What it's like in the prison where Michael Cohen will spend 3 years

What it's like in the prison where Michael Cohen will spend 3 years
Posted at 6:00 AM, Dec 13, 2018

Michael Cohen said in court Wednesday that he had been living in a "personal and mental incarceration" under President Donald Trump and that his prison sentence would, ironically, help him get back his freedom.

That's particularly true if he goes to a certain minimum-security prison not far from the city.

In federal court on Wednesday, US District Judge William Pauley agreed to recommend that Cohen serve his 36-month prison sentence at FCI Otisville, about 70 miles northwest of New York City.

FCI Otisville has sometimes been viewed as a preferable prison option for inmates convicted of white-collar crimes. In 2009, Forbes namedit one of "America's 10 cushiest prisons."

Despite the judge's recommendation, the decision as to where Cohen will spend time is ultimately up to the Bureau of Prisons, which has sole responsibility for determining where offenders spend their prison sentences.

The decisions are made at the Designation and Sentence Computation Center in Texas. The DSCC attempts to send inmates to prisons within a 500-mile radius of their residence, which for Cohen is in New York. However, the decision also is made using a series of criteria, such as security needs, medical needs, availability of counseling services, and bed space.

Bureau of Prison data shows the bureau complies with 74% of judicial recommendations, wholly or in part, according to an analysis of the DSCC published in Criminal Justice magazine in 2016.


A prison with bocce balls and a basketball court


FCI Otisville is a medium-security correctional institution for men. It has 840 inmates. The prison includes a detention center, where 722 inmates are housed, and an adjacent minimum-security satellite camp with 118 inmates, according to its website.

After Bernard Madoff admitted to running a criminal Ponzi scheme in 2009, his attorney Ira Lee Sorkin requested to the judge that he be sent to FCI Otisville. Instead, Madoffis incarcerated at FCI Butner, a medium-security prison in North Carolina.

Inmates at FCI Otisville include Sholam Weiss, a businessman who was convicted of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering in connection to the collapse of National Heritage Life Insurance Company in 1999. He fled the country as the jury deliberated but was eventually found in Austria and extradited back to the United States, the US Attorney's Office said.

Celebrity financial adviser Kenneth Ira Starr has also spent time at FCI Otisville after pleading guilty to carrying out a $33 million scheme to defraud clients.

In the movie "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," fictional Wall Street businessman Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, does his time for insider trading at "Otis" federal prison, a clear reference to Otisville.

At FCI Otisville's detention center, the daily schedule begins at 6 a.m. with wake-up call and lights on, and days are made up of a series of meals, work calls, unit sanitation and leisure time activities. Lights out is at 11:30 p.m.

Inmates are allowed 12 visiting points per month, with a visit on a weekday counting as one point and on holidays or weekends as two points.

The FCI Otisville satellite camp is more lenient. The camp has a number of recreational activities: Weights, cardio equipment, bocce ball and horseshoes. The camp has a basketball court, handball court, tennis area, baseball field, and running and walking areas.

Given its proximity to New York's sizable Jewish population, the FCI Otisville commissary includes a number of kosher foods, including matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, beef cholent and rugelach.

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