Currently, the Bureau of Prisons is headed by Hugh Hurwitz, who is the current acting director. Mark S. Inch held the post from September 2017 until May 2018.
The Federal Prison System existed for more than 30 years before the BOP was established. Although its wardens functioned almost autonomously, the Superintendent of Prisons, a Department of Justice official in Washington, was nominally in charge of federal prisons, starting with the passage of the "Three Prisons Act' in 1891, which authorized the federal government's first three penitentiaries: USP Leavenworth, USP Atlanta, and USP McNeil Island with limited supervision by the United States Department of Justice afterwards.
Until 1907, prison matters were handled by the Justice Department's General Agent. The General Agent was responsible for Justice Department accounts, oversight of internal operations, and certain criminal investigations, as well as prison operations. In 1907, the General Agent's office was abolished, and its functions were distributed among three new offices: the Division of Accounts (which evolved into the Justice Management Division); the Office of the Chief Examiner (which later evolved by 1908, into the Bureau of Investigation, and later by the early 1920s into the Federal Bureau of Investigation); and the Office of the Superintendent of Prisons and Prisoners, later called the Superintendent of Prisons (which then evolved by 1930 into the Bureau of Prisons).
Pursuant to Pub.L. 71–218, 46 Stat. 325, enacted May 14, 1930, the Bureau of Prisons was established by the U.S. Congress within the U.S. Department of Justice (which itself was created in 1870, to be headed by the Attorney General, whose office was first established in the first Presidential Cabinet under President Washington and created in 1789, along with the Secretaries of State, Treasury and War). The new Prison Bureau was now under the Administration of the 31st President Herbert Hoover, (1874–1964), and was charged with the "management and regulation of all Federal penal and correctional institutions." This responsibility covered the administration of the 11 federal prisons in operation at the time. By the end of the year 1930, the system had already expanded to 14 institutions with 13,000 inmates. By a decade later in 1940, the federal prison system had 24 institutions with 24,360 incarcerated.