Return to the USDOJ/OIG Home Page
Return to the Table of Contents

The Federal Bureau of Prisons' Drug Interdiction Activities

Report Number I-2003-002
January 2003


The Evaluation and Inspections Division, Office of the Inspector General (OIG), reviewed drug interdiction activities implemented by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to prevent drugs from entering BOP institutions.


From fiscal year (FY) 1992 through FY 2001, the number of sentenced inmates in BOP institutions increased by 103 percent from 59,516 to 120,827, and the number of federal institutions increased from 67 to 100.5 Throughout this 10-year period, the number of sentenced drug offenders comprised more than 50 percent of the BOP's inmate population.6

The BOP is responsible for preventing drugs from entering its institutions because drugs disrupt the BOP from providing a safe, secure environment and from assisting inmates in becoming law-abiding citizens. Drug abuse is typically associated with serious inmate misconduct such as assaults, fighting, and possession of weapons.7 Fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses also occur in BOP institutions. In addition, continuing criminal activity inside the institutions interferes with the rehabilitative opportunities that drug abuse treatment programs offer inmates. Inmates who have not received drug abuse treatment are more likely to continue criminal activity after release.8

To prevent drugs from entering its institutions, the BOP employs a strategy with two major components: stopping the supply of drugs through various interdiction activities and reducing the demand for drugs through drug abuse treatment for inmates.

Stopping the Supply of Drugs. The BOP's interdiction activities are governed by various BOP national policies and supplemented by local institutional directives. To stop the supply of drugs in its institutions, the BOP gathers intelligence information, investigates criminal activity inside the institutions, and directs specific interdiction activities toward the institutions' potential points of drug entry. Table 1 lists the potential points of entry for drugs identified by the BOP and summarizes the interdiction activities typically directed toward each point of entry.

Table 1. Drug Points of Entry and Interdiction Activities

Points of Entrya Drug Interdiction Activitiesb
Visitors Background check for non-family visitors on visiting lists, lockers for personal property, metal detector, ion spectrometry technology,c visual search observation of visits by correctional officers, cameras, two-way mirrors
Staff Background investigations; annual integrity training; drug testing for suspicion, post-accident, pre-employment, post-substance abuse treatment; administrative and criminal sanctions
Mail X-ray scanner, visual inspection, mail monitoring
Receiving and Discharge Property and pat searches, x-ray scanner
Warehouse and Rear Gate X-ray scanner; visual search; vendors deliver to warehouse-do not enter secure perimeter; and rear gate inspection of supplies
Volunteers National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database check, fingerprints, and security trainingd
Contractors Pre-contract requirements, drug test annually for re-badging, security training
Source: BOP
  1. Interdiction activities also are directed at inmates. These activities include property searches, pat searches, cell searches, drug testing, telephone and mail monitoring, and administrative and criminal sanctions.
  2. Not all interdiction activities are employed or available at every institution.
  3. The ion spectrometry technology detects the presence of microscopic traces of illegal drugs on persons, clothing, and objects, and is available in approximately 40 BOP institutions.
  4. The NCIC computer system contains databases and an index of computerized criminal justice information maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (i.e., criminal record history information, fugitives, stolen properties, missing persons). This system is available to federal, state, and local law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies.

To deter drug use in its institutions, the BOP takes administrative and criminal action against inmates, staff, and visitors who engage in illegal drug activity. Administratively, inmates are issued a misconduct report for violating BOP rules prohibiting drug-related activity and face an administrative hearing. If found guilty of a drug charge, an inmate loses "good time" toward service of sentence, is placed in disciplinary segregation, and loses other privileges such as visits, telephone, and commissary for a specified period of time. If circumstances warrant, the BOP refers the matter to appropriate law enforcement authorities to investigate and prosecute the inmate. When a BOP staff member engages in criminal drug activity, the BOP takes disciplinary action (such as removal) and refers the matter for criminal prosecution. If a visitor is caught smuggling drugs into the institution, the BOP takes administrative action to bar that person from the institution and pursues criminal prosecution.

Reducing the Demand for Drugs. The BOP has developed drug abuse treatment programs to reduce inmates' demand for drugs while incarcerated and increase their potential for successful rehabilitation and re-entry into the community. The BOP's drug abuse treatment programs consist of drug abuse education (classroom instruction), non-residential (outpatient) drug treatment, and residential (inpatient) drug treatment. Appendix I provides detailed information about the BOP's drug abuse treatment programs.


We interviewed the BOP Director, senior management officials from the BOP's Central Office, and institution staff. We conducted fieldwork between October 2001 and August 2002. We visited nine institutions selected by region, inmate drug testing results, drug misconduct rates, institution security level, and site of ion spectrometry technology. While at the institutions, we interviewed approximately 100 BOP staff and observed interdiction activities at each of the institutions' points of entry for drugs. We also interviewed Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents and OIG agents responsible for investigating criminal activity at the institutions. For a list of specific sites visited and staff interviewed, see Appendix II.

We used quantitative and qualitative information to assess the effectiveness of the BOP's drug interdiction activities. We examined inmates' drug testing records, drug misconduct charges, overdose data, records of drug finds, and arrest records for FY 1997 through FY 2001. To examine the drug problem in the BOP and identify trends and patterns, we grouped and analyzed data using the BOP's security level classifications for its institutions - administrative, minimum, low, medium, and high security.9 In this manner, we could assess the effectiveness of the BOP's drug interdiction activities in institutions that operate under similar conditions, as well as assess whether the security level affects the presence of drugs in institutions.

We also obtained drug interdiction strategies of 17 state corrections departments via survey or through other reports, and reviewed articles containing information about drugs in federal, state, and local correctional facilities. We compared the states' drug interdiction activities to the BOP's drug interdiction activities to identify new activities that could be applied within the BOP.


  1. The BOP's total inmate population consists of offenders who have been convicted but not yet sentenced to a term of incarceration and inmates who are serving their terms of incarceration. The number of sentenced inmates includes inmates in BOP institutions only. As of October 2001, the BOP had a total inmate population of 156,238. Of these inmates, 130,061 were confined in BOP institutions, 12,668 were confined in privately managed secure facilities, and 13,509 were confined in other non-BOP facilities. As of October 2002, the BOP's total inmate population had increased to 163,447 and the number of BOP institutions had increased to 102.

  2. According to the BOP, the percentage ranged from a high of 61.3 percent in September 1994, to a low of 55.5 percent as of October 2001. BOP website, Quick Facts, "BOP Population Over Time/Drug Offenders as a Percentage of All Sentenced Offenders," May 2002.

  3. "Visitor Drug Testing Demonstration Project," BOP Office of Research and Evaluation, May 2001.

  4. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, "Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment, A Research-Based Guide," July 2000, research shows that treatment for drug-addicted offenders during and after incarceration can have a significant beneficial effect upon future drug use, criminal behavior, and relapse to drug use. Additionally, in the "BOP TRIAD Drug Treatment Evaluation Project," September 2000, the BOP evaluated its residential drug abuse treatment program and found that offenders who had completed the program and had been released to the community for three years were less likely to be re-arrested or to be detected for drug use.

  5. BOP Program Statement 5100.07, Security Designation and Custody Classification Manual, describes the security levels. Inmates with similar characteristics (e.g., sentence length, criminal history, violence and escape history, and level of supervision required) are housed together based on this system. The institutions within a security level also have similar security features such as staff-to-inmate ratios, mobile patrols, gun towers, perimeter barriers, housing, detection devices, and internal security.