How Many Prison Security Levels are There?

The guide that tells you everything you need to know about prison security levels.

What many people do not know, especially if this is the first time, they have had to deal with prisons is that each prison has a security level. Some prisons may house a few different security levels, but most prisons are going to have one security level. 

For today, we are going to be basing our security level ratings off the Federal Bureau of Prisons. County and city jails will not be included in this, but on the other hand, state prisons also go off this same exact scale as well. 

The Federal Bureau of Prisons operates over 68 prison camps, 125 prisons, alongside 13 contracted private prisons. There are over 188,000 inmates in custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons each year. 

As for the security levels, they go something like this: 

  • Level I or also known as minimum-security
  • Level II or also known as low security
  • Level III or also known as medium security
  • Level IV or also known as high security
  • Level V also is known as administrative (or supermax)

Before an inmate is brought to their permanent facility, they will need to be classified into one of the five security levels. Officials look at everything when it comes to classifying an inmate. They will look at the inmates past criminal history, what they were just convicted for, their previous behavior sheet at their current or past facility and recommend them to be placed in one of the five security levels. 

The lower the security level, the more relaxed the facility is. The higher the security means inmates are locked up in their cells. 

Level I Also Known as Minimum-Security Facilities

The Federal Bureau of Prisons calls their minimum-security prisons the Federal Prison Camps. They get their names because they are just that prison camps. 

17-percent of all inmates that are in custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons are housed in one of the Federal Prison Camps. 

Federal Prison Camps either will have an open dormitory-style living or they will have multi-person cells. Most of the Federal Prison Camps do not have a secured perimeter. This means they do not have a fence, wall, or anything to keep the inmates in. But that’s okay the inmates who are in a minimum-security facility are non-threatening and most of them will be released from the institution within the next year or two. 

The Federal Prison Camp inmates do not have too many rules in place. They do this so inmates can get a little bit of taste of what the outside life is like. As previously stated, most inmates here will be released within the next year or two. Inmates in these facilities will have the privilege to use the telephone, email, send and receive letters, and have visits with family and friends. 

Level II Also Known as Low-Security Facilities

The Federal Bureau of Prisons calls their low-security facilities the Federal Correctional Institutions. 

The Federal Correctional Institutions make up nearly 38-percent of inmates that are currently in the Federal Bureau of Prisons custody. 

When it comes to the Federal Correctional Institution they consist of open dormitory housing. Open dormitory housing is where inmates will live in a big pod with their fellow inmates. It is like college dorms, but without the walls dividing the rooms. 

Now, the Federal Correctional Institution keeps its perimeter secured. Most of the Federal Correctional Institutions have a double fence along with an electronic system. 

Unlike the minimum-security prison level, the inmates in the low-security level will have a little bit more rules. Inmates will be watched a little bit more and the Federal Correctional Institution will have a higher inmate to correctional ratio as well. However, it will not be as bad as some of the higher prison security level prisons. The environment here will still be lax, but not as lax as the minimum-security facilities. 

Inmates who are in the Federal Correctional Institution are non-violent. Inmates in these Federal Correctional Institutions are typically not an active gang member, or with a violent past. There is typically hardly ever any disciplinary misconduct within the Federal Correctional Institutions. 

Most of the inmates who will be housed in one of the Federal Correctional Institution will have under 20 years on their sentence. 

Level III Also Known as Medium-Security Facilities

The Federal Bureau of Prisons calls their medium-security facilities the Federal Correctional Institutions.

29-percent of inmates in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons is housed in one of these Federal Correctional Institutions. 

Now, the Federal Correctional Institution consists of multi-person cells. Just like the low-security level facilities, the perimeter on the Federal Correctional Institution is also secured. Typically securing the perimeter is going to a double fence along with the electronic detection system. 

The correctional officers in the Federal Correctional Institutions are going to monitor the movement of inmates. All inmates will be monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No movement in the facility will not be monitored. 

The inmates in the Federal Correctional Institutions may have a bit more violence in them than the lower prison security levels. However, you will also need to keep in mind that the violence level will solely depend on what type of culture and environment the facility is in. However, the gang presence is greater in the Federal Correctional Institution than the lower prison security levels. 

Within the Federal Correctional Institutions, they will deal with a lot more of the disciplinary misconducts daily. 

Inmates who are housed in the Federal Correctional Institutions will have under 30 years left on their sentence to be eligible to be in this facility. 

Level IV Also Known as High-Security Facilities

The Federal Bureau of Prisons calls the high-security facilities United States Penitentiaries.

Only 12-percent of inmates under the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons will be housed in one of the United States Penitentiaries. 

The United States Penitentiaries will either consist of single-person cells or multi-person cells. Just like the other below security levels, the United States Penitentiaries will have their perimeter secured. Typically, you will see the United States Penitentiary perimeter be secured with either a wall and/or a fence, with a guard tower, a few shooting platforms that come equipped with some of the best armed correctional officers. 

All inmates who are housed in one of the United States Penitentiary will also have a correctional officer escort them to where they are going. No one in the facility will have the privilege of privacy or walking to their destination without a guard. The facilities here have some of the highest inmates to officer ratio just because everyone needs to be monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 

All the United States Penitentiaries will have video surveillance along with other vital monitoring equipment throughout the facility. 

The gang presence is extremely high when it comes to the United States Penitentiaries. There are a lot of racial violence along with gang violence as well. Inmates getting murdered inside these four walls are not as uncommon as you would have hoped. Most of these incidents will be caused by a weapon that an inmate made while they are behind bars, which most of the time is a typical prison shank. 

Disciplinary misconduct is just another day in the life of these inmates. All inmates who are not eligible to be in one of the lower prison security levels will get put in one of these facilities. These inmates are some of the most dangerous inmates in the prison system. 

Level V Also Known as Administrative Security Facilities

You are probably wondering how it can get worse than high-security facilities. Well, it doesn’t get worse. The last level or level V as we call it is an administrative security facility. The administrative security facilities are licensed to house inmates from all the security levels. 

The Federal Bureau of Prisons does not have many of these administrative security facilities, but they do currently have 7 of them. They are as follows: 

  • Administrative Maximum United States Penitentiary
  • Federal Detention Centers
  • Federal Medical Centers
  • Federal Transfer Center
  • Medical Center for Federal Prisoners
  • Metropolitan Correctional Centers
  • Metropolitan Detention Centers

The administrative security facilities are typically located in metropolitan areas. Most of these facilities do not have space for the inmates to go outside. The inmates 99.9-percent of the time will be confined within the four walls unless they need to make an appearance in court.

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