The Bureau Celebrates 80th Anniversary

On May 14, 2010, the Federal Bureau of Prisons celebrated its 80th anniversary of providing exceptional service and leadership in the field of corrections. This milestone presents an opportunity to reflect on the Bureau’s many accomplishments and also remember some of the major disturbances (e.g., Atlanta and FDC Oakdale riots) and the tragic deaths of the BOP’s 24 fallen heroes.

In 1891, Congress passed the "Three Prisons Act," which established the Federal Prison System (FPS). The first three prisons – USP Leavenworth, USP Atlanta, and USP McNeil Island – operated with limited oversight by the Department of Justice. During the 1920s, Assistant Attorney General Mabel Walker Willebrandt was responsible for creating institutions for younger offenders (Federal Reformatory, Chillicothe) and for women (Federal Reformatory, Alderson). Recognizing the need for centralized administration and standardized regulations, Ms. Willebrandt also pushed for the establishment of a new DOJ agency to oversee the FPS. In 1928, James V. Bennett (later to become the BOP’s second Director) of the Bureau of Efficiency conducted a study of the FPS that highlighted its problems, including overcrowding and the lack of meaningful inmate programs. This report led to Congress establishing the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in 1930. What follows are highlights of the Bureau’s accomplishments and challenges by decade:

1930 - 1940

The goals of Sanford Bates (the BOP’s first Director, 1930-1937) were to promote a unified, professional approach to management by centralizing administration and creating a consistent BOP-wide system of policy, implement a construction program to reduce overcrowding, eliminate political patronage, improve staff training, and establish a prison industries program.

  • USP Lewisburg, PA was the first penitentiary built by the BOP. When it opened in 1932, it featured an original design that incorporated many new correctional concepts (e.g., housing for different security levels in the same institution).
  • MCFP Springfield, MO opened in 1933, becoming the Bureau’s first medical facility; this also marked the beginning of the BOP’s long-standing working partnership with the U.S. Public Health Service.
  • Federal Prison Industries (FPI) – more commonly known by its trade name UNICOR) – was established by Congress on June 23, 1934, as a wholly owned government corporation. From the outset, FPI has been an important correctional program that focuses on helping offenders acquire the work skills necessary to successfully make the transition from prison to law-abiding, contributing members of society.
  • In 1934, the first maximum security prison, USP Alcatraz, CA opened. Housing the most violent, disruptive, and escape-prone inmates in the Federal system, USP Alcatraz was the precursor to USP Marion and ADX Florence, as well as the many maximum security prisons now operated nationwide.
  • Alderson Warden Mary Belle Harris (1927-1941) pioneered many procedures that eventually became the BOP’s standard in unit management, programming, classification, and decentralization from massive cellblocks to housing units arranged around a central campus.
  • The BOP nearly doubled in size, from 14,115 inmates and 14 institutions in 1930 to 24,360 inmates and 24 institutions in 1940. Inmate classification and the development of security levels (e.g. camps, FCIs, and penitentiaries) became standard practice and led to more efficient and cost-effective operations.

1940 - 1950

  • The contributions of the Bureau’s second Director, James V. Bennett (1937-1964) included the further development and full implementation of the Bureau’s inmate classification system, and expansion of FPI’s education, vocational training, and work programs to meet inmate needs.

1950 - 1960

  • Director Bennett continued to expand many of the BOP’s original goals and influenced such major legislation as the Youth Corrections Act & the Prisoner Rehabilitation Act. Director Bennett also started to develop a community corrections program.
  • During this period (late 1950s–1960s), the "Medical Model" was the predominant theory in corrections. Criminal behavior was viewed as a disease that could be cured through a variety of rehabilitative programs, many of which the BOP pioneered. The inmate classification system was used to "diagnose" an inmate; counseling and education programs were provided to treat and "cure" the inmate of criminal behavior.
  • In 1960, there were 25,853 inmates in 36 institutions.

1960 - 1970

  • The Bennett era came to an end in 1964 after 27 years as Director.
  • Myrl E. Alexander was the first BOP staff member to work his way "up the ranks" to become Director (1964-1970). He was a strong advocate of preparing inmates for adjustment to the community. He believed that prisons had to work closely with the community to achieve successful reintegration of offenders. One of his major contributions was the expansion of Director Bennett’s halfway house pilot project into a wide-reaching community corrections program, backed by legislation that made community-based options available to adult offenders.
  • The Chillicothe Reformatory and National Training School for Boys closed and was replaced by FCI Morgantown, WV (originally known as the Robert F. Kennedy Youth Center) in 1969. It was noted for its innovative architecture and for implementing new concepts in unit management and treatment programs.
  • In 1970, the BOP’s total inmate population was 21,266; there were 36 institutions.

1970 - 1980

  • Under the Bureau’s fourth Director, Norman A. Carlson (1970-1987), the agency fully implemented the unit management concept. In response to increased judicial involvement in matters related to conditions of confinement at the local, State, and Federal level, the BOP created the Administrative Remedy Process to address inmate concerns and grievances. Many State and international corrections systems would later adopt the Bureau’s Administrative Remedy Process.
  • Ultimately determining that the "Medical Model" was ineffective, the BOP adopted a "Balanced Model" of corrections. This philosophy, which still guides the BOP today, recognized that punishment, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation are all goals of the prison system.
  • The National Institute of Corrections began operations in 1975. Its goals are to provide technical assistance to State and local corrections agencies, law enforcement, parole/probation and judicial staff; conduct research on corrections issues; maintain a corrections information center; and develop national correctional goals and standards.
  • The continued growth of the BOP prompted the agency to decentralize its operations, creating regional offices to improve management of its widely scattered facilities. The first regional office, South Central, opened in 1973, followed by offices for North Central, Northeast, Southeast, and Western regions in 1974.
  • The BOP began to operate "co-correctional" institutions and opened three Metropolitan Correctional Centers in San Diego, CA; Chicago, IL; and New York, NY in response to the need for additional pre-trial detention facilities.
  • In 1980, the BOP’s inmate population was 24,252, holding steady from 40 years earlier.

1980 - 1990

  • Enactment of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 (which created many new Federal crimes, abolished parole, reinstituted the Federal death penalty, and established sentencing guidelines) led to substantial increases in the BOP’s inmate population.
  • J. Michael Quinlan, the BOP’s fifth Director (1987-1992) was a strong proponent of strategic planning to prepare the agency for the future.
  • Under Director Quinlan’s leadership, the BOP successfully resolved the Atlanta/Oakdale (1987) and Talladega (1991) disturbances.
  • In 1990, the BOP’s total inmate population had reached 65,347; there were 66 institutions.

1990 - 2000

  • The Mid-Atlantic Regional Office opened in 1990.
  • Then Assistant Director Kathleen Hawk Sawyer (soon to be the BOP’s sixth Director) implemented a system of internal controls for all BOP operations – the program review process.
  • Enactment of the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997 required the BOP’s absorption of the entire DC felony population.
  • By the end of 2000, the BOP’s total inmate population had jumped to 145,125.

2000 - 2010

  • During Director Hawk Sawyer’s tenure as the BOP’s sixth Director (1992-2003), the BOP introduced the Forward Thinking Initiative, designed to prepare the agency to meet future demands and conditions. By examining technological innovations, economic and scientific developments, demographic patterns and many other trends, the BOP plans and develops policy for various scenarios for alternative futures. She implemented Reingineering Initiatives intended to identify and eliminate unnecessary or redundant functions in order to maximize staff attention to inmates and yield agency-wide cost savings. During her tenure, the agency developed its first vision statement that identified and memorialized the BOP’s long-term aspirational goals. She implemented Leadership Enhancement and Development training to assist with succession planning.
  • Implementation of the Violent Crime Conduct & Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which had a substantial impact on agency operations, specifically in the reduction of sentence for inmates participating in drug treatment programs.
  • In 2001, Federal executions resumed with the execution of Timothy McVeigh, the first execution since 1963 and the first held at the new execution facility built at USP Terre Haute, IN. There have been two other Federal executions; currently, 52 inmates under sentence of death are housed in the Special Confinement Unit at FCC Terre Haute.
  • Following 9/11, in support of the Department of Justice and the nation in the war on terrorism, the BOP adopted its 7th strategic planning national goal – counter-terrorism. It adopted numerous strategies and procedures in support of this goal. Examples of major related activities include:
    • In 2006, the Bureau activated the Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU) to assist in identifying inmates involved in terrorist activities; coordinate translation services; monitor/analyze terrorist inmate communications; develop and provide relevant training; and collaborate with other correctional agencies, law enforcement, and the intelligence community.
    • In FY07, the first Communications Management Unit (CMU) was established at FCC Terre Haute, IN, to house inmates who, due to their current offense, conduct, or other verified information, require increased monitoring of communications with persons in the community to ensure the safe, secure, and orderly running of BOP facilities, and to protect the public.
  • As a byproduct of the war on terrorism, the government shifted resources to homeland security and counter-terrorism and away from other criminal justice issues. Significant budget limitations necessitated an accelerated critical review of every aspect of BOP operations and the implementation of several cost reduction initiatives. These included centralizing and automating human resource functions; consolidating and centralizing sentence computation and inmate designation functions; and the closure of the Intensive Confinement Center programs (at Bryan, Lewisburg, and Lompoc) and four stand-alone camps (Allenwood, Seymour Johnson, Nellis, and Eglin).
  • The Life Connections Program (LCP) – the BOP’s first residential multi-faith-based program – was established in 2002, to facilitate personal transformation and help reduce recidivism. It now operates at FCI Milan; USP Leavenworth; the FMC Carswell; and FCCs Petersburg and Terre Haute.
  • During the administration of Harley G. Lappin, the BOP’s seventh Director (2003-present), the Inmate Skills Development Branch (now called the National Reentry Affairs Branch) was created in 2003 to coordinate the agency’s release preparation and reentry efforts and provide a centralized point of contact/liaison for external partners.
  • In FY08, USP Lewisburg was designated as the institution to run entirely as a Special Management Unit (SMU) institution to operate as a more controlled and restrictive environment for managing the most aggressive and disruptive inmates from USP general populations. SMUs were subsequently established at FCC Oakdale and FCI Talladega.
  • In recent years, several important statutes were enacted which have substantial long-term impact on the BOP: Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, the Second Chance Act of 2008; and several pieces of legislation that have gradually chipped away at UNICOR’s mandatory source status.
  • The Bureau has kept pace with the unprecedented rate of technological advancements taking place in society. A few examples of the BOP’s technological developments follow:
    • The BOP’s Electronic Medical Record continues to develop into a comprehensive repository of health information for the entire inmate population.
    • Teleradiology allows a team of radiologists to provide interpretations within 2 hours, 24/7, 365 days a year.
    • Telehealth services (primarily psychiatric at this point) allow the agency to use its staff resources optimally.
  • Since 2003, the BOP activated 16 institutions, bringing the total to 115; as of May 13, 2010, the BOP’s population had climbed to over 211,310.