Best Places To Go To Prison
Lacey Rose 04.18.06, 6:00 PM ET
New York – Two disgraced Enron executives, former Chief Jeffrey Skilling and founder Kenneth Lay, have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, and they each face a lengthy prison term if convicted.
Where they will serve their time–assuming they serve time at all–can be almost as important as how much time they’ll do, says Alan Ellis, a former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Ellis now specializes in the defense of white-collar offenders.
Although criminals don’t get to choose their prisons, they can make requests. And assuming their desired location matches their security classification, as defined by the Bureau of Prisons–minimum, low, medium or high–and has space available, requests are often honored.
Often, but not always. Take the case of Samuel Waksal, the former ImClone SystemsCEO, who requested to serve his seven-year sentence at Eglin Federal Prison Camp in Florida. (Eglin was once considered so cushy that the term “Club Fed” was actually coined to describe it. It was recently closed.) Instead, Waksal was shipped off to the Schuylkill Federal Correctional Institute in Minersville, Pa., which did not make my list.
And the fates of crooked corporate titans like former Tyco Chief Executive Dennis Kozlowski and Adelphia founder John Rigas can hardly be encouraging either. Kozlowski will serve up to 25 years of hard time in a New York state prison, while Rigas, who is free pending an appeal, was sentenced to 15 years in the can.
The days of “Club Fed”–think golf courses and lobster bakes–are long gone. But minimum security facilities, known as federal prison camps, are the best suited for disgraced CEOs and other white-collar criminals. In theory, inmates in these camps show no risk of violence or escape. Both shoe-mogul Steven Madden and Martha Stewart are FPC alums.
Why are prison camps the way to go, if you must go at all? Among other perks, federal prison camps have a relatively low staff-to-inmate ratio, dormitory-style accommodations and little to no fencing. In fact, inmates could walk away from these camps. Few do, however, because recaptured inmates face severe consequences.
While some of the minimum security facilities still stand on their own, it is increasingly common to have camps lie adjacent to larger and more secure institutions, particularly low-security federal correctional institutions.
“It used to be that those freestanding facilities were considered to be more relaxed,” says David Novak, a former Microsoft consultant who served time in a federal prison camp for mail fraud. “The differences now really come down to convenience for family, weather and things of that nature.”
Ellis says the quality of life among staff members also can make one prison more pleasant than another. “Happier staff makes for happier inmates,” he says.
To determine which prisons are the best places to serve time, I turned to the man who wrote the guidebook, literally. Ellis has written several editions of the Federal Prison Guidebook, which profiles each of the nation’s 178 federal prisons.