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What You Need to Know About Federal Prison Inmate Counts

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Jul 27, 2023

In the federal prison system, inmate counts are a routine and crucial part of institutional operations. These counts are vital for maintaining these facilities' security, order, and accountability.

However, these counts can also be intimidating, especially for someone new to the system. If you've recently been convicted of a federal crime and are facing possible incarceration, knowing the various types of inmate counts and how to comply with them can go a long way toward helping you navigate the prison system with less stress and conflict.

 After a prisoner enters the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), they are assigned a unique inmate number (inmate ID), a Department of Corrections (DOC) number, and a BOP federal number.

Federal Prison Inmate Counts
Inmate counts in the Federal Bureau of Prisons is part of the daily routine in all facilities.

These numbers are primarily used for accountability, tracking, DOC inmate search, adding money to an inmate's commissary account, receiving mail, and applying for someone to visit them.

All prisoner ID numbers are unique and assigned to just one person to avoid confusion when inmates have the same name. After their numbers are set, they will be printed on their inmate identification card and all relevant incarceration paperwork.

Once inmates are assigned their numbers and are inside the facility, prison officials must ensure all inmates are accounted for daily. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has different types of regular counts, discussed in detail below.

These include official counts, census counts, bed book counts, adverse weather counts, lockdown counts, and emergency counts.

While federal prison officials conduct counts at designated times and throughout the night, the official counts are the most important and commonly occur twice on weekdays (4 pm and 9 pm) and three times on weekends which are a stand-up count (10;30 am, 4 pm, and 9 pm).

During a count, inmates are instructed to return to their assigned bunk or cell and prepare to be counted by an officer. Stand-up counts only require the inmate to stand up and remain quiet until the prison guard walks to count them.

Why Are Inmate Counts Necessary?

Inmate counts in federal prisons are an integral part of institutional operations. Here are some reasons why they are necessary:

  • Maintaining Order and Discipline: Regular counts help maintain order within the facility. They ensure that all inmates are accounted for and that everyone follows the rules and regulations.
  • Security Measures: Counts are a critical security measure. They help detect irregularities or issues such as escapes, unauthorized movements, or potential disturbances.
  • Accountability: Prison officials can accurately track the inmate population by conducting counts. It ensures that every inmate is in their assigned location at the correct time.
  • Operational Efficiency: Regular counts contribute to the overall operational efficiency of the prison. They help organize activities around the count times like meal times, work assignments, visitations, etc.
  • Safety: Inmate counts can reveal if any inmate is missing, injured, or unwell. This allows the prison staff to take immediate action, ensuring the safety and well-being of all inmates.
  • Legal Requirement: The Bureau of Prisons is legally required to account for the whereabouts of all inmates under its custody. Regular counts help fulfill this legal obligation.
  • Prevention of Unauthorized Activities: Regular and unscheduled counts can deter inmates from engaging in unauthorized activities or behaviors, as they never know when a count might occur.
  • Emergency Preparedness: Regular counts can serve as practice for emergencies. They help ensure prison staff can quickly and accurately account for all inmates during crises.

What Are the Types of Inmate Counts?

As noted, several types of inmate counts are conducted in federal prisons. These include the following:

  • Official Counts: These are formal counts conducted 2-3 times daily at set times. All institutional activities stop during official counts, and inmates must remain standing in their cell or bunk areas to be counted.
  • Census Counts: A separate count is conducted periodically to ensure inmates working jobs or attending school are where they are supposed to be.
  • Bed Book Counts: A more detailed count in which the unit officer goes to each cell with a binder containing inmate information and photos. Each inmate must state their name and inmate number so the unit officer can confirm. This count is typically conducted if previous counts have turned up inconsistent information.
  • Lockdown Counts: An unscheduled count where the prison is locked down until every inmate is counted.
  • Emergency Counts: These are unscheduled counts conducted in response to an incident or suspicion of an escape.
  • Fog or Adverse Weather Counts: Similar to emergency counts, these occur during bad weather events to make sure no one attempts an escape during these events.

How Should an Inmate Prepare for Counts?

Inmates should know the count times and ensure they are in their designated locations.

How Should an Inmate Prepare for Counts?
Inmates should know the different count times and need to ensure they are always at their bunk.

Personal belongings should be kept orderly to facilitate quick and efficient counts. During most counts, inmates must often be on their feet and remain silent unless spoken to.

Inmates should always be at their bunk or cell during a count. If not, the consequences will always depend on who caught them and where they should be. Often, they are told to return where they should be but could receive a Code 316 incident report for being out of bounds.

Suppose an inmate refuses to lock himself into their cell for a count. In that case, they will usually be taken to Special Housing Unit and receive an incident report.

Other incident reports include a Code 307 refusing to obey an order and Code 320 refusing to stand for the count.

How Long Does It Take to Complete an Inmate Count?

Inmate counts typically take different amounts of time to complete depending on the guard's experience and the count type. For example, the 4 pm official count requires inmates to be in their assigned housing areas from 3:30 pm until around 4:30 pm.

However, suppose there is an issue with a count, such as a miscount.  In that case, the time will generally be extended to around 5 pm as the guard's recount. If the guards continue to miscount, they will conduct a bed book count, extending the count time even longer.

What are the Consequences of Non-Cooperation?

Inmate counts are a serious matter. Failing to cooperate with these counts can result in numerous negative consequences, including any of the following:

  • Disciplinary Action: The most immediate consequence is disciplinary action from the institution. This can range from warnings to more severe punishments.
  • Loss of Privileges: Inmates who fail to cooperate with counts may lose certain privileges, such as access to recreational activities, visitation rights, or the ability to purchase items from the commissary.
  • Confinement in a Special Housing Unit (SHU): For serious or repeated non-compliance, an inmate may be placed in a Special Housing Unit, often called solitary confinement. This involves being isolated from the general population and having additional restrictions on activities and communication.
  • Denial of Parole: In some cases, particularly where non-cooperation is part of a broader pattern of rule-breaking or disruptive behavior, it could impact parole hearings negatively.
  • Additional Criminal Charges: If the failure to cooperate is part of an attempt to escape or engage in other criminal activity, additional charges could be filed, leading to longer sentences.

What If Your Rights Are Violated?

Sometimes, inmate counts can be used inappropriately, or a guard may mistreat an inmate for a perceived lack of cooperation.

If inmates believe their rights have been violated during a count, they should first attempt to resolve the issue through the institution's grievance process.

If this doesn't lead to a satisfactory resolution, they can seek help from a prison rights organization or hire a federal criminal defense attorney to explore legal remedies.

We provide legal representation across the United States on federal criminal matters. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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