Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of American society is our vast network of prison systems. Crime must be hindered and criminals must pay for their crimes, and prison is where we must confine them. But what if the person spending time in the slammer is not necessarily a criminal, but an erring citizen? What if the person sentenced to a term of incarceration does not have the criminal mentality, but made a few poor choices that will haunt them for the rest of their lives? This is where prison consultants come in. They help prepare citizens — people who have no experience with the American criminal justice system — for incarceration.
Who Are Prison Consultants?
Prison consultants are generally former inmates or former criminal justice professionals (e.g., prison guards, prison administrators, etc.) who have gone into private practice. Many have significant experience either working in the prison system in which the potential client will be incarcerated or they have lived in and successfully navigated the system. In either case, they tend to be enterprising individuals who realize that their experiences qualify them to provide a needed service that no one wants to be in the position of needing, but nevertheless do.
How Can Prison Consultants Help?
There really is a plethora of possible services which prison consultants can offer. The most sought-after service is prison preparation. For a fee, these consultants will sit down with (or speak on the phone with) a client and explain prison to them. These counseling sessions could be as simple as answering a few questions and alleviating uncertainty, or they could be as complex as lasting hours or weeks, to truly prepare a client for a term of incarceration. Some consultants even go as far as to connect the client with a physical trainer for self-defense lessons, advise their clients to get specialized medical and/or dental care (which is focused on long-term maintenance), or bring in a financial expert to help their clients get their finances in order since the client will have a challenging time doing so while in prison. The long and short of it is that the consultant prepares the client to live life on the inside.
Prison preparation isn’t only for the client who is on their way to prison. Consultants also assist the families of the soon-to-be incarcerated. Many families of clients maintain ties with the prison consultants they retain long after the primary client is in prison. Questions will come up, and unless they are answered, these uncertainties will fester and all involved, client and family, will feel lost and hopeless. Experienced prison consultants can do some handholding and provide an informed explanation of what is occurring, how likely it is that a situation may resolve itself, and how to influence various processes. They are legal advisor, prison expert, and counselor all wrapped up into one.
Prison consultants also offer a plethora of in-prison services. For example, many inmates find themselves entangled in prison disciplinary proceedings at some point in their incarceration. Qualified prison consultants can help prepare a client for a prison disciplinary hearing, and can assist in appeals from a finding of guilt. They can also assist with drug program placement analysis, post-conviction motions, transfers, medical treatment intervention, Inmate Financial Responsibility Program revision petitions, and inmate work assignments.
Essentially, prison consultants can use their experience and special set of skills in an attempt to motivate prison administrations to engage or not engage in certain actions. They can also inform clients about how to achieve desired objectives, i.e., specific housing and work assignments, program participation, etc. Much of this work is more of an art than a science, and, thus, the client pays for the consultant’s time, not necessarily a specific outcome. This is understandable since matters such as disciplinary proceedings, transfers, and work detail assignments have no concrete steps which can be taken to obtain the desired result. Instead, experienced prison consultants can advise clients and motivate prison officials in an effort to attain the desired objective.
How to Evaluate a Prison Consultant
Generally speaking, relevant experience is the primary evaluation criteria. Prospective clients should seek a prison consulting firm that has consultants who have spent time in or worked for a prison system in which the client will be incarcerated. It would also be a good idea for the consultant to have spent time at the security level which the client is likely to be housed in. And several years of experience doesn’t hurt. Five years of experience is good, but ten or more is great. A consultant having a legal background is certainly a plus, too. Regardless of any specific experience, the client needs to feel as though the consultant knows what they are talking about, and that they are someone the client can connect with and trust. This connection might be the most important factor of all.
Are There Any Notable Prison Consulting Firms?
There are several notable firms in this arena. Executive Prison Consultants is perhaps the best from a prison preparation and in-prison experience standpoint. Through the experience of their nine qualified prison consultants — who have served time at all levels of security — they have proved to be effective at fulfilling client objectives (both pre-incarceration and during incarceration). One highlight of this firm is that they are known to be immediately available to clients’ families when emergencies present themselves. They also are particularly effective at handling prison disciplinary matters for their incarcerated clients.
The Law Offices of Alan Ellis are also very good at handling in-prison issues for their clients. When it comes to motivating prison officials to do or not do something (e.g., transfers, expunging prison disciplinary findings, etc.) they are probably the best in the field. Being, perhaps, the best, they are certainly not inexpensive. A former Federal Bureau of Prisons Associate Director and BOP Western Regional Designator consult with the firm on in-prison matters. Thus, they have a significant amount of experience from the prison official standpoint.
What Do Prison Consultants Cost?
The rates of prison consultants vary significantly. This often depends upon their experience and how they package various services (e.g., prison preparation plus in-prison assistance would cost more than simply handling a prison disciplinary matter). Executive Prison Consultants charges in the ballpark of $5,000-$6,000 for their prison preparation services (coined their “Defendant Services”). This includes plea agreement analysis for minimal incarceration period, prison placement, self-surrender status, security ratings, restitution/fine amounts, additional time to finalize family affairs, and agreements for the prosecution recommending residential drug program placement. Also included is a full scale prison orientation and education program that acclimatizes soon-to-be inmates to life in prison.
Other firms prefer to bill by an hourly rate regardless of whether the services fall within the pre-prison or in-prison realm. National Prison and Sentencing Consultants charges $195 to $550 per hour, depending upon the work being performed (they also offer task-specific pricing). Jack Donson, a former Federal Bureau of Prisons Case Manager and the president of My Federal Prison Consultants, charges $200 per hour for services rendered.
For their in-prison services (“Inmate Services”) Executive Prison Consultants charges $500-$2,500 when multiple services are requested. If they are only being retained for a single function, they tend to charge in the $750-$800 range. The average cost when multiple issues are considered is around $1,500. Prison disciplinary matters, transfers, medical intervention, and administrative remedies fall within this category of services. Richard Zaranek, president of Executive Prison Consultants, states that the average client fee in 2011 was $1,300 for in-prison matters.
And still, some prison consulting firms charge based upon the service. Jail Time Consulting charges $650 for work leading to a prison transfer. National Prison and Sentencing Consultants charges $2,500-$3,500 for their pre-surrender incarceration services (prison preparation). And Federal Prison Consulting Services charges $3,500-$5,000 for their Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP) evaluation, Pre-Sentence Investigation Report (PSI) review, and prison placement options.
Are They Worth It?
The short answer is probably yes. If the client has the funds to retain a competent prison consultant, it is probably worth the money. To many, the decision comes down to a quality of life issue. Prison consultants help white collar offenders understand the prison environment and slide into it with as little adverse attention as possible. They help them to adapt. And when problems do occur (and they will regardless of a person’s prior experiences) prison consultants can help to resolve them.