How Rich Do I Have to Be to Get Sent to a Country Club Prison?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 17, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's a classic line from a classic movie. Michael Bolton (the character), worried that the group's plan of siphoning off pennies from their employer in "Office Space" is unraveling, lays out the doomsday scenario: "We get caught laundering money, we're not going to white-collar resort prison. No, no, no. We're going to federal pound-me-in-the-a** prison."

Distasteful prison rape jokes aside, the bit belies a common perception among laypeople that there are brutal prison conditions for the poor or unfortunate, and country club prisons for the rich and powerful. And revelations from Paul Manafort's "VIP" incarceration this week did little to dispel that belief.

VIP Detainee

Perhaps built on pop culture depictions of lax prison conditions like the dinner scene in "Good Fellas," one Reddit user openly wondered: "How much money does one generally have to have before they're usually put in a nice, comfy prison, instead of one of the really unpleasant ones?" It turned out to be a timely question. Just the day before, details of President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort's stint in a federal jail in Virginia came to light, and it certainly sounded like he was receiving special treatment.

Buzzfeed reported that Manafort was classified on his entry to Northern Neck Regional Jail as a "VIP," which officials asserted was not due to "qualitative" differences in his detention. Still, Manafort is housed in a private living unit, bigger than those of fellow inmates, complete with his own bathroom and shower facility, private telephone, and laptop for reading and writing emails.

Court filings from special counsel Robert Mueller's team claim Manafort has made some 300 phone calls over the last three weeks, and is able to review and compose emails from a laptop brought in and out of the jail. (While inmates don't have immediate access to email, Buzzfeed reports Manafort could read previously sent email on the laptop, and compose replies which could be sent as soon as the laptop left the detention facility.)

High-Profile Housing

Prosecutors were using evidence gleaned from Manafort's monitored phone calls to push back against his lawyers' claims that the conditions of his incarceration hindered their ability to prepare for trial. While Manafort was trying to push back the start date for his trial, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis instead decided to move Manafort to a presumably more restrictive prison.

"Defense counsel has not identified any general or specific threat to defendant's safety at the Alexandria Detention Center," Ellis wrote Wednesday, ordering the move. "They have not done so, because the professionals at the Alexandria Detention Center are very familiar with housing high-profile defendants, including foreign and domestic terrorists, spies and traitors. All of those defendants were housed safely in Alexandria pending their respective trials and defendant's experience...will presumably be no different."

Last year, when arguing over his bail conditions, Manafort's attorneys told the government he was worth $28 million, but prosecutors had their doubts about that figure. So, if you want to make sure you land in a country club prison and not a ... worse situation, make sure you're worth about $30 mill. (And get a good attorney.)

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