Here we are in November, the busiest time for criminal cases, and yet there still is a disconnect between what lawyers and judges think happens once convicted and what actually happens. To be clear, I am only talking about non-violent offenders. This is the population I work with and was a part of. This why people who are about to go on trial or enter a guilty plea must be PREPARED. Yet, few are urged to even by their own lawyers. Every day I am faced with clients who are not educated at all as to what they will face once the judge says guilty.
I understand they do not teach much of this in law school, and lawyers and judges have not spent even one night in jail, but there is no excuse to not think about the client and what is going to happen next. There is prison and then there is re-entry and life after. I am going to go over a few major things that I prepare my clients for.
First of all, in many cases there is the option of self-surrender. That is a date is picked by the judge where the defendant is told to show up at the prison or jail .It’s like checking into a hotel. That simple until you get inside. Once inside there will be the standard search, cough and squat and other things you must prepare for. If eligible, I urge all clients to ask for this. Last week I had a high-profile client and the lawyer was refusing to ask and said she could just go through the regular county jail transfer process. Really?? My answer to the lawyer was “You do it. It’s awful.” And so they lawyer asked and was GRANTED a self-surrender directly to the prison. This, in State prison is known as a GATE surrender. That way one can avoid county time and the awful process of being transferred in a chain gang.
Next, I make sure that all of my clients have learned a little humility before they go. This way it will not be such a shock and the staff and other inmates will be able to relate to them easier no matter who they are. Right now there are many rumors about how Conrad Murray’s stay in county jail is going poorly. Much of that could have been avoided had he been properly prepared for both a guilty verdict and jail.
Lastly, make sure that you understand what the prison is like, what the rules are. You can get these online or through a good prison coach, and what will come after. That means halfway house, probation or maybe community service. EDUCATE yourself and your family. Remember that when a defendant goes to jail, so does their family. It is a difficult time.
PRISON is a different world. Once lawyers and judges understand this, their clients will understand it too and things will go more smoothly. And, yes, the better the prison experience the better the chance for a successful re-entry. Once again, over 95% of everyone in prison is getting out and most within 5 years. We all need to be prepared and better educated. This problem is not going away, but a good prison consultant can help. Ask any of my clients, but maybe not their lawyers! Change IS possible for everyone, even lawyers!
Wendy Feldman is a criminal justice expert, insider and family legal coach. She is available for private consultation on how to prepare for a successful incarceration, probation and re-entry. She is also available for media commentary and has appeared on shows from The Today Show, The CBS Early Show, E! News, People.com, Fox News, NBC News, CNN, NPR and Nancy Grace. She is a weekly featured guest on the syndicated America Now radio program. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org