If Convicted on Federal Charges, Where Will Trump ‘Do Time’?

In all the media coverage about former president Donald Trump’s latest indictmentpossible sentences , trial dates, inflammatory posts, arraignments, presidential rallies, polls, etc. Many rabid and rational anti-Trumpers have fanciful ideas on where to imprison him if he’s convicted of federal charges. Politico’s Erica Orden points out the caveat that any prison must have quarters close by for Secret Service’s lifetime protection for presidents.

Public suggestions range from Sing-Sing, Rikers Island and Guantanamo to Alcatraz and St. Helena Island in the South Atlantic where Napoleon died after a six-year stretch. Now, Alcatraz is the only federal prison on such a list, but closed in 1963 and has become a popular tourist stop run by the National Park Service in San Francisco Bay.

Sing-Sing and Rikers Island are both New York prisons. Guantanamo’s Naval Base certainly has the space, accommodations, and personnel to handle Trump and the Secret Service, and expenses would already be covered by the annual $540 million unquestioned Congressional allocation. But Gitmo still houses 20 detainees from the Iraq and Afghanistan sweeps of the 9/11 era who could endanger Trump.

The most remote location would be Britain’s barren St. Helena Island , midway in the South Atlantic between South America and Africa. It does have Napoleon’s 40-room Longwood House, a nine-hole golf course , airport, and regular festivals. Indeed, for Trump to walk in Napoleon’s footsteps around the island—with guards and day-and-night surveillance —would be something he could brag about forever. The British government might welcome the hefty federal rent, and the tourist industry undoubtedly would tout impromptu encounters with Trump roaming the island. However, tourists and local audience (4,439 Brits and Europeans ) and security forces undoubtedly would soon tire of Trump’s constant recriminations and lamentations.

The reality for federal white-collar crimes is more like North Carolina’s Butner Medical Detention Center which housed world-famous swindler Bernie Madoff who did nine of a 150-year sentence until his death of kidney failure in 2021.

For one thing, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will have examined Trump’s crimes, weighed them for appropriate facilities—from among the 120 federal prisons —for his assignment. Ultimately, a high-security penitentiaries for the most dangerous criminals, correctional institutions for medium and low-security types, prison camps for minimum-security felons, and administrative facilities for pretrial offenders, or those with serious medical conditions, or are violent, and escape-prone.

A former Secret Service agent recently told a CNN interviewer that:

“If you want to go to prison, you want to go to federal prison. They’re typically safer. State prisons tend to have more violent offenders there. …. The other thing is [federal prisons] already have their security set up… It’s already safe. [And] you’re actually looking at less manpower, less resources, less money—definitely less money for taxpayers.”

Unfortunately, no parole from a federal conviction has been possible after 1987 when Congress passed the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 . But at sentencing, judges usually specify a period of “supervised release” between one and five years near the end of final release. Under that program, convicts must obey a court’s strict rules and withstand parole officer monitoring and enforcement. Good behavior can still reduce a sentence by a year or two. Violators of supervised release, however, are returned to prison to finish their sentences.

If convicted, Trump probably will be assigned to one of the nation’s seven Federal minimum-security camps . His preference probably would be a minimum-security camp with a “better class” of white-collar criminals worthy of his imperious presence whom he could beguile. Perhaps featuring a miniature golf course, daily Big Mac deliveries, retaining his social-media website, and no wakeup call before nine in the morning.

He may have learned that infamous gangster and tax-evader Al Capone initially enjoyed a “huge private cell, home-cooked meals, telephone privileges and visits from gangland pals,” according to History contributor Greg Daugherty . But that was in Chicago’s Cook County jail, the prelude to his fulfilling an 11-year sentence spent mostly in a 9×5-foot cell of the then-new Alcatraz island in San Francisco Bay. A model prisoner, he complied with duties (sweeping corridors, mopping floors, providing laundry services), kept his nose clean, did a lot of self-improvement reading, and even organized a band so he could play banjo.

Minimum-security camps offer dorm rooms instead of cells, dressers and desks, bunks, fewer guards, recreational areas, limited if any fencing, a library, television, post-prison career programs, and monitored online services. And relaxed, far less hostile guards . At the Pensacola camp, families could visit for long weekends in a nearby woodsy park, according to Mark Whitacre , the Archer Daniels embezzler of millions, who did the last half of his 8.5-year sentence at that institution.

Most federal prisons have air conditioning , and if not, the BOP mandates target temperatures of 76ºF in summer, 68º in winter by other means (central fans or cold showers). State prisons and county jails too often lack air conditioning and many heat-related deaths this summer have led to an investigation demand to the House Oversight and Accountability committee by Democratic members Jamie Raskin (MD) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), and Greg Casar (TX).

However, like other prison regimens , inmates are likely wakened at midnight, 3 and 5 a.m. for convict “counts.” Morning wakeup is at 6 for showers, dressing, breakfast before starting work duties inside or outside jobs. Wages are at most $1.15 an hour . Madoff earned 24¢ an hour at Butner, a far cry from his pre-prison $64.8 billion Ponzi swindle.

Interestingly, Alan Ellis, a criminal defense attorney for federal white-collar criminals —fraud by wire, mail, and healthcare—co-authors a regularly revised book called The Federal Prison Guidebook . It obviously originated from his bargaining to get clients “the lowest possible sentences and get them into the best prisons possible” of all those at federal and state levels.

Trump’s advisers surely will provide him with the Guidebook’s ratings of the seven minimum-security camps : Alderson in West Virginia; Bryan, TX; Duluth, MN; Montgomery, AL; Pensacola, FL; Victorville, CA; and Yankton, SD. If he’s up to finally reading these days before federal trials, a Google search lists of books and videos available for prison workouts and survival behavior.

One prison considered the “cushiest” by inmates and their attorneys in the minimum-security category is Florida’s federal camp in Pensacola . It’s outfitted with facilities for racquetball, volleyball, horseshoes, plus weight-lifting equipment and a theater for “movie nights.” Plus that park for family weekend visitors. Among the current inmates is Reality TV’s Todd Chrisley, serving 12 years. New York Congressman Chris Collins (NY-R) did only two months of 26 for insider trading and lying to the FBI, because Trump pardoned him in 2020.

Other federal camps also offer perks for both physical and educational activities that probably would bore Trump. At Montgomery, for instance, it’s correspondence courses from Troy State University. Volunteerism for approved nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity is a resource outside prison walls at Yankton. Some have swimming pools, tennis courts, soccer fields, and baseball diamonds. Many have hands-on classes and apprenticeships in the trades. Libraries foster reading and the correspondence-course route to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Of course, in any federal prison inmates can also write articles and books, paint, and perform in talent shows and approved plays.

Basic medical facilities are always available to the Madoffs. In that regard, because of today’s widespread drug- and alcohol-related crimes, treatment services also may be provided. Too, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings are usually permitted on prison premises.

The assured security and “three hots [meals] and a cot” in prison, never makes up for the loss of power and freedom that beset the Napoleons , Capones , and Madoffs , of course. Heartbreak, deep depressions, incurable diseases, and isolation capped their remaining years. The same fate is likely to befall Trump if he fails to “beat the rap” for those federal crimes.