Jefferson May Be Ineligible for Camp

Posted November 16, 2009 at 5:31pm

Facing 13 years in prison for his August corruption conviction, ex-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) hopes to be assigned to a minimum security prison camp instead of a prison surrounded with barbed wire, a request that the judge in his case is inclined to grant.

But it may not be so easy.

Under Bureau of Prisons policies, the length of Jefferson’s sentence would generally disqualify him from serving in a prison camp, where other convicted former Members have done time.

According to the Bureau of Prisons Web site, minimum security prison camps tend to be open institutions, with fewer restrictions and no visible fencing. Low-security prisons, on the other hand, are more like traditional prisons, surrounded by barbed wire.

Judge T.S. Ellis sentenced Jefferson to 13 years on Friday but said he would recommend a camp for the former Congressman. Jefferson’s attorneys requested specifically that he be assigned to the federal prison in Pensacola, Fla., where the camp is adjacent to an Air Force base, but Ellis would not commit to a location.

Ellis’ decision would only be a suggestion at any rate.

Criminal defense attorneys explain that the BOP makes its inmate assignments though a complicated numerical ranking system, with “length of sentence— one factor in a broader equation.

“There is this matrix,— said Mark Rankin, a Florida defense attorney, and the bureau “generally will not allow an offender with 10 years on their sentence to be in minimum security. … It’s a ‘public safety factor.’—

[IMGCAP(1)]The BOP policy specifically states: “A male inmate with more than ten years remaining to serve will be housed in at least a Low security level institution unless the [public safety factor] has been waived.—

BOP spokeswoman Felicia Ponce said, “With a sentence of 13 years he would not be eligible at this point for a prison camp,— though she pointed out that other factors could weigh in Jefferson’s favor and allow the bureau to send him to a minimum security facility. “We would have to take a close look at that.—

Rankin, who co-chairs the sentencing committee of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said, “I think the reasoning behind 10 years is, if you have that much time left you are at more of a risk to escape.—

Cleveland attorney Elizabeth Kelley, who chairs the NACDL committee on corrections, said minimum security camps are appealing to inmates because “there are not as many regulations — and also the people who tend to be there are very low-level offenders who have been sentenced to a short time in prison. … You are in nicer company.—

Ellis’ recommendation is helpful to Jefferson’s cause, but it is not decisive.

“When judges make a recommendation on a sentencing order, the Bureau of Prisons takes that recommendation into account, but by no means are they obligated to follow it,— Kelley said.

Ellis has scheduled a hearing Wednesday on Jefferson’s request to turn himself in after the holidays, and he also has a motion pending to remain free during his appeal.

Ellis’ ruling on when Jefferson must report to prison could also have an effect on where he serves his time. One of the factors that the Bureau of Prisons takes into account when making assignment decisions for inmates is whether they were immediately taken into custody or a judge allowed them to turn themselves in to authorities.

“The BOP thought process is if the judge thought you were a risk of flight or danger to the community, that’s kind of a mark against you,— Rankin said.

Ellis also ordered Jefferson to forfeit just under $471,000, which includes $380,000 from his federal retirement plan.