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The Federal Bureau of Prisons' Inmate Financial Responsibility Program
Report Number I-2000-023
September 2000


The Inspections Division, Office of the Inspector General, has completed an inspection of the BOP's Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (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 1994 inspection report on the IFRP. In that report, we had recommended that BOP (1) ensure that unit staff follow program 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. Appendix I provides information about the scope and methodology for our recent inspection.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) plays a major role in the collection of debts 3 owed the United States. As part of the Department's collection effort, BOP implemented the IFRP nationwide in 1987. The purpose of the IFRP is to encourage federal offenders to voluntarily pay their court-ordered financial obligations while incarcerated in BOP institutions. The IFRP currently operates in all 96 BOP institutions, including contract facilities. The BOP requires all medically fit inmates to work and collects debt payments from the inmates' trust fund accounts and earnings from prison work assignments. The inmates who participate in the IFRP not only pay their criminal debts through the program but also debts unrelated to incarceration, such as child support. Over one-half (approximately 83,000) of BOP's total inmate population (approximately 147,000) have financial obligations. Of those inmates with obligations, about one fourth (approximately 20,000) are participating in the IFRP and making payments. 4 Through BOP's efforts, over $105 million has been collected since the IFRP's inception. The majority of money collected has gone to crime victims or victims' assistance and support groups.

Court-Ordered Financial Obligations

A federal judge may sentence a convicted federal offender to confinement and impose financial penalties. To inform the sentencing decision, the judge reviews a Pre-Sentence Investigation Report that provides information about the offender's family history, criminal history, and financial condition; details on the offense committed; and calculation of the sentencing guidelines. If financial penalties will be imposed, 5 the judge must also decide when payment is due-either while the offender is incarcerated in a BOP institution or upon supervised release when the offender is under the custody of the U.S. Probation Office. The judge's sentencing decision is documented in a Judgment and Commitment Order, which is the basis for BOP's incarceration of the offender and debt collection efforts through the IFRP.

When imposed, financial penalties are to be collected according to the following priority order established by Title 28, United States Code of Federal Regulations, Section 545.10-11:

  1. Special assessments that are imposed by the courts under Title 18 United States Code. 6 Special Assessments are monetary penalties imposed for felony crimes and classes of misdemeanor crimes. The misdemeanor classes are designated as A, B, and C. Misdemeanors and felonies each have a mandatory assessment amount that must be imposed for each count of a criminal offense that an offender is convicted. For example, for offenses committed by individuals on or after April 24, 1996, the assessment is $100 if convicted of a felony; $25 if convicted of a Class A misdemeanor; $10 if convicted of Class B misdemeanor; and $5 if convicted of a Class C misdemeanor.

  2. Court-ordered restitution to identifiable victims. 7 Restitution is a monetary penalty that can be ordered by the court to reimburse victims for losses associated with a criminal act committed against them.

  3. Fines and court costs imposed by the court. 8 Fines are monetary penalties associated with an offense imposed as part of a Judgment and Commitment Order. The amount of a fine should be sufficient to ensure that the fine, taken together with other sanctions imposed, is punitive.

  4. State or local court-ordered obligations (for example, child support, alimony).

  5. Other federal government obligations (for example, cost of incarceration, student loans, unpaid federal income tax).

Roles and Responsibilities for the IFRP

The BOP Program Statement 5380.07, Inmate Financial Responsibility Program, January 3, 2000, describes the roles and responsibilities of various BOP organizations.

Within the BOP Central Office, the Correctional Programs Division, Correctional Programs Branch has overall policy oversight for the IFRP. The branch chief appoints a National IFRP Coordinator who acts as a resource person for BOP staff, other DOJ components, other law enforcement agencies, and the public.

The Administration Division, BOP Central Office, provides the resources and support necessary for BOP to perform its mission. This includes the development of budget requests; the stewardship of financial resources; procurement and property management; the design and construction of new correctional facilities, as well as the renovation and maintenance of existing facilities; and other administrative support services required by BOP. For the IFRP, the Administration Division is responsible for developing and implementing policies and procedures for the financial management of the program.

Each of the six BOP regions has a Regional Correctional Programs Administrator. For their regions, these Administrators each appoint a Regional IFRP Coordinator who acts as a resource person, monitors institution programs, and provides quality control.

The Warden at each institution also appoints an IFRP Coordinator. This coordinator is responsible for monitoring all applicable IFRP assignments for inmates in the institution and ensuring that IFRP information is provided to inmates during the Admission and Orientation Program. The institution's unit staff determine inmate program needs and monitor participation in institution programs to encourage positive behavior that benefits inmates, staff, victims, and society. Within 30 days after an inmate arrives at a BOP institution, unit staff counsel the inmate about the need to satisfy financial obligations, assist the inmate (if willing) in developing a financial plan to pay the debts, and monitor payment progress. The institution's Office of Financial Management (OFM) ensures that the institution's financial transactions are recorded in an accurate and timely manner in the automated financial management system and that the institution complies with all DOJ and BOP financial management policies and procedures. For the IFRP, the OFM is responsible for processing agreed-upon IFRP payments in accordance with an inmate's financial plan.

IFRP Assignments

After the initial classification interview conducted within an inmate's first 30 days at a BOP institution, the unit staff enters the inmate's IFRP assignment into SENTRY. 9 The following is a description of the six IFRP assignments, as described in BOP Program Statement 5380.07.

Unassigned (UNASSG)--Inmates who are committed to federal custody but whose initial classification has not occurred. At initial classification, this assignment must be converted to another assignment, based on the payment plan developed by the unit team and the inmate's willingness to participate.

No Obligation (NO OBLG)--Inmates with no documented financial obligation, inmates who paid their obligation prior to incarceration, inmates whose financial obligation has expired due to time limitations, or inmates with no financial obligation payable while in BOP custody. 10

Participates in Program (PART)--Inmates who agree to pay, sign an agreement, and are making payments toward satisfying their financial obligations. "PART" may be assigned to an inmate pending receipt of the first scheduled payment; however, that payment must be made and confirmed by institution staff within three months. For all other inmates, the status of "PART" is to be reviewed in accordance with the payment plan or, at a minimum, every six months.

Refuses to Participate in Program (REFUSE)--Inmates who verbally refused to participate in the program at initial classification or at a subsequent program review are discovered to be making no real effort to pay as agreed.

Temporarily Exempt From Participation (EXEMPT TMP)--Inmates who are unable to adequately participate toward satisfying financial obligations, ordinarily because of medical or psychological restrictions that prevent the inmates from working. This assignment may also be used for an inmate who is unable to secure employment in UNICOR or advance beyond maintenance pay due to conditions beyond the inmate's control. Additionally, at initial classification, the unit staff may determine that a newly committed inmate has limited financial resources and may place the inmate in EXEMPT TMP status until the first program review. However, the inmate's ability to pay using non-institutional resources must be considered in all cases.

Completed the Program (COMPLT)--Inmates who have totally satisfied all financial obligations payable during incarceration.

Sources of Inmate Earnings

Inmates are responsible for making satisfactory progress in paying their financial obligations and institution staff conduct regular program reviews with each inmate to ensure compliance with the inmate's financial plan. Inmates pay their financial obligations through non-institution (community) resources or through prison earnings for assigned work. The source of community support may be the inmate's family, which provides money orders for deposit into the inmate's trust fund account at the BOP institution. The source for an inmate's earnings is an institution work assignment, a commissary assignment, or an industry assignment. An institution work assignment contributes to the day-to-day operation of the institution (e.g., carpentry, plumbing, food service). A commissary assignment is a Trust Fund work assignment. An industry assignment is a UNICOR work assignment. For institution and commissary work assignments, inmates are evaluated monthly and receive performance pay for only those hours of satisfactory performance. Most work opportunities for inmates come from "performance pay" work assignments. Although the UNICOR assignments pay higher wages, they are limited in number and inmates are usually hired through waiting lists.

IFRP Payments

The following table shows the pay structure for inmate work assignments and the minimum IFRP payment that an inmate should make toward his financial obligations.

Table 1. Institution Work Assignments and Inmate Pay

Performance Pay Grades and Hourly Pay Minimum IFRP Payment for Performance Pay UNICOR Pay Grades and Hourly Pay Minimum IFRP Payment for UNICOR
1 = $.40/hour $25/quarter 1 = $1.15/hour 50%/monthly pay
2 = $.29/hour 2 = $.92/hour
3 = $.17/hour 3 = $.69/hour
4 = $.12/hour 4 = $.46/hour
5 = up to $5.25/month 5 = $.23/hour $25/quarter
Source: BOP.

The inmate can agree to make a single payment and when the total financial obligation is $100 or less, a single payment is preferred.

Ordinarily, the minimum payment for non-UNICOR (performance pay positions) and UNICOR grade 5 inmates is set at $25.00 per quarter. This minimum payment may exceed $25.00, taking into consideration the inmate's specific obligations, institution resources, and community resources.

Inmates assigned grades 1 through 4 in UNICOR ordinarily will be expected to allot not less than 50 percent of their monthly pay to their IFRP obligations. Any allotment that is less than the 50 percent minimum must be approved by the Unit Manager. Allotments may also exceed the 50 percent minimum after considering the inmate's specific obligations and resources.

For inmates assigned grades 1 through 4 in UNICOR who earn less than $50 per month, the IFRP contracts are set up for single or quarterly trust fund withdrawals of at least $25. When the inmate earns $50 or more per month, the IFRP contract is changed to stipulate 50 percent of the inmate's earnings. When inmates employed in UNICOR agree to make payments exceeding the 50 percent minimum, an additional trust fund withdrawal or outside payment is stipulated on the IFRP contract, because the automated financial system is programmed to only allow 50 percent deductions.

Inmates may also use non-institution (community) resources to make payments toward their financial obligations. These payments are usually "one-time" payments made directly to the parties to whom the obligations are owed and are intended to satisfy obligations of significant amounts. Inmates must obtain and provide to BOP unit staff a receipt for payment that has been confirmed by a community law enforcement agency (such as the U.S. Attorney's Office, U.S. Probation Office, or the Clerk of the Court).

Effects of Non-Participation

For an inmate who refuses to participate in the IFRP or who does not comply with the provisions of his financial plan, the BOP institution withholds certain benefits, such as a UNICOR work assignment, furloughs, pay above the maintenance pay level, bonus pay, vacation pay, assignment to a work detail outside the secure perimeter of the facility, placement into a community-based program, better housing, full commissary privileges, a release gratuity, and an incentive for participation in a residential drug treatment program. The BOP will also rate the inmate zero points for "Responsibility" on BP-338, Custody Classification Form and, when applicable, notify the Parole Commission of the inmate's refusal to participate in the IFRP or make satisfactory payment progress.

  1. Used generically in the DOJ, debt includes both criminal debt (such as fines and restitution, including interest and penalties for late payment; special assessments; and forfeited bail bonds) and civil debt (such as money owed on an educational loan from the Department of Education and money owed to the Department of Health and Human Services/Medicare, as a result of a health care fraud).

  2. Population figures are excerpted from BOP's FY 2001 budget submission.

  3. The judge may also waive financial penalties based on information in the Pre-Sentence Investigation Report that the offender has no ability to pay such penalties.

  4. A sentenced offender's obligation to pay a special assessment ceases five years after the date judgment was imposed. Inmates who fail to pay their assessments during the five-year period become absolved of this responsibility.

  5. A defendant's obligation to pay restitution ceases 20 years after the inmate's release from incarceration for inmates convicted on or after April 24, 1996. A defendant's obligation to pay restitution ceases on a circuit-by-circuit basis for inmates convicted prior to April 24, 1996.

  6. A defendant's obligation to pay a fine ceases 20 years after the date judgment was imposed for inmates convicted prior to April 24, 1996. A defendant's obligation to pay a fine ceases 20 years after the inmate's release from incarceration for inmates convicted on or after April 24, 1996.

  7. SENTRY is an online, real-time database management system that monitors the system-wide movement and management of inmates, including sentence computations, work assignments, program assignments, institution designation, administrative remedies, discipline, and inmate financial responsibility. Many programs such as the IFRP are organized in this database as modules for ease of information updates and data retrieval.

  8. The courts may impose financial penalties that are not due until the inmate is on supervised release. The U.S. Probation Office is responsible for collecting payment for these debts.
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