Minimum security / "soft" prisons

After the recent news over Bernard Madoff, and his $50 billion fraud, I’ve heard quite a few people say they hope he gets sent to a “real” prison, and not a “soft prison for the rich”.

But what are these “soft” prisons really like? I’ve seen documentaries about regular prisons, and the extremely unpleasant prisons of places like Brazil. But never anything about minimum-security facilities. I would guess that they’re not as cushy as the media would imply, but I just don’t know.

So, anyone with any insight?

Also, is wealth / social status really a factor in sentencing or is it just a case of non-violent criminals going to minimum-security facilities?


I once saw a TV documentary that followed a white collar criminal into “club Fed”. It was almost a pleasant place, if you can say that about a prison. It looked like an army barracks, surrounded by open grass and a parking lot.
No iron bars, no high walls, guards with no (visible) guns.There was a large room with dozens of bunk beds in rows, and I think a television.
The “Wall” was just a white line painted on the asphalt outside the building, which the prisoners were not allowed to cross.

I only know about minimum-security facilities in my state (Wisconsin), not about the federal facilities.

I’ll say this: If you’ve got to do time in a prison as a convicted felon, it’s better to do it in a minimum than in a medium or a maximum. They are less restrictive.

Inmates generally have more freedom of movement inside the facility, and get work-release privileges so that they can go out and earn money. In addition, the privileges inside the fence tend to be of a higher caliber; allowed more books, more approved electronics, more personal care items. Access to toilets that aren’t right next to your bed is better too, though they won’t always have a door.

But being locked up is still going to suck. No internet access (at least in my state), minimal to no computer access, closely monitored phone access, time constraints on when you can be out of your quarters, when you can go to canteen to buy your snackies and stamps, guards watching you every single day, etc. No conjugal visits. No smoking anywhere on the premises.

And mess up, and it’s off to medium or maximum you go.

In our system, placement level is based on severity of the crime, likelihood to try to flee, past history of violence, past history of rule compliance/non-compliance, etc.

The book “Wiseguy” (on which GoodFellas is based) gives a pretty good of minimum security prison. In it Henry Hill gets transferred to a minimum security prison (I believe it was Allenwood) and gets himself a job on a farm, where he’s able to bribe one of the prison workers to bring him fast food. He made it seem like he was basically unsupervised most of the time at the farm and he even talks about his wife coming by and dropping drugs off for him there and even making love with him there.
He also converted to Judiasm and was able to go home for the Jewish holidays.
He made the rest of the facility seem pretty cushy too, at least compared to maximum security prisons. Chappachula’s description of Army barracks is a lot like what was described. Also the local chamber of commerce, or some such organization, offered training so the prisoners could get into a legitimate business after they got out.
Keep in mind that this would have been in the early 1970s, so it could very well be much different now.
I wouldn’t want to be locked up, though if I ever had to go prison, this would definitely be the way to go.

Seeing how Madoff has recently been denied bail while awaiting sentencing due to being a flight risk, is there really a chance he could be sent to a minimum security prison?

This is strictly IMHO, but if I were in Madoff’s shoes, escaping to Europe would seem very appealing before the guilty verdict, if at all possible. After the guilty verdict, I would be on my best behavior and not even think about crossing the line, lest I be sent to a more restrictive prison.

I imagine the judge would see it this way too.

Seems to me that his would make prison life much better for those who don’t mess up.

They get 9-hole golf courses and horse stables!