Got Prison? Here Are The Top 5 Things A Defendant Should Do Prior To Reporting

by Walt Pavlo

I once told someone that I helped people prepare for a stay in Federal Prison and they thought that I was just kidding.  As they asked me, “Prepare for what?  Don’t you just go?”  The truth is, there is a lot to be done.

At the Compliance & Enforcement blog we write about enforcement and compliance, but what isn’t always apparent is that a lot about enforcement is people going to prison.  Many of those convicted of white collar crimes spend many months, or years, prior to reporting to prison.  In one case that I wrote about extensively, Ross Mandell of Sky Capital was indicted on federal charges for securities fraud in July 2009, went to trial in June 2011, and was found guilty in July 2011.  He was sentenced to prison (12 years) in May 2012 and entered prison in September 2014.  That is a span of over five years!  Like many white collar inmates, Mandell had to arrange his own transportation and “self-surrender” to prison.  He just showed up and they had a reservation for his 12 year prison stay.

Jack Donson, a retired Bureau of Prisons case manager and co-founder of Prisonology (full disclosure, I am the other co-founder), spoke to Mandell just as he has many others who have headed to prison.  “They are scared because they do not know,” Donson told me of the people he counsels. “It is the uncertainty of prison combined with what is seen on television that confuses people.”  What we see on television and in the movies about prison is certainly not accurate or helpful.

Donson said that many people are so frightened of prison that they fail to prepare themselves and their family.  So I asked Donson to give me 5 things white collar defendants should do as they prepare to go to prison.

1. Research the new housing arrangements: Each federal prison has its own unique manual, Admission & Orientation that provides information about the institution. This ranges from rules on visitation, to communication, to living conditions for the inmates. It is a good idea to know the rules and as much information about the institution as possible, since the person in prison will be calling home for a few months (or years).

2. Put all legal documents in one place: The future inmate will need to pull together wills, power of attorneys, living wills, bank documents, business arrangements and put these in control of a person they trust. An additional piece of advice is that this person of trust is not necessarily a spouse. A study at Florida State University revealed, to no surprise, that divorce rates among those who are incarcerated are higher than that of the general population.

3. Get a physical: While the Bureau of Prisons has medical care, it is best to see one’s own physician to make sure medications are up to date and that there are no immediate healthcare needs. The BOP maintains a list, known as a formulary, of prescriptions that it dispenses. If a person’s medication is not on that list, then the physician should switch the patient to one that is on the list.

4. Send yourself a letter in prison: has a listing of inmates in its care, the address of its institutions and the name / inmate number of those who are preparing to surrender. People will be told the name of their future institution. Donson recommends looking up the institution and sending a letter to oneself addressed to the prison with contact information (phone, address and emails) of people on the outside. This will form the basis of the inmates’ phone list (people they can call), visitation list and email list (yes there is email in federal prison). When an inmate enters prison, there are few items that they are allowed to bring with them, like contact lists.

5. Make sure transportation to prison is arranged and planned: For those who self-surrender, they have to find their own way to prison by plane, train or automobile. There is also an assigned date and time that the person has to be at the prison. Being late is not an option … that’s called “an escape.” Donson recommends having a plan of getting to the prison and allowing plenty of time to get there. For those traveling more than 3 hours, perhaps it is best to stay in a hotel near the prison and then arrange for the shorter ride over.

While the outcome of ‘prison’ is often the fault of the person standing in front of the judge at sentencing, it does not mean that part of the punishment should include the misery associated with the uncertainty about it.  Gathering information on prison is just as important for attorneys as it is for defendants.  It was Justice Anthony Kennedy who challenged all of us (judges, lawyers, law professors and defendants) in 2015 by saying at a House appropriations subcommittee meeting:

“The corrections system is one of the most overlooked, misunderstood institutions we have in our entire government,” he said.

He chastised the legal profession for being focused only on questions of guilt and innocence, and not what comes after. “We have no interest in corrections,” he said. “Nobody looks at it.”

If prison is an important part of enforcement, we all should understand it a bit more.

Walt Pavlo is President of Prisonology and co-author of “Stolen Without A Gun,” which he co-wrote with Neil Weinberg (Bloomberg).


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