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July 28, 2009

"Prison consultants help inmates get good digs"

The title of this post is the headline of this article about "a type of prison consultant increasingly popular among white-collar wrongdoers."  Here's more from an interesting piece:

From Martha Stewart to Michael Vick, prison consultants are often hired by celebrities, white-collar miscreants and disgraced politicians to lobby for good prison placement, mitigate sentence length and offer crash courses in prison culture.  Last week's arrests of 44 people in a wide-ranging corruption probe that netted public officials and religious leaders in New York and New Jersey may soon produce a batch of new clients.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is aware of the work of prison consultants, but the agency treats all requests from prison consultants as it would any request from the general public, said spokeswoman Felicia Ponce.  Consultants say that they never promise good placement and that lobbying for it is only one aspect of what they do for their clients.

"It's like going to a foreign country that you've never been to before — different language, people's mannerisms," said Tim Miller of the San Diego-based Dr. Prison consultant service.  "When people are entering into the system, we help them look at themselves in ways they may not see themselves."

Miller says his firm first assesses a client's "prison demeanor" and then tailors advice accordingly. Often, former powerbrokers are told they can no longer order others around and shy people are urged to learn to play cards or talk sports so they don't seem anti-social.  Clients are counseled, he said, to always stick with their own race — regardless of how open-minded they might be in the outside world — and are coached to never let anyone cut in front of them in the food line. They're warned that dorm environments are more volatile than single cellblocks and that most altercations take place in the TV room....

Herbert Hoelter said he is on retainer as a professional favor to Madoff's lawyer, Ira Sorkin, but is not being paid by the disgraced financier he describes as indigent.  A trained social worker and pioneer in sentencing consulting, Hoelter co-founded in 1977 the Maryland-based nonprofit National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, which has represented Stewart, Vick, Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky.

Several other consultants learned the trade the hard way: by serving time themselves. "Many lawyers think their job is done the day of sentencing, that's when my job typically begins," said John Webster, founder of the Nashville-based National Prison and Sentencing Consultants. Webster, a former attorney, started his company in 2002, shortly after his release from a 13-month stint in federal prison for lying to the FBI while representing a client in a New Jersey securities fraud case.

"The true punishment of a federal prison camp is the sheer boredom," said Webster, who charges a flat rate of $3,500 for what he calls "complete prison preparation," or a per-diem rate for cases that involve travel or investigative work. White-collar offenders "have to understand where they're going and the kinds of people they'll be around," Webster said.  "They're no longer the captain of the ship or the leader of the pack."

Larry Levine of the Los Angeles-based companies Wall Street Prison Consultants and American Prison Consultants says his 10 years of hard time for narcotics and possession of counterfeit securities, among other charges, guarantee that his advice is genuine.  His firm offers a primer called "Fed Time 101," covering everything from inmate etiquette to suing a Bureau of Prisons employee. .

July 28, 2009 at 10:31 PM | Permalink


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I wonder if any of these guys do pro bono work? (Other than the fee-free services for Madoff.)

Obviously they have a right to make a living, but it would be nice and admirable if they observed the general practice of legal practitioners to spend some time working for needy, but unable-to-pay clients. (For example, lower- or middle-income folks convicted of health-care fraud, immigration crime, etc.---or even child pornography---who are often just as unfamiliar with incarceration as more well-heeled, white-collar defendants.)

Posted by: Observer | Jul 29, 2009 1:59:24 PM

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