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Federal Bureau Of Prisons Announces New Tools in Implementation of FIRST STEP Act

The Bureau of Prisons has announced that there are new resources regarding the BOP’s implementation of the FIRST STEP Act on their website. In the Incarcerated Person Newsletter Part 1 of this is going out this week and Part 2 is going out next week. The public is getting both parts this week.

Needs Assessment in the Federal Bureau of Prisons

The following is from the Bureau of Prisons Website:

(BOP) – There are new resources supporting BOP’s implementation of the First Step Act (FSA) available on BOP’s website, The first item is an update to the initial “Key Components of the Federal Bureau of Prison’s Current Needs Assessment System” publication. A new report, “Needs Assessment in the Federal Bureau of Prisons,” describes the steps BOP has taken to build upon and enhance the current needs assessment processes.

Bureau of Prisons


Just over one year ago, responsive to the requirements of the First Step Act of 2018 (FSA), the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the adoption of the Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risk and Needs (PATTERN) as the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) risk assessment tool. Shortly thereafter, BOP published a document* describing aspects of the current BOP needs assessment system. As noted in that report, the BOP begins focusing on reentry when an inmate first enters custody. BOP has long had a process of assessing needs as part of the intake assessment, with reassessment occurring at least semi-annually throughout an inmate’s incarceration term. Inmates with criminogenic or other needs meet with BOP staff to discuss assessment findings and are referred for appropriate programs based on these results.

With the launch of the PATTERN risk assessment tool, BOP turned to formalizing and enhancing the needs assessment system. Although the FSA allows two years to phase-in and complete this process, BOP implemented a series of systemic improvements in January 2020.

This report describes the steps BOP has taken to build upon and enhance current processes, resulting in the present improved needs assessment system.

Needs Assessment Enhancements

Prior to the launch of PATTERN, DOJ hosted a number of meetings with subject matter experts including researchers and correctional practitioners. While the focus was on risk assessment, needs assessment was also discussed. These internal discussions provided some direction as to enhancements that could be applied to other systems.

Formulation of Needs In September 2019, BOP convened a needs assessment symposium. Attendees included representatives from BOP, DOJ, and the Independent Review Committee (IRC), as well as academic scholars and correctional leaders representing departments with strong needs assessment systems.

As a result of this symposium and input from the assembled experts, thirteen (13) clearly defined needs are now assessed under BOP’s system. The expert group identified twelve of the needs; the thirteenth need, dyslexia, is statutorily required by the FSA.

*See “Key Components of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Current Needs Assessment System”:

The BOP need areas being assessed are:
• Anger/Hostility
• Antisocial Peers
• Cognitions
• Education
• Dyslexia
• Family/Parenting
• Finance/Poverty
• Medical
• Mental Health
• Recreation/Leisure/Fitness
• Substance Abuse
• Trauma
• Work

Measures of Needs

Measures or data sources for the assessment of each need were adopted or formalized. For needs that rely on historical data, information is drawn from the comprehensive legal and social history in the Presentence Investigation Report (PSI) completed by the United States Probation and Pretrial Services Office. Other needs require psychological or educational assessments, and the tools used to assess them are delineated below:

• The Antisocial Peers Need and Criminal Cognitions Need are assessed by the Measures of Criminal Attitudes and Associates (MCAA; Mills & Kroner, 2001) assessment. The MCAA is used to assess the needs of Antisocial Peers and Cognitions.

• The Dyslexia Need must be assessed with measures that meet certain specifications outlined in the FSA. The BOP instituted a two-phase screening process. First, all inmates complete a screening instrument that examines symptoms across functional domains. Inmates who reach the threshold are then administered the Woodcock Johnson IV, a reliable and psychometrically robust test capable of formal diagnosis.

• The Education Need is assessed by the presence or absence of a high school diploma or its equivalent. Measures used for assessing the literacy level are the Test of Adult Base Education (TABE) and the Comprehensive Adult Student Assessments (CASAS).

• The Medical Need is assessed through a history drawn from PSI documents and in-person interview and physical performed by a medical practitioner at a BOP institution.

• The Mental Health Need is assessed by the diagnoses and frequency of services identified via the Psychology Services Intake Questionnaire (PSIQ)** , a structured interview tool developed by BOP.

• The Trauma Need is assessed using the Adverse Childhood Experiences Scale. ** The Psychological Services Intake Questionnaire (PSIQ) is an inmate self-report screening tool used to identify mental health and substance use histories (prior two years) including physical and mental health symptoms (prior two weeks); current or past treatment for substance abuse and mental illness; and any history of suicide attempts or ideation.

Tracking of Needs

Other important steps undertaken and completed to improve the BOP needs assessment system involved implementation of technology and tracking to ensure proper recording of information being collected. Unique identifiers were created within the agency’s inmate management database for each of the approved FSA Evidence-Based Recidivism Reduction (EBRR) programs and Productive Activities (PAs). These identifiers are used when an inmate participates in and completes the program; the information is recorded and historized to assist in tracking and calculating FSA time credits.

Additionally, the BOP case management tool has been modified to display needs assessment information and new assignments stored in the inmate management database. These assignments allow BOP to run nationwide rosters of inmates based on any unique need area for the evaluation of both staffing resource needs and program capacity.

The improved BOP needs assessment system was launched in January 2020. At that time, every inmate who had been in BOP custody over 30 days was provided with their individual results from both the risk and needs assessments, and inmates began enrolling in programs designed to address identified needs.

BOP Programs

The FSA defines two categories of programs to be offered by the BOP –as mentioned above, EvidenceBased Recidivism Reduction (EBRR programs and Productive Activities (PAs). In collaboration with the IRC and DOJ, BOP published a list of more than 70 EBRR and PA programs in January 2020. Every program maps to the need(s) it addresses. When an inmate successfully completes a recommended program in an identified need area, he or she may be able to earn FSA time credit or other incentives***.

BOP has a variety of programs, the most robust of which are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) interventions for mental health and substance abuse disorders, anger management, and criminal thinking elimination. Literacy and occupational training programs are also widely available, and reentry-focused programs such as parenting are offered at all sites.

The BOP continues to expand its programmatic offerings in two ways. External vendors or program developers may submit existing programs for initial review by an independent research organization engaged by the BOP**** ; this review determines if the program satisfies the requirements of the FSA and that determination is later reviewed by the BOP. The BOP also develops programs internally for its own use. As one of the largest employers of doctoral level psychologists, as well as an employer of chaplains, teachers, and medical professionals, the agency is well suited to identify gaps in programming and create services grounded in evidence that fit federal population parameters.

***Under the FSA, certain inmates convicted of disqualifying offenses are ineligible to earn time credits. See

****See (“Submit proven programs to reduce recidivism through the FSA External Program Review process.”)

Moving Forward

The BOP’s needs assessment will continue to update and modify various systems to simplify data entry and collection. BOP will also soon implement a process for the reassessment of needs to determine whether, over time, an inmate’s need still exists, if programming eliminated the need, or if new needs have arisen. The agency has also draft policies (program statements) prepared that codify the system; those program statements are pending negotiation with the National Union.

Violent Offense Codes for PATTERN Risk Assessment

This is also available on the BOP’s website

Category Federal Offenses such as (below) and/or any
qualifying military or non-federal offenses
Aircraft and Motor Vehicle Offenses 18 USC 31 – 34, 36, & 37
Arson 18 USC 81
Assault 18 USC 111 – 119
Biological/Chemical Weapons 18 USC 175, 229, & 2283
Child Abuse 18 USC 2258
Child Sex Trafficking 18 USC 1591
Drugs, Death or Serious Bodily Injury 21 USC 841
Explosives 18 USC 831, 832, & 842 – 844
Firearms 18 USC 922 – 924, 929; & 26 USC 5851 – 5872
Genocide 18 USC 1091
Homicide 18 USC 1111 – 1114, & 1116 – 1121
Kidnapping 18 USC 1201 – 1204
Jury/Witness Tampering, Retaliation 18 USC 1501 – 1510, & 1513
Mutiny and Riot 18 USC 1792
National Defense 18 USC 2385; 22 USC 2778;
42 USC 2077, 2122, 2131, 2274 – 2275, & 2284
Protection of Certain Identities 50 USC 3121
Protection of Unborn Children 18 USC 1841
Racketeering 18 USC 1925, 1951, 1958, & 1959
Robbery/Theft Robbery 18 USC 2113 – 2115, 2118, 2119, & 2213
Searches & Seizures 18 USC 2231
Sex Offenses 8 USC 1328; 18 USC 1591, 2241 – 2248, 2251 – 2252,
2421 – 2429, 4320; & 10 USC 920
Solicitation to Commit Crime of Violence 18 USC 373
Slavery, Peonage 18 USC 1581 – 1590, 1592, & 1597
Terrorism 18 USC 229, 1992, 2331 – 2339, & 8124P
Threats 18 USC 871, 879, & 1751
Violence 18 USC 36, 37, 351, 521, 2261, 2262, 2280, 2281, 2291, 2340; & 49 USC 60123(b)
War Crimes 18 USC 2441

What does this mean?

The Needs Assessment information is important because it shows the tools that the BOP is indicating they are using in order to assist the incarcerated persons.

The Violent Codes are very important. They show what crimes are considered to be violent by the BOP. This matters when looking at things like the CARES Act or other relief.