Bernie on Ice: Prisons Mulled for Madoff

Prison experts weigh in on where convicted felon Bernie Madoff may spend the next 150 years.ABC News Photo Illustration
Prison experts weigh in on where convicted felon Bernie Madoff may spend the next 150 years.

Is Bernie Madoff destined to be the most popular criminal on the cell block or the most reviled?

The 71-year-old convicted felon, who was sentenced Monday to 150 years behind bars, may find that his personality suits him well behind bars, according to Brad Garrett, a former FBI special agent and an ABC News consultant.

"The whole premise behind people with anti-social personalities is that they really have no feelings about anyone else but themselves and, as a result, can only really survive when they can control and manipulate people, no matter what environment they may be in," said Garrett.

"His type of personality tends to rebound," said Garrett. "People will look up to him; he'll get accolades and people telling him he's great, which will give him control."

Garrett said that his experience with the prison system has shown that often people who enter federal facilities who are educated tend to become role models for the other prisoners.

"What happens to people who are bright and educated is that they take on the knowledge base behind bars," said Garrett.

"His ability to talk and manipulate is obvious and why wouldn't he," he said. "We're all sort of a product of what we've been. It would be normal for a guy like Madoff to create behaviors around him that are similar to those he experienced in the free world."

Madoff, a former chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange, pleaded guilty to an 11-count indictment in which he admitted to operating an investment Ponzi scheme that caused losses of $65 billion for his clients.

Other prison experts disagree with Garrett's theory, insisting that the prison newbie will be hated by many of his fellow inmates.

"This case reached such a magnitude and the country is in such an economic crisis that it kind of highlights Madoff in the prison system," said Ed Bales, the managing director of Federal Prison Consultants, LLC.

"Inmates may not take well to the fact that they have family members in foreclosure or out of work and all they hear is that Madoff has stolen billions and billions of dollars," said Bales. "I think it will work negatively against him in the prison system."

John Webster, a consultant at the National Prison and Sentencing Consulting, Inc. believes Madoff will be disliked in prison.

"Next to being a sex offender, people who defraud and steal from the elderly are next on that food chain, so to speak," said Webster. "Madoff is not going to be a favorite son wherever he goes."

Where Will Bernie Madoff Go?

Determining how the other inmates will react to Madoff becoming their new cellmate might actually have an effect on where the swindler is incarcerated, according to prison experts.

"Where he ends up all depends how the bureau of prisons feel like the inmates will respond to Madoff," said Bales. "Some inmates hate him -- some will think he did a good job. I'm sure there will be both."

"They certainly don't want a riot over Bernie Madoff," said Bales of the prison system.

While the New York Federal Judge who sentenced Madoff recommended he be incarcerated in a facility in the northeast area of the prison system, the Bureau of Prison is not required to heed the judge's advice.

Felicia Ponce, a public information officer for the Bureau of Prisons, declined to speak specifically about Madoff's future home but did explain the criteria – including the issue of safety – that are taken into consideration when assigning criminals to prisons.

"Things we take into consideration include the seriousness of the crime, the expected length of incarceration and any history of violence and escapes," said Ponce. "We do take the judicial recommendation into consideration but it's not binding."

Ponce said that the department tries to place inmates in facilities close to their homes – within 500 miles – as long as those prisons provide adequate security.

Madoff's life sentence automatically qualifies him for a maximum security prison, according to Bales, but because he is not considered to be dangerous and was not involved in a violent crime, it's more likely that the BOP will consider placing him elsewhere.

To do so, the BOP would have to place a "management variable" on Madoff, which would in essence say that it would be safer for Madoff and the other prisoners to place him elsewhere. Sometimes management variables are issues when an incoming inmate has a past with a current inmate.

According to Bales, this could mean that Madoff will be sent either to a supermax prison – most likely ADX Florence in Colorado – or to a medium-security level prison.

But Bales said he expects Madoff to be taken to the Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex in Allenwood, Pa.

"I think the bureau of prisons wants to show, just as the court has, that Madoff is not above the law and they're going to make an example of him [and place him in a high security facility]," said Bales.

Bales said the Allenwood prison is likely because they have high-security, medium-security and low-security facilities on the premise that Madoff could be switched easily between them.

Another federal prison in the area is in Otisville, N.Y., – approximately 70 miles outside of New York City – but because the facility is only medium security Bales suspects it's unlikely Madoff will be sent there. The prison is known for being home to many orthodox Jewish criminals and has a kosher menu.

No matter where Madoff ends up, the length of his sentence ensures that it won't be in a so-called "club fed," and will have the former investment guru rubbing elbows with rapists, child molesters and murderers, said Webster.

"Penitentaries are dangerous, scary places."