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What Ghislaine Maxwell and Alleged Capitol Rioters Can Teach us About Federal Prison Conditions

Ghislaine Maxwell and the January 6th Rioters can teach important lessons about the conditions in Federal Prison.

Over 100,000 people are in federal prison for some amount of time.  Those persons must grapple with the harsh conditions of the federal prison system.  Our office hears many complaints from the incarcerated about prison conditions.

Any real reform amongst the prison system would require acts from congress.  But two recent types of prisoners may cause a new set of eyes on the federal prisoner's dilemma.

Ghislaine Maxwell

Maxwell is facing federal charges related to grooming girls for potential sexual abuse.  As of the writing of Vanity Fair's article on Maxwell's prison conditions, she has not pled guilty to the charges.  She currently awaits trial in the Metropolitan Detention Center's Special Housing Unit.

Maxwell's lawyers hav claimed that the Bureau of Prisons has engaged in inappropriate activity:

They accuse the agency of excessive searches of her body, serving her dirty water and inedible food, letting raw sewage flood her cell, and allowing guards to seize her confidential legal documents. The conditions have contributed to Maxwell’s hair and weight loss, they say, and have left her unable to adequately prepare for her trial, currently scheduled to begin on November 29.

Source:  Dan Adler, Inside Ghislaine Maxwell’s Battle With the Bureau of Prisons, Vanity Fair

Ghislane's brother has spoken out against the conditions in the prison system as well:

Maxwell said his sister’s treatment in the Metropolitan Detention Center “amounts to torture” and has appeared to try to position her fight as social advocacy. “She has an opportunity to try to use her name and her case to try and improve conditions,” he told The Washington Post. “That’s what she definitely wants to do.” In support of the cause, Maxwell’s family launched a website,, that features testimonials about his sister’s character as well as links to information about the harms of pretrial detention.

Source:  Dan Adler, Inside Ghislaine Maxwell’s Battle With the Bureau of Prisons, Vanity Fair

Maxwell has filed for and been denied bond several times.

Prosecutors described the Metropolitan Detention Center’s treatment of Maxwell as “routine.”

“Routine to shine lights into the eyes of every prisoner every 15 minutes during the night?” the federal judge Pierre Leval asked. “Are you really telling us that?”

Source:  Dan Adler, Inside Ghislaine Maxwell’s Battle With the Bureau of Prisons, Vanity Fair

The January 6th Rioters that are in Solitary Confinement

Politico reports that several persons alleged to have participated in the January 6th riots at the capitol are in a form of Solitary Confinement:

Most of the 300-plus people charged with participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have been released while they await trial, but dozens of those deemed to be dangerous, flight risks or at high risk of obstructing justice were ordered held without bond. D.C. jail officials later determined that all Capitol detainees would be placed in so-calledrestrictive housing —a move billed as necessary to keep the defendants safe, as well as guards and other inmates. But that means 23-hour-a-day isolation for the accused, even before their trials begin.

Source: Kyle Cheney, Andrew Desiderio and Josh Gerstein, Politico,  Jan. 6 defendants win unlikely Dem champions as they face harsh detainment

Lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee and others decry the use of solitary confinement for any inmate, noting that such conditions should be a "rare exception."  Many of these individuals are in a District of Columbia Jail, which while not quite ran by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, does still have solitary confinement and other conditions deemed harsh by lawmakers.  Lawyers in court are also asking that the conditions of confinement be reviewed as well:

“This is not normal. It’s not normal to isolate people and make them eat on their floor,” said Marty Tankleff, a defense attorney representing two detained defendants, Edward Lang and Dominic Pezzola.

Source: Kyle Cheney, Andrew Desiderio and Josh Gerstein, Politico,  Jan. 6 defendants win unlikely Dem champions as they face harsh detainment

Other accused persons report difficulty having private conversations with their attorneys and problems with access to medication and health monitoring:

At a hearing last month, detained riot defendant Richard Barnett — charged in part for breaking into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office and posing for a now-infamous picture with his feet on her office desk — lamented the conditions he is facing while awaiting trial.

“I’ve been here a long time. ... It’s not fair,” Barnett said. “You’re letting everyone else out. I need help.”

Others have lodged complaints about access to needed medication or health monitoring, prompting intervention from judges. One, Jacob Chansley, won a transfer to a prison in Alexandria, Va., after the D.C. jail said it was too onerous to provide him organic food that he argued was necessary to comport with his spiritual practice.

Source: Kyle Cheney, Andrew Desiderio and Josh Gerstein, Politico,  Jan. 6 defendants win unlikely Dem champions as they face harsh detainment

The number of accused persons in detention for the capitol riots may increase as the investigation continues.

Allegatons of improper prison conditions are not new.  Whether it is Maxwell's pretrial solitary confinement, the situations involving the alleged January 6th rioters, the harsh conditions in Fort Worth, Texas during the February snowstorm  or the shutting off of communication to prisons in California during the beginning of the COVID Crisis, the conditions of confinement have been a sticking point for years.  The conditions of solitary confinement for pretrial detention and for that matter, convicted persons is unacceptable and we call upon the Bureau of Prisons to cease this activity.  The FIRST STEP Act may have made changes in the realm of prison reform but more is needed.

EDIT 1/8/2022:  Another story, reported on by the New York Times and CNN, further drive home the point.  Christopher Worrell, charged with crimes pertaining to the January 6 incident at the Capitol, has been seeking treatment for a broken finger that needs surgery.  Worrell and his counsel were getting significant runaround from the Bureau as they sought his medical records, which many of us who have sought the same for compassionate release proceedings can relate to.  The District Court issued a substantial rebuke to the Jail and its lawyers:

What set off this latest round of protest was an episode involving Christopher Worrell, a member of the far-right group the Proud Boys, who has been at the jail since his arrest this spring. Mr. Worrell, who has cancer, broke one of his pinkies while in custody (though initial reports said it was his wrist). After several failed attempts to get him treatment for the finger, his lawyer asked a federal judge for help.

The judge, Royce C. Lamberth, tried to get officials at the jail to accelerate the process of providing medical records to Mr. Worrell’s lawyer and after a number of delays, he angrily held the officials in contempt. As part of his contempt decision, Judge Lamberth recommended that the Justice Department investigate conditions at the jail to determine whether the civil rights of any other Jan. 6 defendants had been violated.

-NY Times

EDIT 2/24/2022:  Jenna Ryan, real estate agent and person who was found guilty of offenses at the Capitol on January 6,

Rioter Jenna Ryan claimed on Saturday that she was denied "basic human needs" when she was in jail over charges related to the Capitol attack on January 6, 2021.

"They're using COVID to sadistically abuse all the inmates and deny basic human needs like sunshine, phone, food," she tweeted, referring to her treatment in prison. "No human deserves what they're doing in a Federal Prison to every inmate. If people knew what was happening, there would be major reform action."

Ryan claimed in another tweet she posted earlier on Saturday that now "the risk of torture is over" as she spoke about her release from prison. "YES I was tortured in prison," she added.


Attorneys and prison reform advocates take their allies wherever they can find them and this is no different.  Or, to put another way:

“I think, once anything starts to impact folks who are not just Black and brown, then you get this sort of bipartisanship,” Angel Gregorio, a Washington, D.C., spice shop owner with two brothers incarcerated in federal jails, told PBS shortly after the law’s passage. “You know, like, now that you have so many white people who are being locked up for these drug offenses, it’s like, okay, we need to do something about this.”

Source:  Dan Adler, Inside Ghislaine Maxwell’s Battle With the Bureau of Prisons, Vanity Fair

If anything here applies to you, contact us today.

At The Law Office of Jeremy Gordon, we fight aggressively for our clients. We are experienced, and know what it takes to present a successful defense in a federal criminal case. For prompt, courteous and skilled representation as your federal criminal defense attorney, contact us today to schedule a free phone consultation.
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