« Wondering about the state and fate of the federal death penalty | Main | Is community service really a punishment? Should it be ordered more? »

September 1, 2010

"Prison is too good for Blago"

The title of this post is the headline of this column by Phil Luciano in the Peoria Journal Star.  Here are some excerpts:

How would you like to see Rod Blagojevich punished?  I'd like to see him do something that involves hard and demeaning work. You know, like real punishment....

I get my prison peek courtesy of a pal of mine, "Screamin'."  He recently got out of the federal system after serving three years for fraud.  He spent a good amount of cell time writing me letters about the relative ease of federal prison camps.  Now that he is out and on the straight and narrow, he still is amazed at how little punishment is involved behind bars at minimum-security prison -- and why many folks call it "Club Fed."

That's likely where Blago will end up.  Remember, regardless of the second trial, he already has been convicted of lying to the FBI.  For that, a source tells me, he likely will get a year or two in prison.

He has no prior record, so he will get a minimum-security assignment.  Unlike Pekin's medium-security facility, minimum-security prisons have no walls.  It's kind of like living at a college dorm, Screamin' says.

Screamin' says Blago will spend most of his days doing light labor, such as upkeeping the library or cutting grass.  For that, he'll get around 16 cents an hour, which means about $15 a month.  Inmates get to spend earnings on treats at the commissary.

But Blago will have opportunities to make more money or earn favors.  As an attorney, he can write motions for other prisoners. In exchange, he could get packets of tuna -- a favorite at prison camps, because it tastes most like real food, Screamin' says.  Or, Blago could trade legal work for favors, such as laundry work.

During down time -- and there is plenty of down time -- Blago likely will consort with other politicians and businessmen.  They often walk around the outdoor track, not so much for exercise but to gossip and scheme.  Sure, Blagojevich is a big jogger, but he'll likely be more attuned to the deals inmates concoct regarding life on the outside after they do their time....

Many [inmates] do what they love on the outside: gamble.  Bookmaking is immensely popular, with wives and girlfriends taking care of settling wagers on the outside. Screamin' would see inmates lose thousands of dollars per sports season. "It's crazy," he says.  "A lot of money."

Of course, get caught and get in trouble.  You might get shipped off to "the hole."  Or you could get moved to a stiffer prison, where you can't get away so easily with such shenanigans.  All in all, though, Screamin' found his stay rather uneventful.  And that's why I hate to see Blagojevich go away to federal prison.

U.S. taxpayers spend more than $24,000 a year to house each prisoner.  And there are more than 200,000 inmates in the federal system. Behind bars,  Blago gets easy jobs and a chance to network with other pols and bigwigs.  That's hardly what I call punishment.  So maybe it's time to get creative.

Judges sometimes opt for alternate sentences nowadays.  In Ohio, a man who ran from police was forced to jog around a jail every day.  In Texas, a woman who tried to weasel Hurricane Katrina rebuild money had to clean houses.  In California, a beer thief had to wear a T-shirt declaring his crime.  But those were state sentences.  Federal sentencing guidelines don't allow anything but incarceration.

Yet wouldn't it make more sense to find a different way to handle Blago and others like him?  A way that not only makes him pay his debt to society but takes the taxpayer off the hook?

Make him work a 9-to-5 minimum-wage job -- fast food, retail or whatever -- so he can learn how the little guy squeaks by while earning money to help support his family.  At night, he would have to stay at home -- no restaurants or fun until his term is over.

Weekends, though, he would do very visible public service. Picking up trash on the highways, cleaning state Dumpsters, shoveling state-owned sidewalks -- anything involving sweat and humility.  And the aggrieved public could watch -- perhaps with knowing smiles and pointing fingers -- what happens when a government official brazenly goes bad.

Informed readers should know that shaming sanctions and other prison alternatives in fact are possible in the federal sentencing system, though truly creative sentences are quite rare.  Do others agree with this columnist that Blago is a good candidate for some creative sentencing?

September 1, 2010 at 08:14 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "Prison is too good for Blago":


Stupid thoughts from one of those nightly "roll out the barrel" types, writing for a (rural) public in Peoria/Pekin that depends upon employment at two federal correctional institutions, the Pekin FCI and the Pekin prison "camp." Here's ole Phil's predilection: Journal Star columnist and WMBD-AM radio personality Phil Luciano was officially charged Tuesday with two counts of misdemeanor battery for allegedly striking a man at a West Peoria tavern on May 16. 2009.
The charges allege Luciano, 45, of Morton struck a man in the head while at the Owl's Nest, 2128 W. Callender Ave., and also that he "tackled" that man. Luciano was at the tavern early May 16 and asked to leave the bar after causing a disturbance, Peoria County sheriff's reports stated. About 1:15 a.m., he came back into the tavern and allegedly struck a man in the head and tore his shirt.

Posted by: FluffyRoss | Sep 1, 2010 8:20:48 AM

I think the important question to ask Screamin' is would he want to go back and spend a lengthy period of time there. Even though prison camps aren't "hard labor" and may be considered "easy" relative to maximum or medium security facilities, the important thing to consider is whether it is sufficiently ensuring that the person is recognizing the wrongfulness of his crime and confinement is also deterring him from going back. I don't think Screamin' would want to go to “Club Fed” on vacation, let alone live there again, as Mr. Luciano seems to imply. They aren't always hellish places, but they also aren't good places to be.

I have talked to white collar clients who when I ask how it is, they tell me that camps "aren't relatively bad" or "aren't as bad as I've heard prison can be". (Note, everything is relative). But, IMO, the fact that such statements can be made is a very far cry from saying the individuals aren't being adequately punished.

Posted by: DEJ | Sep 1, 2010 12:05:27 PM

Given his penchant for violating cameras in the most awful of ways, I say make it a condition of his release that he cannot come within 100 feet of a camera or newsperson.

Also require him to send photo postcards to all news organizations in his community letting them know that an offender convicted of second-degree douchebaggery has recently moved to their area.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Sep 1, 2010 12:30:05 PM

Lest Phil forget the life-long punishment of being a convicted felon in this current information age of $9.95 background checks and Google! Blago may not feel the sting of this until all the dust settles but let me assure you it is ongoing and it is harsh. The other point is you CAN'T leave, you are CONFINED regardless of whether you're in a cell or not. Also, all the shenanigans he mentions are just as prevelant in maximum security populations as they are in the camps sometimes worse. Blago's punishment and consequences started the day he was indicted regardless of his conviction, which is why the government needs to move on and spend OUR money on some other bad guys, they've gotten their pound of flesh, but as is usually the case with the DOJ(particularly the AUSA's), its more about "scalps on the wall" vs what is reasonable.

Posted by: rns | Sep 1, 2010 12:39:17 PM

I think we ought to cut Blago loose and forget about him. I don't think lying to the FBI is something that really harms the public.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Sep 1, 2010 5:11:41 PM

Anyone who doesn't see incarceration as a dreadful experience probably lacks the imagination and profundity necessary to write a column worth reading.

Unless, of course, you're a knuckle-dragging yahoo like the commenters who chimed in with their own moronic suggestions for how to dial up the misery for Blago and, presumably, everyone else who ends up in prison.

Posted by: John K | Sep 2, 2010 3:30:58 PM

(IT Security pro)

"as an attorney..." Blago should be disbarred for lying during sworn testimony, if that was when he lied to the FBI (I can't find a reference to determine if it was sworn testimony or not at this point)

Posted by: Niko | Oct 8, 2010 9:08:02 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB