PRISON EDUCATION BASICS 103

By George Hook

Where a prisoner "does time" may be critical to fulfilling educational aspirations, as distinguished from satisfying his or her educational needs.  That is because aspiration is the province of the individual, whereas need is the province of the Bureau of Prisons ("BOP"), based on statute and regulation.  All BOP institutions are supposed to have the basics--General Educational Development ("GED"), English as a Second Language ("ESL")--because these are mandated for all prisoners in need of them based on federal statute and BOP regulations which are promulgated pursuant to those statutory mandates, as well as the less well defined Adult Continuing Education ("ACE"), library services, and parenting programs based on BOP regulation; but not the Full Educational Program ("FEP"), consisting of educational and occupational programs, which, even where mandated, are variable as to content with each institution. 

To which prison a prisoner goes is determined initially by the BOP; but the prisoner has some limited ability to influence that determination.  To which prison a prisoner goes thereafter is determined by request of the prisoner.  This provides more opportunity for the prisoner to influence the transfer destination, if not exactly dictate it.

Initial designations to BOP institutions are initiated, in most cases, by the Designation and Sentence Computation Center ("DSCC"), located in Grand Prairie, Texas. This initial designation is based on the DSCC's assessment of relevant information about the federal prisoner that is obtained from the sentencing court, US Marshals Service, US Attorneys' Office, or other prosecuting authority, and the US Probation Office.  Probably, the only information source that may be influenced by a prisoner is the "sentencing court," being the district court judge who presided at trial and, therefore, has the responsibility for parsing the Pre-Sentence Report ("PSR") prepared by the US Probation Office, which is subject to contemporaneous objection and commentary by the prosecuting and defending attorneys, and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.  The sentencing judge's determination about where a defendant should go is not determinative.  DSCC merely considers it a recommendation.  However, depending on its cogency level, it may approach being determinative.  In any event, having the court make a recommendation is probably infinitely more useful than not.

All of this information that the DSCC receives and deems relevant is put into a computer database (SENTRY). Based on such information, SENTRY calculates a point score for that federal prisoner which is then matched with a commensurate security level institution.  As would be expected, the security levels are Minimum, Low, Medium, and High. 

Transfers from one BOP institution to another are determined by using the same criteria as at initial designation, except that institutional adjustment and program performance are also carefully reviewed and considered.  So, such things as general good behavior and progress in whatever programs are available at the institution of initial designation are very important.

In future blogs, we will address specifically what educational and occupational programs are available at which federal institutions, as well as what educational and occupational programs are available at the various State institutions.