The entire policy is laid out on the BOP website here. Let's talk about how to manage the process to the extent possible. Here are the benchmarks for male inmates. All levels assume that no public safety factor (which we will cover in a subsequent post) applies.
0-11 points- Minimum
12-15 points- Low
16-23 points- Medium
24+ points- High
There are a number of things that can add points: offense severity, criminal history, history of violence, prior escapes, active detainers,age, lack of education, and drug or alcohol abuse.
The first three data points loaded are the sentencing judge, the recommended facility, and the recommended program. You can't do much about the first, but you have some influence over the second and third. Asking the judge to recommend a facility should be common practice. Asking the judge to recommend a program should occur in combination, and should not work at cross purposes with the previous recommendation. Check the Bureau of Prisons website to make sure that the recommended facility also offers the recommended program. Congruence between institution and program has at least an anecdotal relationship to a client's wishes concerning incarceration at a particular institution and actually being incarcerated at that institution. At the very least, it can't hurt.
Voluntary surrender, if you can make it happen, is a big deal, It takes three points off the security classification score.
Next is offense severity. It goes from 1-7 points, which you would think would be the weightiest of the security classification scores. If you thought that, you would be wrong. Better to have murdered someone in the last five years than to be young, which we will see momentarily. To determine your client's offense severity score, check out appendix A of the program statement linked above.
Criminal history as recorded in the PSR adds two points per category. Zero points for category one, up to ten for category six. It gets ugly quick, and gives you an incentive to fight about the criminal history category even in instances where you have a binding plea agreement.
The history of violence section also adds points quickly, and in unexpected ways. "Minor" incidents of violence add one point if they occurred more than ten years ago. Between five and ten years ago, such incidents add three points, and within the last five years they add five points. "Major" incidents of violence add two points if more than fifteen years old, four points if between ten and fifteen years old, six points if between five and ten years old, and seven points if less than five years old. So what distinguishes "major" and "minor" violent incidents? A "minor" history of violence, according to the program statement, is violence which is not likely to cause serious bodily harm or death, noting as an example a domestic dispute. A "major" history of violence is aggressive or intimidating behavior which is likely to cause bodily harm or death, such as domestic violence. There must be a finding of guilt, but in any case some faceless bureaucrat (no offense) is charged with determining whether a prior domestic is a "domestic dispute" or "domestic violence", which could result in a swing of several classification points. Watch very, very carefully how prior domestic convictions are described in the PSR.
If your client has previously escaped from a penal institution, they will receive between one and three points.
IMPORTANCE WARNING: Detainers.
If you can help it, do not leave your client with a detainer. These detainers score between one and seven points, depending on the severity level of the offense underlying the detainer. You can determine the severity level of the offense underlying the detainer by consulting the offense severity chart described above. More importantly, a detainer is going to keep your client out of RDAP and prevent halfway house eligibility. Fix detainers where possible.
Age: The driving force behind a lot of classifications. Between 18-24, you get eight points. That's more points than a client would receive for committing a major act of violence in the last five years. The single biggest classification point bump you can get happens because BOP perceives (probably quite correctly) that the youngest offenders cause the most problems. Ages 25-35 get four points, ages 36-54 get two points, and those 55 and older get no added points. Can you delay your client's sentencing for a month so that he is initially classified as a 25 year old instead of a 24 year old? You should.
Education Level. Graduated from high school or with a GED means no points are added. But the GED has to be verified, meaning the PSR has to say that the degree is verified. Have a doctoral degree in astrophysics from MIT? If your PSR doesn't say that your diplomas are "verified", they didn't happen as far as the BOP is concerned, and you are taking GED completion classes. Only one point is assessed if you have no diploma but are currently participating in GED completion courses. CCA in Leavenworth now offers GED classes (though does not offer the test), so advise your client to enroll. If the client has no GED and is not working towards one, he or she will receive two points.
Drug/Alcohol Abuse. One point if client exhibits problems in the last five years. No points otherwise. Think about whether giving up this point is worth discussing drug and alcohol use during the PSR interview. If your client has a prior violent felony or a gun is involved in the crime of conviction, there are not going to be eligible for RDAP (the residential drug and alcohol program that can shave time off a client's sentence). If your client will not be eligible for the program, why not agree to a condition permitting drug and alcohol testing while refusing to discuss drug and alcohol use in the PSR interview?
Public Safety Factors. I am proud of you. You have made it this far. We will leave public safety factors for another post.
Tally your score and turn to charts 5-2 (for men) or 5-3 (for women). Remember, there are four security levels in BOP: minimum, low, medium, and maximum. Now that you have a rough idea of your client's security level, you can solicit an informed placement recommendation from the Court. Not as much fun as hunting for your first apartment, but a necessary service to the client.