Federal courts, when sentencing convicted federal offenders to confinement in federal institutions, may impose financial penalties such as assessments, fines, and restitution. In 1987, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) implemented the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (IFRP) nationwide as a means of encouraging federal offenders to voluntarily pay these financial obligations. The IFRP operates in all 96 BOP institutions, including contract facilities. In FY 1998 and FY 1999, BOP collected $5.8 million and $7.3 million, respectively, from inmates who participated in the IFRP.
The Inspections Division, Office of the Inspector General, has completed an inspection of the IFRP. This inspection reviewed BOP's overall management of the IFRP and selected institutions' compliance with IFRP policies and procedures. We also verified that BOP had implemented corrective measures in response to our first inspection report on the IFRP in 1994. 1
The BOP has developed and implemented the IFRP in a manner that generally encourages inmates to make payments toward their court-ordered financial obligations. In the four BOP institutions we visited, unit staff 2 devoted considerable effort to developing the inmates' sense of responsibility and seeking the inmates' voluntary payment of their obligations through the IFRP. The staff's efforts at these four institutions have maximized the rate of inmate participation in the IFRP and completion of payments for financial obligations.
The BOP continues to improve program implementation. After our visits to the institutions, BOP issued updated guidance for the IFRP-Program Statement 5380.07, January 3, 2000-that addressed some of the program areas we had identified for corrective action. Those areas included (1) clarifying the IFRP status of inmates who have financial obligations but do not have the financial resources to make payments due to conditions beyond the inmates' control, (2) improving IFRP payment procedures for inmates employed in UNICOR, and (3) limiting commissary spending (excluding certain purchases) for inmates who refuse to participate in the IFRP.
At the institutions, we reviewed 486 inmate files to determine whether BOP's policies and procedures for the IFRP were followed appropriately by unit staff and other institution personnel involved in the IFRP. Based on the review, 334 inmate files reflected adherence to IFRP guidance. For the remaining 152 files, we identified weaknesses in program implementation, such as incorrect IFRP assignments, missed payments by inmates, and untimely processing of payments. We recommend that BOP ensure that institution staff involved in administering and implementing the IFRP understand their responsibilities and adhere to the program guidance.
We identified two other areas where BOP can improve the IFRP. These areas concern (1) documenting counseling sessions with inmates, and (2) developing and implementing policies and procedures to ensure inmates in community correction centers (CCCs) make payments toward their financial obligations.
Unit staff conduct a formal program review for each inmate at least once every six months. The review should include an assessment of an inmate's progress toward paying his financial obligations. The results of each program review are documented in the inmate's file. For our sample of inmates, we found that unit staff did not provide sufficient IFRP information in the files to readily discern the inmates' progress in meeting financial obligations and the staff's efforts to obtain or improve participation. We also found that unit staff rarely document their discussions with inmates conducted at times other than the formal program reviews. Without adequate written records of the program reviews and interim discussions, unit staff are missing useful information for determining an inmate's overall commitment to paying his debts and deciding appropriate corrective actions, if required. Recent BOP policy changes should improve unit commentary on formal program reviews of inmate IFRP participation and progress. However, the revised policy does not address recording interim discussions between unit staff and inmates in the inmate's file. We recommended that BOP ensure that unit staff, at times other than the six-month program reviews, document discussions with inmates about changes in their participation and progress in the IFRP.
The BOP contracts with state and local governments and private organizations to provide transitional services to federal offenders in the community. These services are generally provided through CCCs. Satisfactory participation in the IFRP is an important factor when BOP unit staff determine an inmate's CCC placement. However, that participation may cease once the inmate enters a CCC because BOP has not developed policies and procedures that require CCC residents to make payments toward their financial obligations. Federal offenders ordinarily reside in CCCs for only a short time; therefore, BOP officials have not required the CCCs to implement the IFRP. However, CCC residents could make payments directly to the courts or United States Attorneys' offices and provide proof of payment to the CCCs. We recommended that BOP should develop and implement policy and procedures for CCCs to counsel CCC residents about making their IFRP payments directly to the courts or United States Attorneys' offices, as appropriate; to monitor residents' payments toward their financial obligations; and to document payment information in the residents' files.
We also determined whether BOP had taken corrective actions in response to our 1994 inspection report. That report recommended that BOP (1) ensure that institution unit staff follow IFRP policies and procedures and (2) require unit staff to seek permission from supervising probation offices to allow inmates with financial obligations due upon supervised release to begin making their payments through the IFRP while incarcerated.
In response to the first 1994 recommendation, BOP stated that it had already implemented monthly IFRP quality reviews that would improve the staff's adherence to IFRP guidance. The quality review procedures were originally described in Operations Memorandum 098-93, "Inmate Financial Responsibility Quality Review," May 17, 1993. The cancellation date of the memorandum was May 31, 1994, by which time the procedures should have been incorporated into a policy document without a sunset date. At the four institutions we visited, monthly quality review procedures are used and have been effective in detecting errors in IFRP implementation, but the procedures have not been included in any policy document. The BOP officials stated that the monthly reviews are an established, yet optional, practice at institutions and that BOP's formal annual and biennial reviews of institution programs are sufficient for detecting and correcting problems. However, without BOP guidance for conducting the monthly quality reviews, institution staff may forgo this important program management tool. Therefore, we recommended that BOP should ensure that institution staff, especially IFRP coordinators, understand the benefits of, and procedures for conducting, monthly quality reviews of the IFRP.
Because of legal concerns, the BOP could not implement the second 1994 recommendation. Instead, the BOP instructed unit staff to write to the U.S. Probation Officer for clarification on the intent or content of ambiguous court orders that do not explicitly state whether financial obligations are due while incarcerated or upon supervised release. During our recent review, unit staff stated that they sought clarification of ambiguous court orders. Our sample of inmate files, however, did not reflect instances where clarification was necessary.