The Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Monitoring of Mail for High-Risk Inmates

Evaluation and Inspections Report I-2006-009
September 2006
Office of the Inspector General


We concluded that the BOP’s procedures for monitoring inmate mail and verbal communications are deficient and limit the ability of BOP staff to detect terrorist and other criminal activities. The BOP does not adequately read the mail or listen to the telephone calls, visitor communications, or cellblock conversations of terrorist and other high-risk inmates. Furthermore, the BOP does not have sufficient resources to translate inmate communications in foreign languages and lacks staff adequately trained in intelligence analysis techniques to properly assess terrorist communications.

Historically, the BOP’s monitoring efforts have been predominantly focused on detecting and deterring traditional criminal activities (such as inmate gang violence and drug trafficking) rather than terrorist activities. However, the BOP incarcerates international terrorist inmates who require sophisticated monitoring and analyses of their communications and activities. The BOP’s monitoring procedures, intelligence analysis, and foreign language capabilities have not evolved to that level. Consequently, serious lapses in security can occur, such as the letter writing incident at ADX Florence – the BOP’s highest security prison.

Although the BOP has significant experience with high-risk inmates incarcerated for crimes unrelated to terrorism, its monitoring of these inmates also needs improvement. The BOP does not consistently monitor all of the written and verbal communications for high-risk inmates on monitoring lists, including foreign language communications. Therefore, the value of monitoring lists as a security and intelligence gathering technique is diminished.

The random reading of inmate mail – another important security and intelligence gathering technique – is under-emphasized in the BOP. Unlike random telephone monitoring, which has improved in part through implementation of monitoring goals, the BOP has not set goals for the random reading of inmate mail. At the 10 institutions we visited, random reading varied widely and was a lesser priority than delivering the mail within BOP time frames. Giving too little attention to the random reading of inmate mail may prevent the BOP from identifying information that is important to the security of its institutions and the public.

We also concluded that the BOP may be missing opportunities to gather intelligence about terrorist and other high-risk inmates by monitoring their conversations with visitors in the visiting rooms and with other inmates in the cellblocks. Monitoring verbal exchanges in these settings poses challenges to the BOP, but inmates may plan and conduct illegal activities during visits or in the housing units if they know their mail and telephone calls are being monitored.

We concluded that intelligence gathering and information sharing between some Department agencies and the BOP should be improved. The FBI was not consistently conducting proactive intelligence gathering at BOP institutions housing terrorist inmates. Also, the FBI and the USAOs did not consistently share information about newly incarcerated terrorist inmates so that appropriate monitoring and other security precautions could be determined by the BOP. This limited intelligence gathering and information sharing raises the risk of security incidents.

Additionally, we concluded that after the ADX Florence incident, the BOP took proactive steps to improve its monitoring of terrorist and other high-risk inmates. For example, the BOP hired full-time Arabic language translators, established a Counterterrorism Unit, started planning to consolidate terrorist inmates into a few institutions, and continued to develop policies to limit the communications of these inmates.

We also concluded that the Department should assess whether SAMs are applicable to each international terrorist inmate. Although the Criminal Division and the USAOs have guidance about the use of SAMs and how to submit a SAMs request, the Department does not have a mandatory process to ensure that every international terrorist has been reviewed for SAMs and that the Department’s components agree to forgo or apply SAMs for any particular inmate. Currently, the Department’s Office of Enforcement Operations reviews only the appropriateness of SAMs requests for terrorist inmates that USAOs, law enforcement agencies, or intelligence agencies choose to submit. If no requests are received, no Department-level evaluation of SAMs applicability occurs. We believe the Department must have a coordinated approach to decision-making about each terrorist inmate’s potential for continued terrorism activity while incarcerated and the level of monitoring required.

To assist in the improvement of monitoring mail and verbal communications of terrorist and high-risk inmates, this report makes 15 recommendations. Most of the recommendations address BOP issues, but several recommendations address other component or Department issues. We believe that if our recommendations are pursued to correct deficiencies in monitoring inmates, the security of BOP institutions and the public can be enhanced.

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