do ensure that the more dangerous or violence prone federal prison inmates are housed together.  Thus, white collar offenders will not be housed in prisons where the danger is extreme, even if there is a certain level of risk at federal prisons of every security level.
How Does the Federal Bureau of Prisons Differentiate Amongst the Various Security Levels?
The Federal Bureau of Prisons houses federal prison inmates in five security categories or levels, depending upon their current crime, criminal history, history of prison misconduct, and other factors.  These categories are minimum security (sometimes called "Federal Prison Camps" or "Satellite Prison Camps"), low security (called "Federal Correctional Institutions" or "FCIs"), medium security (called "Federal Correctional Institutions" or "FCIs"), high security (called "United States Penitentiaries" or "USPs"), and administrative security (which go by a number of different titles based upon the institution's mission).  The Federal Bureau of Prisons' website summarizes each security level as follows:
·         Minimum Security Federal Prisons: "Minimum-security institutions, commonly called 'federal prison camps,' are designed for offenders who do not pose a risk of violence or escape.  Minimum-security institutions have dormitory and room housing, a relatively low staff-to-inmate ratio, and limited or no perimeter fencing."  It should be noted that satellite prison camps, which usually exist to support operation of a higher security facility, are much the same.
·         Low Security Federal Prisons: "Low-security Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs) have double-fenced perimeters, mostly dormitory or cubicle housing, and strong work and program components.  The staff-to-inmate ratio in these institutions is higher than at minimum-security facilities."
·         Medium Security Federal Prisons: "Medium-security FCIs have strengthened perimeters (often double fenced with electronic detection systems), mostly cell-type housing, a wide variety of work and treatment programs, an even higher staff-to-inmate ratio than low-security FCIs, and even greater internal controls."
·         High Security Federal Prisons: "High-security institutions, also known as United States Penitentiaries (USPs), have highly-secured perimeters (featuring walls or reinforced fences), multiple- and single-occupant cell housing, the highest staff-to-inmate ratio, and close control of inmate movement."
·         Administrative Security Federal Prisons: "Administrative facilities are institutions with special missions, such as the detention of pretrial offenders; the treatment of inmates with serious or chronic medical problems; or the containment of extremely dangerous, violent, or escape-prone inmates.  They are capable of holding inmates in all security categories.  Administrative facilities include Metropolitan Correctional Centers (MCCs), Metropolitan Detention Centers (MDCs), Federal Detention Centers (FDCs), and Federal Medical Centers (FMCs), as well as the Federal Transfer Center (FTC), the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners (MCFP), and the Administrative-Maximum (ADX) U.S. Penitentiary."
Where Can I Learn More About the Various Federal Prison Security Levels?
Further reading about the various security levels used in the Federal Bureau of Prisons can be located through several reputable sources.  The most current source is  The Prison Law Blog discusses not only prison law and prisoners' rights, but also life in federal prison, including issues specific to each prison security level.  For a guide to the security level at every prison within the Federal Bureau of Prisons and every private prison which houses federal prison inmates, buy a copy of my book the Directory of Federal Prisons:'s Federal Bureau of Prisons Facility Directory.
About the Authors:

Christopher Zoukis is an impassioned advocate for prison education, a legal scholar, and a prolific writer of books, book reviews, and articles.  His articles on prison education and prison law appear frequently in Prison Legal News, and have been published in The Kansas City Star, The Sacramento Bee, Blog Critics, and Midwest Book Review, among other national, regional, and specialty publications.

Mr. Zoukis is often quoted on matters concerning prison law, criminal law, prisoners' rights, and prison education.  Recently, he was the focus of an article at concerning America's broken criminal justice system and potential solutions to the current crisis.
When not in the thick of the battle for prison reform, prison education, or prisoners' rights advocacy, Mr. Zoukis can be found blogging at,, and

Randall Radic is the Senior Editor and Chief Operating Officer of Middle Street Publishing (MSP), where he superintends and, and manages all of MSP's print and online endeavors.

After graduating from the University of Arizona with a B.A. in the classics, Dr. Radic matriculated at Agape Seminary, where he received the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology, and then Trinity Seminary where he received the degree of Doctor of Theology.

Dr. Radic is the author of several non-fiction books, including Blood In, Blood Out: The Violent Empire of the Aryan Brotherhood (Headpress, 2011), The Sound of Meat (Ephemera Bound Publishing, 2008), A Priest in Hell: True Crimes of America's Clergy (ECW Press, 2009), and Terminal Disaster: Inside the Money Machine (Sunbury Press, 2012).

Dr. Radic has appeared on National Public Radio and A&E Television discussing prison education and America's prison gangs.



  1. I think your comment on no one being in there for singing to the choir is both ignorant and condescending. I was in prison. Read about conspiracy laws. I was in prison with a woman who had 25 years for drugs who did not know what a roach was.

  2. That Directory of Federal Prisons book says a lot about the federal prison facts and those inmate in there as it shows some inmate records too about those prison and the inmates.

  3. I think this is one of the most significant information for me. And i’m glad reading your article. But should remark on some general things,

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