LEGAL: Perk-Free Zone

These are not good times for corporate executives, including waste company managers or officers, who are accused of environmental or financial crimes and other offenses.

They can plead “not guilty” and take their chances going to trial. Possibly, they will be acquitted. On the other hand, they could be convicted. [See “Jurors Strike Back,” Waste Age October 2002, p. 45] If convicted, how much time will these convicts serve and what kind of facility they will be sent to?

If you ask corporate felons, their lawyers and federal prosecutors, all of them will say that rumors of soft surroundings and short stays for high-profile or white-collar convicts are greatly exaggerated. Indeed, a nonviolent criminal convicted of financial wrongdoing can spend 10 years or longer in prison. Meantime, individuals convicted of environmental crimes that involve “knowing endangerment” can serve as long as 15 years in prison. If convicted of other, often-related charges, such as mail and wire fraud, conspiracy or bribery, a defendant faces the possibility of even more jail time.

The type of prison facility a corporate felon is placed depends upon the number of years he must serve. Anyone sentenced to a term of 10 years or longer won't be residing anywhere with decorative wrought iron fences, manicured lawns and tennis courts. Instead, they will see lots of cement and tall industrial-strength barriers topped with razor wire.

If a felon is sentenced to a five- to seven-year jail term, usually after negotiating a plea bargain with prosecutors, he has a better chance of residing in a camp-like environment with other nonviolent convicts in a locale relatively close to home.

In fact, a convict with a good lawyer can successfully maneuver a place at the camp of his choice. The elderly and persons with special medical needs usually are treated with deference. The federal Bureau of Prisons often places convicts at a location where visitors are not required to travel long distances.

There is a widespread notion that a prison camp is relatively idyllic — wearing one's own clothes; visiting family on weekends; playing tennis; and using a laptop for Internet access and e-mail. This is not so. For one thing, personal effects are severely limited: a Bible; eyeglasses; dentures; a wedding band; pocket change for vending machines; and funds for an inmate account where withdrawals may not exceed $175 per month. Camp commissaries offer a limited number of items, mostly toiletries and snack food. Convicts spend most of their allowance on telephone calls, which prison officials monitor. All able-bodied prisoners must perform a job for which they are paid a few cents per hour. Generally, inmates are allowed to receive books and subscribe to most magazines.

However, living arrangements are cramped. A prisoner can find himself in a forced relationship for several years with up to five individuals. He may or may not like sharing an office-sized cubicle similar to those occupied by the drones back at his company.

David Novak, who served nine months in a prison camp, offers the following prison advice: Don't rat; don't cut in line; don't ask; don't touch; pay your debts; flush often; and don't whine. “Everyone has … troubles, so shush up,” he told The New York Times. “Nobody wants to hear you are innocent.”