Your UNIT TEAM is the most important and involved officer contact you have during your time in Federal prison.  This group is comprised of a Case Manager, Unit Counselor and Secretary.  They, in turn, report to a Unit Manager, who’s in charge of several Unit Teams.  You’ll typically have minimal contact with a Unit Manager, other than to address issues regarding your Unit Team. 

Unit Team is “supposed” to engage you in discussions about how you’re adapting to prison, help with your concerns and aid in your adjustment back to society.  Good luck!  What you’ll actually discover is that these officers are much less helpful and more demeaning than BOP guidelines suggest.  You’re supposed to be seen by all members of your Unit Team within 30 days of arrival.  In reality, it will probably just be with your Case Manager.  She or he will give you a Sentence Computation Sheet (showing your release date after deductions for gain time), your security level analysis, and a Progress Report providing a breakdown of your status showing such things as whether you have a high school diploma, past disciplinary issues, any work restrictions (here’s where certain ailments built into your PSR come in handy) and restitution status.  You’ll then be told to sign a document indicating that you received these forms and asked if you have any questions, which is really pretty absurd since, at this point you have no idea what the forms are nor any idea of what questions to ask.  Even later, when you do have questions, Case Managers are generally abrupt, have little time for you, and have no problem whatsoever in making that abundantly clear in both deed and attitude.  Don’t worry, though, fellow inmates can walk you through those documents and answer questions that crop up.  “Teamings” are Unit Team reviews you’re given every 5-6 months thereafter, sprinkling in one or more additional officers (depending on your location), info on classes you’re taking, and your eligibility for and progress towards the First Step Act, until the day you leave. 

Unit Team members make themselves available to answer questions during something called “Office Hours,” typically one hour a day four days a week.  It’s mandated so they can’t get around it.  My experience was that’s the best time to get meaningful assistance.  Certain other departments like R&D and Education also have Office Hours to help resolve issues.   

Now for the breakdown of those positions.  You go to the Case Manager if you want to be transferred to another prison, request a treaty transfer, need a furlough request form, and to discuss issues relating to release to Halfway House.[1]  Don’t expect much else, even though BOP guidelines suggest that she or he should be “helping you adjust to the institutional environment and prepare you for eventual release.”  Your Case Manager also reviews and loosely supervises the courses you take while in prison.  Credit for these courses is input into a BOP program called SENTRY, which your Case Manager uses to monitor your progress.  Your SENTRY profile also includes other information such as your charge(s), release address, remaining time on your sentence, etc. so all COs have access to that at a glance.  The other important function of the Case Manager is to pressure you to pay more money from your commissary account toward restitution.

You go to the Unit Counselor to follow up on visit forms, if you need a legal call, submit furlough requests, for package mail outs (anything larger than a legal size mailing envelope), and to hand paperwork seeking administrative remedies.  She or he is also in charge of designating bunks but other officers like those from the SHU and R&D can do that as well.  The final important function of the Counselor is assigning you a job.  You can get ahead of that process by finding an opening somewhere (like Rec or Education), getting a CO from that department to sign a Cop Out offering you a job, and submitting it to your Counselor.  While your Counselor will most often honor that request, she or he has final say and can just as easily ignore the Cop Out and assign you anywhere.  BOP guidelines further assert that the Counselor is supposed to do such things as conduct individual and group counseling and help you resolve day-to-day problems.  Don’t count on it.  Most are, at best, distant with limited office hours, while others are intentionally mean, to keep you at bay and lighten their workload.

You’ll hardly have any contact with the Unit Secretary.  They mostly do clerical work. On occasion you might see the Secretary to receive special delivery mail (instead of at R&D).  Their further responsibilities include processing medical furloughs, release paperwork and, perhaps, coordinating notary services.


[1] They’re also supposed to assist you in obtaining your birth certificate and social security card, for critical identification purposes post-prison.  Frankly, though, you’re much better off having family do that, if you can.