What Is the Federal Prison Intake Process Like?

What Is the Federal Prison Intake Process Like?

If a judge recently sentenced you to prison, you likely have a lot of questions. You may be asking what you can bring. You might also wonder whether you’ll be able to stay in touch with friends and family. But you also want to know what your arrival to prison will be like. Going through the federal prison intake process can be scary. Knowing what to expect can help.

Does federal prison staff have a right to search you during the intake process?

Yes. Officers will always conduct a pat-down search. During a pat search, officers pat down the following body parts:

  • shoulders
  • arms
  • back
  • torso
  • ribs
  • legs

They may do a visual search as well. Most prisons make you take off any head coverings and empty your pockets. Officers also look through your hair and inside your ears, nose and mouth.

The visual search can include what is usually referred to as a “strip search.” Prison staff do strip searches in a somewhat private area. Prisoners remove their clothes, and staff checks for contraband. Officers check the following during a visual search: 

  • Hands
  • Feet
  • Armpits
  • Body folds or creases around the genitals

Prisoners must also bend over, spread their buttocks with their hands and cough.

Can you choose your cellmate during the federal prison intake process?

No. Prisoners don’t get to pick their cellmate. Prisons assign cellmates after prisoners go through orientation and testing. They consider other factors like mental health and criminal record as well.

Do you have to get a haircut?

No. The Bureau of Prisons does not force prisoners to cut their hair. Their statement says prisoners’ hair can be as long as they want. They only require that it stays clean and does not pose a security risk.

Prisoners with long hair must wear a hat or hair net when they work in food service. The same rule applies when the long hair could cause a work-related injury. Prisons do not allow wigs and other forms of artificial hair.

Can you wear jewelry into prison?

Yes. All prisoners can have two types of jewelry, according to the Bureau of Prisons. Prisoners can take the following with them:  

  • A wedding band (with no stones or intricate markings)
  • A religious medal (with no stones)

Women can also have earrings. But the earrings also can’t have stones, and they can’t be worth more than $100.

(Whether you want to bring these items is a separate issue.)

federal prison intake process image
Image courtesy of RODNAE Productions from Pexels.

Where will they keep your other stuff while you’re in prison?

Prisons don’t hold prisoners’ personal items. According to a Bureau of Prisons statement from 2011, prisons stopped doing that in August 1999.

But prisons will hold clothes for prisoners to wear for release. Loved ones can give those clothes to staff during the final 30 days of your sentence.

Prisons also provide storage space for personal items in their living area. But those items are either issued by the prison or purchased from the commissary.

What does the prison give you?

The BOP website says prisons give you clothing, hygiene items and bedding during the federal prison intake process. Hygiene items are any of the following:

  • Soap
  • Toilet paper
  • Toothbrush
  • Something to clean teeth with (not necessarily toothpaste)
  • Comb, 
  • Sanitary napkins or tampons
  • Lotion

The Takeaway:

Going to prison can be scary. You may have lots of questions. What can you bring? Who can you talk to? You want answers to these questions, but it’s also important to know what to expect when you walk in the door. Understanding the intake process can help with that.

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