The New York Times reported last week that Rajat Gupta will finish the final months of his two-year prison term for insider trading in home confinement. Whenever I hear about someone going home after serving time in prison, there is always a sense of relief that he or she has emerged from the other side of incarceration.
I served the last month of my own sentence for FCPA-related violations in home confinement. I’d like to share a few thoughts about how this works in the justice system, and what it meant to me.
There are two ways an inmate can end up in home confinement.
The first is when a judge sentences a defendant to home confinement, either stand alone or as the final stage of incarceration. Sentences sometimes called “six and six” are an example. Six months of incarceration followed by six months of home confinement. Often a judge will use such an alternative to a straightforward custodial sentence when a defendant presents mitigating factors, such as age or a medical condition, or even special family circumstance.
The other more commonly used form of home confinement is when the Bureau of Prisons, as part of their discretionary authority, changes the level of custody from incarceration to home confinement. That’s what happened in my case, as well as for Mr. Gupta.
In both circumstances — when the judge includes home confinement in the sentence or when the BoP reclassifies the custody level — the individual is still serving a sentence and remains under the supervision of both the BoP as well as the local probation office that supervises the technical logistics of home confinement. Break the terms of your home confinement and expect a visit from the U.S. Marshals Service. You’re going back to prison.
I often heard debates in prison (that’s what you do in prison, you debate a lot) about home confinement. Some inmates said they didn’t want to be released under such restrictive conditions and preferred to finish their sentence and go home free and clear (even with probation). For me, the key word in home confinement was “home.” That’s where the debate started and ended. Thus, when I got the call from my case manager that I was going to be released to one month of home confinement on December 17, 2013, I was thrilled. I would be spending the holidays with family.
I wore the electronic ankle monitor you see on lots of TV shows. There was a base station at my house, and if the base detected that the anklet went out of range, well, that would be trouble. It wasn’t comfortable but it was manageable, and waterproof. The only exceptions to this range rule were medical visits — pre-cleared with the supervising probation officer — and those were critical for me.
I left prison with MRSA. It’s a type of staph bacteria that’s resistant to most antibiotics. It thrives in communal living and can be fatal. The most common symptom is a deep open sore — Google MRSA and you’ll see some gruesome images. Fortunately my MRSA was treatable and responded to antibiotics during my month-long home confinement.
The prison camp in Lewisburg where I served my time, as with most federal prison camps, was a relatively safe place. But with barracks style living, hygene conditions were typically tough. And while the prison medical staff were experienced and had the best of intentions, they were constrained from a program and budget perspective in how they could treat inmates.
My month at home and away from Lewisburg allowed me to get immediate treatment from an infectious disease specialist. The doctor apparently hadn’t seen an ankle bracelet before, but he was good natured about it, and more importantly, he helped me get well and clear of the bacteria. We also followed strict protocols at the house to guard against cross contamination, and those worked as well.
Even a relatively short period of incarceration — about fourteen and a half months in my case — can leave you with life-long medical consequences. I’m grateful the BoP sent me home a month early to make sure that didn’t happen.
Richard Bistrong is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog and CEO of Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC. He was named one of Ethisphere’s 100 Most Influential in Business Ethics for 2015. He consults, writes and speaks about compliance issues. He can be contacted here.