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Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 01:38 pm
Going to federal prison can be an incredibly scary experience. As an attorney who has worked with many clients facing federal charges, I know that most people have a ton of questions about what federal prison is actually like. In this article, I’ll try to answer some of the most common FAQs I get from clients about federal prison life, rules, and more. My goal is to paint a realistic picture so you know what to expect. Here we go!
The daily schedule in federal prison is pretty regimented. Here’s a rough breakdown of what a typical weekday might look like:
Weekends and holidays usually have more free time. But as you can see, inmates in federal prison don’t have much autonomy over how they spend their days. Officers keep a close eye on everyone’s movements and activities.
It really depends on the specific federal prison facility. Some are quite old, with shared cells and communal bathrooms. Newer facilities tend to have more modern amenities, like air conditioning, nicer rec rooms, and sometimes even shared tablets. Here are some generalities:
Overall, federal prison facilities are a bit nicer than state prisons. But they are still prisons, so creature comforts are limited. It’s important to remember that.
There are opportunities for inmates to interact throughout the day. During meals, in the rec room, exercising, etc. But it’s not a free-for-all. Prison staff limits groups gathering together, for safety and security. Interaction is more regulated in higher security facilities. So there is some socializing, but inmates don’t spend all day mingling freely.
Every able-bodied federal inmate is required to work. Here are some of the most common prison jobs:
Inmates don’t get to pick their jobs. The work keeps the prison running smoothly. It’s also seen as a way for inmates to acquire skills and stay out of trouble.
As I mentioned earlier, cells in federal prisons tend to be small, maybe 6×8 feet or so. Older units will have bars on the doors, while newer ones have solid doors with small windows. Inside the cell, you’ll find:
Cells are cramped, but livable. Inmates are allowed to decorate a bit with family photos, books, and approved posters. Officers perform regular searches though. Overall, the cells are fairly sparse and sterile environments.
Yes, most federal prison facilities allow inmates outside time each day in designated recreation yards. The yards are fenced-in areas that may have grass, basketball courts, weight pits, running tracks, etc. Inmates can get some fresh air and exercise. But the time is limited, maybe 1-2 hours per day. Weather permitting of course. Access to the rec yard is a privilege that can be taken away.
The Bureau of Prisons has a whole list of prohibited acts and disciplinary severity scales. Some examples of major prohibited acts include:
In addition, every facility has its own set of rules inmates must follow, like:
There are a ton of rules. Inmates have to stay in line to avoid added punishments.
There are a range of disciplinary consequences if a federal inmate is caught breaking the rules:
The severity depends on the offense. But the consequences can be pretty harsh. Officers in federal prison don’t mess around.
Yes, visitation is allowed in federal prisons, but it is limited. Here are some key rules about visitation:
It can be tough for family and friends to make the trek for short, no-contact visits. But it is an opportunity inmates have to see loved ones periodically.
The list of approved personal items federal inmates can have is pretty short. Here are some common approved items:
Things like cash, cell phones, computers, or weapons are prohibited. Officers search cells routinely, and excess or unauthorized items may be confiscated.
After representing many federal inmates over the years, here are some of the life hacks I’ve heard for making time go smoother:
The keys are staying out of drama, staying busy, and taking it one day at a time. Easier said than done, but mindset is everything.
The very first day in federal prison can be disorienting. Here are some tips for navigating it:
The goal that first day is mainly to keep a low profile, get the lay of the land, and stay out of trouble. It gets easier once you learn the ropes.
Visiting a loved one in federal prison can be daunting. Here are some tips for families preparing for visits:
The more families know what to expect, the better the visit will go. Inmates appreciate the effort visitors make.
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