Here's What Life Behind Bars Could Be Like For Donald Trump

One possibility is Rikers Island's contagious disease unit.

Former President Donald Trump may not end up behind bars after he was found guilty last week on 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, a surprise decision handed down by a panel of 12 Manhattanites.

But it’s possible.

Trump is currently expected to face sentencing on July 11, with each low-tier felony charge carrying a maximum penalty of four years behind bars.

New York Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan said at one point during Trump’s hush money trial that “the last thing” he wanted to do was to jail the defendant, nodding to the logistical headaches it would create for the incarceration system. But it was a comment he made while warning Trump against further violations of his gag order, which Trump disobeyed 10 times over the course of his hush money trial, resulting in a $1,000 fine for each incident.

Ultimately, Merchan told Trump that he was prepared to incarcerate him if he felt the law required it.

“At the end of the day, I have a job to do, and part of that job is to protect the dignity of the judicial system and compel respect,” the judge said on May 6.

Merchan could order any sentences to be served concurrently. In determining a sentence, judges are allowed to take into account an array of factors, including the defendant’s age, the nonviolent nature of the crime, and whether this was his first conviction — which, for Trump, it was. Of course, Trump’s complete and total lack of remorse could also influence Merchan’s decision.

Some legal observers, like Brookings Institution senior fellow Norm Eisen, believe there’s a good chance Trump is incarcerated for a period of less than one year.

“That’s not good news in Manhattan, because those sentences are served in jail, not state prison, and the jail for the city of Manhattan, of course, is Rikers,” Eisen said on an episode of “Pod Save America” that aired last week.

“So that’s not great news for the former president,” added Eisen.

Rikers Island is an infamous facility plagued by allegations of human rights abuses.

Because a former US president has never before been put behind bars, there is no model for officials to follow, and it is difficult to predict what might happen. We know that Trump’s Secret Service protection detail would be required to follow him wherever he ends up.

To get a better sense of what incarceration might look like, HuffPost spoke to Martin Horn, a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction who is now a professor emeritus at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice; and Sarena Townsend, a former deputy commissioner for investigations at the New York City Department of Correction who now works as a criminal defense attorney.

The ‘Contagious Disease’ Unit

If Trump ends up on Rikers Island, he will have a friend nearby in former Trump Organisation CFO Allen Weisselberg, who is currently serving a sentence there for perjury.

But it will be important to keep the former president and current Republican presidential front-runner a safe distance from the other inmates.

“You obviously want to protect him from other prisoners who, for a variety of reasons, might want to get to him — to either harm him or just to get his autograph,” Horn said.

Trump’s Secret Service detail presents another big problem, considering how his protective agents will likely want to keep their firearms with them at all times. As an ex-president, Trump is entitled to Secret Service protection around the clock, but guns are restricted in jail and prison facilities due to the risk that they might fall into the wrong hands.

So where could officials place Trump and still keep him safe?

“Rikers has a building that lends itself very well to that purpose,” Horn said. “They’ve got a unit. It was built in the 1990s as a contagious disease unit, and it’s a series of small buildings. Each building only has five or six cells in it, and each cell is self-contained. It has its own shower, it’s air-conditioned, and it has sort of an anteroom that can be used to keep an eye on the prisoner without being in the cell with them,” he went on, describing the office space, nurse’s stations and exam rooms the facilities contain.

Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced Hollywood superproducer, was kept in one of these facilities.

“I think that Mr Trump would be the best-treated inmate ever to exist on Rikers Island,” Townsend said.

Limited TV And Phone Access

Under the usual circumstances, cell phones are always considered contraband behind bars. They create “a huge security risk for both [Trump] and for the correction officers,” Townsend said.

“If that phone is somehow misplaced or stolen, it could fall into the wrong hands. The department is also very wary of people recording inside of the jail facilities,” she added.

“I don’t see what the justification for making an exception for him would be,” Horn said.

Pay phones may be used, but conversations with anyone aside from an inmate’s lawyers are recorded. (In theory, Trump could call into a morning news program from a Rikers pay phone.)

Televisions can be purchased from the commissary, but that is usually a reward for good behaviour over a period of time.

Inmates are also generally subject to whatever food is being made in the prison kitchen — in other words, probably no imported McDonald’s, although The New York Times noted that Trump’s Secret Service agents would be in charge of screening his food. Prisoners who convert to Judaism can get kosher meals, Townsend said, noting this sometimes happens at Rikers. Muslim prisoners are served halal meals. Other food items can be bought from the commissary.

The idea that Trump is receiving special treatment could cause issues with other inmates in whatever facility he is held at.

“You wouldn’t want anyone to be able to say, either in a lawsuit or to the media, ’I wasn’t able to get my minimum standards. I wasn’t able to get my shower time or my rec[reation] time or my food on time. Everybody was catering to Mr Trump,’” Townsend said.

Asked whether Trump’s presence would strain resources for others at the facility, she said: “I think the place is already very, very poorly run.”

Prison Is Less Likely

Rikers Island is a jail facility. Anyone incarcerated for more than one year is normally sent to a prison facility, and there are a number of these around New York state. Trump would probably be sent to one with minimum security.

Townsend told HuffPost that, under normal circumstances, the factors that go into placing an inmate in a facility include where the individual’s family is located, to make it easier for them to come visit.

“Although [prison] is meant to punish and deter, it’s also not meant to torture,” she said.

“It’s really meant for the person to be rehabilitated.”


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