Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign manager and current federal prison inmate, is being moved from his current digs in Scranton, PA, (low/minimum security, which is typical for white collar, non-violent convicts) to New York City’s Riker’s Island, at the request of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. Manafort, sentenced to seven-plus years for tax and bank fraud as part of the Mueller investigation, was recently indicted by a New York grand jury for state level financial crimes that include residential mortgage fraud.

This move, considered dispassionately, is puzzling. Manafort’s trial isn’t happening any time soon. He’s not a flight risk, obviously. Even if pardoned by Trump for federal crimes, he’s not going anywhere while a state-level indictment is hanging over his head. And, it’s apparently the norm to leave federal prisoners wherever they are until the eve of their trials.

So, why is this unusual move being made? After all, it’ll be more work and more responsibility for NYC’s corrections department, and more liability for NYC taxpayers should something untoward happen to Manafort while held there.

Rikers is widely known to be a hell-hole, and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz has noted that many defendants have taken guilty pleas in order to be moved to safer prisons rather than stay in Rikers while their (winnable) cases work through the system. Mayor Bill De Blasio has thrown in the towel on Rikers, or at least is trying to, with plans to shut it down in favor of multiple other jails. And, indeed, it’s recognized that Manafort will be at risk after being moved there, because the Department of Corrections has already indicated that he’ll be kept in protective custody for his own safety.

Our system of jurisprudence calls for two forms of punishment for those guilty of crimes: Loss of liberty, and loss of wealth. Associated with the former are losses of various rights, either temporarily or permanently. In very rare cases, in some jurisdictions, there is a third, loss of life.

What our system does not apply as punishment is any form of violence, or “judicial corporal punishment.” Even the death penalty is striven to be administered in as quick and/or painless a way as possible. We don’t whip or cane our convicts, like Singapore, Afghanistan, Botswana, Pakistan, and many other nations do. We don’t stone them, like several Muslim nations do. And, we don’t, at least in principle, subject them to violence.

However, ask a guy what his biggest fear is regarding jail or prison, and most will tell you it’s the fear of being raped. There are differing statistics as to how often this happens, and some assert that most sex in prison is consensual, but the fear is real, and the statistics don’t disabuse us of that fear. Non-sexual violence is also a widespread fear, and most of us have a belief that prisons, especially high security prisons where violent criminals are housed, are places where we would almost inevitably be attacked.

While many people will not think twice about “prison justice” when it comes to some categories of criminals, that’s not how it’s supposed to work, and those who believe in liberty and a system of justice that excludes corporal punishment should not condone it, even when the criminals’ crimes are heinous. Our system pits “the State,” rather than the victims, against criminals, because justice is supposed to be dispassionate, about punishment and deterrence, and not about blood lust and revenge.

Manafort is already losing years worth of liberty as penance for his crimes, and he’s facing even more prison time from the pending state charges. I shed not a single tear for him – he’s not a good guy or wrongly imprisoned. But, this move from federal prison to Rikers absolutely reeks of the state prosecutor’s office seeking to impose its own “prison justice” punishment before he’s convicted of the new charges. The fact that they’ve already decided he needs to be put into protective custody shows that everyone knows the risk of violence is real.

Moving Manafort subjects him either to the fear of physical violence or to the fear of prolonged isolation for crimes for which he has not yet been convicted. The most logical conclusion is that it’s being done to impose extra punishment on Manafort, and/or to squeeze him into copping pleas on his state-level crimes, and/or to intimidate others in Trump’s extended circle that may have or may be about to run afoul of the NY DA’s office, and/or to simply “stick it” to Trump himself.

I don’t care if you think Manafort’s a steaming pile of shit. In fact, I won’t disagree with you in the slightest. But, using the system like this, for partisan politics, is wrong and should be extremely concerning, no matter how much you loathe Manafort or Trump. And, it’s not as if the move is being used as leverage to unearth matters of national security or in connection with Trump, at least by all indications. He’s being accused of run-of-the-mill mortgage and other frauds, and if there were anything of substance related to Russia, Mueller would have found it.

This is not how things are supposed to work, and when we turn a blind eye to “prison justice” because we don’t like a particular individual, we are complicit in the degradation of our entire system. Weaponizing prison violence is the already-too-powerful running amok. If the accused are copping plea deals out of a very real fear of violence should they try to exercise their rights to a trial, our foundational principles of justice have been badly, BADLY corrupted.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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