Thursday, August 25, 2005
Bernard Ebbers, former CEO of WorldCom, has been assigned to a medium security prison to serve his sentence. See Washington Post here and the Securities Litigation Watch here (who were kind enough to alert us to the Post article), Although it should be noted that the particular facility he has been assigned to does have both a medium security section and a "[a]n administrative Federal Detention Center (FDC) with a satellite prison camp that houses minimum security male inmates." See here. Ebbers sentence of 25 years was not only unusually long for a white collar offender, but now the location of serving that sentence (if it is in fact in the medium security facility) presents something new for white collar offenders.
In the past, most white collar offenders were assigned to camps or minimum security facilities. At the worst they might receive a low security facility. As there was little chance of escape, there was no need to place those convicted of white collar crimes in a prison setting that warranted the level of security needed for someone who had committed a crime of violence.
Camps and minimum security facilities are described by the Federal Bureau of Prisons as follows:
"Minimum security institutions, also known as Federal Prison Camps (FPCs), have dormitory housing, a relatively low staff-to-inmate ratio, and limited or no perimeter fencing. These institutions are work- and program-oriented; and many are located adjacent to larger institutions or on military bases, where inmates help serve the labor needs of the larger institution or base.
"Low security Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs) have double-fenced perimeters, mostly dormitory or cubicle housing, and strong work and program components. The staff-to-inmate ratio in these institutions is higher than in minimum security facilities."
" Medium security FCIs have strengthened perimeters (often double fences with electronic detection systems), mostly cell-type housing, a wide variety of work and treatment programs, an even higher staff-to-inmate ratio than low security FCIs, and even greater internal controls.
Placement to specific prisons is often premised on the number of years of the defendant's sentence. After all, a person receiving a higher sentence would normally be a greater threat to society.
But the judge in the Ebbers case recognized the distinction here and requested that Ebbers serve his time in a minimum security facility. Unfortunately, the prison officials were not convinced, or unable to make such a designation, and Ebbers has been assigned to serve his sentence in a medium security facility.
With white collar offenders receiving high sentences, and assignment to prisons often being premised upon the length of the sentence, we may find white collar offenders being placed in more secure facilities. But is this really necessary? Do we really have to fear that Bernard Ebbers will escape? And now that he is removed from his position with the company, can he truly hurt individuals? Maybe someone needs to rethink prison assignment in white collar cases to match the offender to the facility as opposed to being matched to the length of the sentence.