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Effectuating Prison Transfers Within the Federal Bureau of Prisons

Many federal inmates subscribe to the belief that the grass is greener on the other side. That another prison will always be better than the one in which they are currently housed. The same appears to be true of those at lower security prisons reminiscing about how great it was at a higher level security prison (which is probably a matter of bravado and not true). However, there are also other reasons why an inmate might want to be housed at a different institution, and many of them are valid. Perhaps there is a facility closer to home, or there is a vocational program that seems like an attractive option. Regardless of the reason for desiring a transfer, there are specific methods to go about seeking one. Yet, as is the case with most things within the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), generating a transfer is more of an art than a science.

The BOP's Internal Protocol

Within the BOP, there is a specific protocol for a transfer to take place. The inmate's case manager must choose to initiate a transfer. Once they do so, they must complete a transfer packet (also known as a PPG0) which must be approved by the local institution. After the local institution has approved the transfer packet, the packet is sent to the Sentence and Designation Computation Center (DSCC) in Grand Prairie, Texas. The transfer packet is then reviewed and, if properly completed, the institutional needs at the requested receiving institution are considered.

This is a critical point in the transfer process since many federal prisons are already overcrowded and many have specific local issues which must be taken into account (e.g., gangs, the inmate's needs, security level, bed space, existing inmate population characteristics, medical care level, etc.). If the requested institution has space and is a good fit for the inmate in question, the inmate will be transferred to the institution. If not, the DSCC has the option of selecting another appropriate prison, even one to which the inmate does not wish to be assigned.

Regardless of where the DSCC sends the inmate, the inmate will probably not be notified until the day of their transfer (or perhaps a few days prior, if staff is willing to inform the inmate). Once the DSCC makes a decision, the designation is final. Thus, if the inmate doesn't like the designation, there is nothing that they can do about it. This is the risk of requesting a prison transfer within the Federal Bureau of Prisons (especially in this era of rampant overcrowding).

Fact Checking: Ensuring that the Requested Institution is an Appropriate Match

Inmates are often oblivious to the fact that there is more to designation than simply requesting a transfer. Considerations such as security rating (or security level), public safety factors, separation agreements, medical care level, and distance to release destination come into play. As such, if these factors do not match up with the recommended transfer location, the location is not going to be selected.

To better protect their interests, the inmate should review their Custody Classification Form. This is the document by which the BOP scores each inmate for security level and other matters (e.g., Public Safety Factors, management variables). This document will inform the inmate if they have any Public Safety Factors, what their point totals are, and at what security level they are classified. By understanding these elements, the inmate can make a more informed prison transfer request. This document will also show how close the inmate is to receiving a reduction in security level, which could motivate the inmate to delay a transfer request pending a reduction in their security score (since they would have to be transferred when that occurs anyways).

Locating an Applicable Federal Prison: An Essential Resource

After the inmate has computed their security level and any applicable Public Safety Factors, they need to obtain a resource which lists all of the prisons within the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Personally, I find the Alan Ellis Federal Prison Guidebook (2012-2014 Edition) to be the best resource around. This guidebook lists all federal prisons and includes information about each. This information includes location, history, which judicial district it falls within, security rating, population, educational offerings, vocational/apprenticeship programs, the institution's library, psychological program offerings, inmate housing structure, and other information. This information is necessary in order to effectively influence a transfer. The book can be obtained at <a href="https://" target="_blank"></a>.

How to Influence a Transfer

Once the desired federal prison is selected (making sure that the selection is based upon the proper security rating and is within 500 miles of the inmate's release destination), the inmate should study the description of the prison, to make a case for transfer to that facility. Often the best way to do so is to select a specific program at the desired institution which is not offered elsewhere, or, if offered elsewhere, is not available at the inmate's current location. This provides an institutionally sound reason to transfer the inmate. This could be an educational program, vocational program, or psychological program.

Once the prison and specific program have been selected, it's time for the inmate to speak with their case manager since this is the person who must initiate the transfer request. The case manager is the person who completes the initial transfer packet which is (ideally) approved at the local institution and sent off to DSCC for final approval and prison designation.

As suggested above, the best way to broach this issue with the case manager is for the inmate to explain that they would like a transfer to participate in a specific program. It can be helpful for the inmate to provide some other motivating factors, too. For example, perhaps the prison is closer to their family and would allow them to see their children at visitation (this is actually another sound reason to initiate a transfer). Perhaps the vocational program will train them for the work they want to do upon release, or maybe there is, for example, a hospice program that will allow them to do some good while incarcerated. The specific reason is not as important as the compelling correctional interest it must appear to advance.

Actions Not to Take

There are a number of actions which inmates should not take when attempting to influence transfers. Being a management problem tops the list since the case manager will not be interested in doing such inmates favors. Having been convicted of recent disciplinary infractions is also troublesome. In fact, some case managers won't initiate a transfer unless an inmate has had 12 or 18 months "clear conduct." Suffice it to say, threatening to cause problems, filing a significant number of frivolous administrative remedies, and refusing to program can harm chances of transfer initiation and approval.

If All Else Fails: Hire a Professional

As previously mentioned, influencing transfers is more of an art than a science, and as with all art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Thus, some strategies will work with some case managers and others will not. All anyone can do is see what works and take it from there.

If the inmate has funds, he or she could retain the services of a professional to review their circumstances and see what can be done. Often these professionals can ensure that the inmate is scored correctly in their Custody Classification Form and can present ideas for how to effectuate a transfer. They can also make inquiries with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in an effort to motivate the BOP to transfer the inmate to the desired prison. This is certainly not a matter of absolutes, but possibilities. Truthfully, in the end, these professionals might not be any more effective than the inmate themselves.

If the inmate has been denied transfer approval and still desires to effectuate the transfer, they could retain a consultant to assist them in challenging the denial. Two firms which appear to be particularly effective in this realm are the Law Offices of Alan Ellis and Executive Prison Consultants. Alan Ellis' firm is probably the best around at such in-prison matters (especially since they retain a former BOP Associate Director and a former BOP Western Regional Designator), but costs can be a factor. Executive Prison Consultants would be a more economical selection.

When Nothing Seems to Work

If the inmate finds themselves in a situation where nothing seems to work, chances are that nothing will work. This is the sad truth of being at the mercy of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. If this is the case, it is advised that the inmate bide their time. Eventually the case manager will be reassigned or the inmate will be transferred in the natural scheme of things. If this is simply not acceptable to the inmate in question, they could always allow a retained prison consultant to run down every lead and try every possibility. But as an art, results are not guaranteed or universal.

About Author Christopher Zoukis :

Christopher Zoukis is the author of Education Behind Bars (Sunbury Press, 2012), a guide to prison education. Mr. Zoukis blogs at the <a href="" target="_blank"></a> and at the <a href="" target="_blank"></a> &nbsp; He's a PEN American Center award winning writer, legal commentator, and American Bar Association member.

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Article Added on Monday, April 28, 2014
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