The Washington Post

Why Harry Thomas wants to do his time in Alabama or Florida


Behold the federal prison camp at Montgomery, Ala. Note the softball diamond and tennis courts. (U.S. Bureau of Prisons)

As mentioned briefly in the Post’s story Friday on Harry Thomas Jr.’s sentencing, the former D.C. Council member’s attorneys made a special request of the federal judge who delivered the sentence: Their future jailbird would like to fly south.

The lawyers told U.S. District Judge John D. Bates that Thomas preferred to do his time in one of two federal prison camps, in Pensacola, Fla., or Montgomery, Ala.

For Thomas to serve his time there, it would require a departure from federal Bureau of Prisons policy, which is generally to place inmates within 500 miles of home at the least restrictive facility for which they qualify.

Why would Thomas prefer those two more-distant facilities, placing him farther from the family that — as we heard Thursday — he so loves and is so devoted to?

For answers I consulted Alan Ellis, a California defense attorney who specializes in federal sentencing matters and authored the “Federal Prison Guidebook.”

Says Ellis of Montgomery and Pensacola, “Those are, in my opinion, two of the top four federal prisons in America.”

Those represent the last four federal prison camps in the country not combined with higher-security facilities. The other two, Ellis said, are located in less temperate climes — Yankton, S.D., and Duluth, Minn. Generally speaking, he said, the standalone camps are “just more laid back.”

The Montgomery facility is located on Maxwell Air Force Base, while the Pensacola facility is located on a naval air facility. Both are work camps, where on weekdays inmates are out of bed by 5 a.m. and off to work in the camps on on the surrounding bases.

Both, however, offer recreation opportunities on evenings and weekends. In Montgomery, inmates can participate in crafting, watch movies and partake of “wellness classes, a music room, pool tables and various fitness equipment.” Besides crafts, fitness and movies, the Pensacola camp offers intramural sports including basketball, volleyball and softball — meaning Thomas might be able to quickly rekindle his love of sports and coaching.

”I always joke, if I had to do time, I wouldn’t mind doing it at either of those two places and sharpening up my shortstop skills,” Ellis said.

Question is, does Thomas stand a chance of getting sent to his preferred lockup? That all depends on Bates, who did not say Thursday whether he was inclined to grant Thomas’s request for a placement recommendation.

”Without a recommendation, he doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting in there,” Ellis said. “With a recommendation, he has a better chance.”

Should Bates not grant the request, Thomas could expect to spend his term in such locales as Cumberland, Md., Petersburg, Va., or Beckley, W.V.

And if Bates does grant the request, Ellis said it’s important to maintain some perspective — prison is still prison.

”They all suck,” he said. “Take it from me, the Four Seasons is better.”

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read

local

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing