The U.S. Bureau of Prisons will weigh multiple factors in deciding Weiner’s destination. He is a former congressman and the estranged husband of a top aide to Hillary Clinton. He is a sex offender. He has no criminal record, and he has pledged himself to a rigorous curriculum of rehabilitation and therapy.
And, as his lawyer emphasized in court on Monday, he is the father of a 5-year-old boy, whose continued contact with Weiner could be instrumental to his recovery.
Even before a tearful Weiner left the courtroom in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the question of where he would spend his sentence came up. Judge Denise L. Cote asked if Weiner would like her to recommend that he be assigned to a prison as close to New York City as possible, presumably to make it easier for his son to be brought to visit.
Weiner and one of his lawyers, Arlo Devlin-Brown, whispered to each other. And then, after a pause, Devlin-Brown responded:
“No, your honor.”
Devlin-Brown said assigning Weiner to a prison in the city — which he said would most likely be the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, which he called a maximum-security prison — would actually make those visits more difficult.
“Given the importance contact with his son has played in his recovery and holding him together, that would be extraordinarily detrimental,” Devlin-Brown said.
He instead requested that the judge recommend that Weiner be sent to the U.S. Correctional Institution Schuylkill in Minersville, Pennsylvania, or another lower security prison.
According to Justin Long, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, the agency does not have a maximum-security classification. The Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn is considered an administrative prison, which can hold inmates of all security levels.
But it is unlikely Weiner would be sent there, said Jennifer Rodgers, executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia Law school. Rodgers said that prison usually held people before their trials, not prisoners who had been convicted of nonviolent felonies.
In any event, a judge’s recommendation — or lack thereof, in this case — is largely irrelevant, James B. Jacobs, a law professor at New York University, said. The Bureau of Prisons has sole discretion over where to send inmates. It makes its decision based on a number of factors: the security risk posed by the inmate; the programs a prison offers; and logistical considerations, such as how many beds a prison has available, according to the bureau’s website.
“The Bureau of Prisons really protects its prerogatives,” Jacobs said. “They do not want judges and lawyers from all over the country coming in with preferences. They only have so much space and so many places, and they have a lot of things to consider.”
One factor the bureau may weigh is Weiner’s stated commitment to rehabilitation. At the sentencing, Devlin-Brown cited that commitment as a reason not to send Weiner to prison at all, arguing that it would disrupt what in his sentencing submission he called Weiner’s “remarkable progress.”
If Weiner requests to continue sex addiction treatment while in prison, his options will be limited: Only nine federal prisons offer sex offender treatment, and none are in New York state. The closest is the Federal Medical Center, Devens, in Ayer, Massachusetts.
Also, it is not unheard-of for the Bureau of Prisons to take an inmate’s notoriety into consideration. In 2004, when Martha Stewart was sentenced to five months in prison, the bureau opted not to assign her to a prison in Connecticut, because of concerns that the news media could stake it out too easily, a Justice Department spokesman said at the time.
Long did not answer questions about whether the agency weighed a prisoner’s fame in making assignments.
But Jacobs dismissed the idea that Weiner’s celebrity would warrant a similar level of caution.
“I don’t think Anthony Weiner is anything like Martha Stewart,” he said. “Martha Stewart, she’s like an icon. Anthony Weiner is just another politician who is being sent to jail, of whom there are many from New York as well as from all over the country.”
Still, he did not rule out the possibility that Weiner might continue to brush up against fame while in prison, perhaps at a lower security institution.
“Maybe he could be a roommate for Bernard Madoff or something,” Jacobs said. “Another New Yorker. They probably would have a lot that they could discuss.”