The former mayor who once jet-setted for free and dined with his family on the taxpayers’ dime will soon enter a far more austere environment, with humbling constraints.
When Ray Nagin surrenders to the federal Bureau of Prisons on Sept. 8, he’ll have to submit to a strip search before he’s given an orientation, according to BOP spokesman Ed Ross.
Next, he’ll get assigned sleeping and living quarters, take a work assignment and seek approval for social visiting and telephone lists.
Among his options for work behind bars are food service, landscaping, maintenance, HVAC or clerical jobs, depending on the facility, Ross said. Inmates also can be plumbers, painters or gardeners. They earn between 12 and 40 cents an hour, according to BOP’s website.
It’s a far cry from Nagin’s perch a dozen years ago atop the local franchise of Cox Communications, where he earned $400,000 a year and enjoyed a nice expense account.
Eventually, Ross said, Nagin could put in to work for Federal Prison Industries, a government corporation that provides jobs and skills training to inmates. Those assignments pay as much as $1.15 an hour. Though it may not sound glamorous, the FPI program has a lengthy waiting list, Ross said.
Half of those earnings would go to fines and restitution. U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan on Wednesday ordered Nagin to pay more than $84,000 in restitution, in addition to a demand that he forfeit $500,000 in ill-gotten gains.
It’s not yet known where Nagin will serve his time, but Berrigan said she would recommend that he be sent to a minimum-security facility in Oakdale to facilitate family visits. But, ultimately, the bureau will decide where to ship the former two-term mayor based on a classification system that takes into account his criminal history, any drug or alcohol treatment or medical needs, and recommendations from the sentencing judge, Ross said.
“We attempt to place all inmates within a 500-mile radius of their residence. Sometimes it’s not possible,” depending on available space and the security level of nearby prisons, Ross said.
While others convicted of political corruption have tended to be placed in medium- or low-security institutions, the fact that Nagin was convicted of crimes related to his office will have no particular bearing on his placement, Ross said. More relevant factors are the types of crimes for which he was convicted and the length of his sentence,.
Nagin will join the ranks of about 218,000 inmates in the federal prison system’s 120 facilities. Seventeen of those facilities are in Texas, where Nagin has been living since soon after he left office in 2010. His family lives in the Dallas suburb of Frisco.
Because Berrigan sentenced him to less than 10 years in prison, Nagin is eligible to be placed in a federal camp setting, which is generally devoid of fences.
But while Berrigan recommended Oakdale for its proximity to Nagin’s family, it was unclear which of two federal facilities in Oakdale the judge intended: the 1,600-inmate, low-security Federal Correctional Institute or the Federal Detention Center there, which houses 174 inmates in a camp and 769 in a detention facility that includes mostly immigration detainees, according to the Bureau of Prisons website.
If he’s shipped to Oakdale, Nagin would join an ignominious roster of high-profile convicts who have reluctantly called Oakdale home.
Disgraced U.S. Rep Bill Jefferson stays at the detention center camp. Former Worldcom CEO Bernie Ebbers is at the low-security prison, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
The Oakdale complex also has hosted the prison stays of former City Council President Oliver Thomas, former Gov. Edwin Edwards, former Enron CEO Andrew Fastow and convicted Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, who remains there in the prison camp. Siegelman is serving a 6½-year sentence from his 2006 conviction on seven counts, including bribery, obstruction, mail fraud and conspiracy counts.
Federal inmates are allowed to keep their wedding ring, watch and perhaps a religious medallion, but little else, at least at the start of their sentences.
“Over time, they can acquire limited bits and pieces of personal property,” Ross said.