Richard Zaranek is the President of Executive Prison Consultants, a nationally known consulting firm that prepares criminal defendants for incarceration. Mr. Zaranek himself served time in the Federal Bureau of Prisons for a financial crime related to his former position as a public administrator. Now, he and his firm advise and educate soon-to-be inmates in an effort to minimize the difficulties attached with the entrance into prison life and to position them for access to advantages that will make the prison experience as positive as possible. They serviced 161 clients in 2011 alone. As such, Executive Prison Consultants is a leader in the field of prison preparation and consultation.
I sat down with Mr. Zaranek to find out more about him and his company and the services they provide.
Christopher Zoukis: Where did the idea for a prison consulting firm originate?
Richard Zaranek: The idea for this business was born within the confines of the federal bureau of prisons system after observing, interviewing, and discussing hundreds of federal inmates and learning of the process that each encountered with their own specific case. The information shared by fellow inmates left clear impact on me that federal defendants were not provided with vital information prior to entering the prison system that would help them cope with the drastic lifestyle change, options available to them, and opportunities to shape their prison experience toward a more positive experience with the likelihood of walking out of prison with clearly focused, attainable goals.
CZ: Does Executive Prison Consultants counsel only criminal defendants engaged in federal criminal justice proceedings, or state criminal justice proceedings, too?
RZ: We offer counseling to federal and state defendants.
CZ: What does your typical client look like? Would it be correct to assume that your business is mostly for white collar defendants?
RZ: Our typical client is one who is essentially unfamiliar with the legal system, has not experienced prison, and is unaware of many pitfalls and unforeseen circumstances that he/she will likely be subjected to throughout the process. In most cases, these are clients who have been charged with crimes that are non-weapon and non-violence related.
CZ: What kind of services does Executive Prison Consultants typically offer clients prior to sentencing?
RZ: Most clients enter into a plea agreement. A small percentage go to trial. In either situation we begin by working directly with the defense attorney to make sure certain, specific clauses or promises are placed into an agreement. These include issues that address prison facility placement, restitution, program recommendations, reporting format, accommodation for medical issues, etc. We also engage directly with the defendant and coach, teach, orient, educate, and advise the client over the course of several sessions as how to handle every conceivable change that will occur beginning with the day and hour that he/she arrives at the prison facility. This service alone is incredibly valuable to the majority of our clients simply because they are not acclimated or in touch with prison life. This instructional orientation period removes a great deal of their anxiety and properly prepares them for an entry into the prison system that is as stress free and uneventful as possible. It also helps them position themselves for advantages that will prove to be beneficial as the settle into prison life.
CZ: What about while they are in prison? Does the relationship typically continue after sentencing?
RZ: Once we accept a client our relationship is maintained until they are released from halfway house or home detention status and are adequately settled into their supervisory release period. They are welcome to contact us via U.S. mail, E-mail, or their outside contact person such as a spouse, child, parent, relative, or friend. In some cases, we arrange telephone exchanges to occur but find that it is most often easiest to communicate via email. The client can bring issues to us such as inadequate medical attention, disciplinary issues, job placement, RDAP placement, etc. and we will aid them in solving the problem. All this is done at no additional cost or fees to the inmate.
CZ: When is the ideal time for a criminal defendant to retain Executive Prison Consultants? Can you do more for a client if he or she retains your firm early on in the criminal justice process?
RZ: Regardless of when we are contacted and enter into the process, we are usually able to help in some way. However, the earlier in the process, the better the result is. Entering the process prior to signing a plea agreement is the ideal time. At this point we are able to influence and direct the process with the broadest scope. At each stage after the verdict or agreement, our ability to change and influence is diminished. The main exception to this is tied to the prison preparation piece. That is advantageous at any time prior to the entry of the defendant into the prison facility.
CZ: Do you offer support services for families and loved ones?
RZ: We are firm believers that the family is a critical component of this process. Key family members are engaged in the process each step of the way. Our preparation program specifically includes the spouse, mother, father, children, etc. to orient them to the thoughts challenges that will become part of the defendant s life. We also help them understand the visitation process, the importance of such, and the various procedures connected with it. All this, as is the case with the defendant, is designed to remove anxiety and establish mindsets that will be productive and helpful to all concerned.
CZ: Have your efforts been well received by clients and their families?
RZ: We have a very high degree of satisfaction from defendants, inmates, and family members. We actually solicit feedback from families and inmates upon their release. Some of this feedback is delineated on our web site.
CZ: What about prison officials?
RZ: We find that the vast majority of prison officials respond to us with respect and professionalism. Most recognize the basic right and focus of inmates to make every effort to reduce the length of their stay and/or to improve their situation. On the other hand, we recognize the magnitude of the tasks that prison officials are confronted with nearly every day. We pride ourselves on working with these officials with an unbending approach of maintaining integrity with the process and respect for all involved.
CZ: What does a prison consultant cost? Does Executive Prison Consultants offer services on an a la carte basis or as part of comprehensive packages?
RZ: Some ask us for specific services. If such is the case, we will price out our fee based on the time and complexity of the task. The average fee for specific task requests will range from $500-$3500. Most requests to us are for a comprehensive package of services such as those outlined earlier. In such cases, depending on the point in which we enter into the process, our fees will range from $4000 – $7500. This is a single, one-time, all inclusive fee regardless of the obstacles we encounter. We never ask for additional payments unless the client asks us for services that were not part of the original agreement.
CZ: I’ve read a few articles where prison consultants are at odds with one another. Has your work been noticed by others in the prison consulting community?
RZ: I am sure our services have been noticed. Sometimes we find ourselves as a player as the defendant or inmate solicits services and fees from various consultants. I have spoken with other consultants and have respect for their approach and the services they provide. As with many businesses there is enough business for more than one service provider. Also, some specialize in specific types of services that separate them from others. In any case, we have not encountered any negative relationships with other consultation firms.
CZ: I understand that Executive Prison Consultants divides the United States by regions — the same regions which the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ does — and assigns clients to the consultant within each region. How many consultants do you have? What are their qualifications?
RZ: All nine of the consultants that serve our company have encountered first-hand experience with the federal system. Each of their backgrounds would be characterized as professionals such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, business owners, executives, middle or upper middle management, and CEO s. In the prison jargon, these are “white-collar” types who have experienced dealing with the legal system and prison system. We consider these qualifications to be essential in order to appropriately relate, understand, and advise the individuals and families that we work with each day.
CZ: If the client opts to retain Executive Prison Consultants throughout their term of incarceration, does the client stay with the pre-sentence consultant, or is a new one assigned?
RZ: The same consultants stays with his/her client throughout the entire period of incarceration.
CZ: How successful has Executive Prison Consultants been in meeting client objectives?
RZ: We are proud to state that our success rate is considered very high regardless of how it is measured. As stated in our correspondence to potential clients, our objective is to help our clients effectively deal with immediate concerns and to get our client home at the earliest possible date.
CZ: Can Executive Prison Consultants work in tandem with an attorney, or are the two engaged at the same time, but separately?
RZ: This relationship varies from client to client. We are not legal firm and we respect the fact that the attorney is experienced in performing the task of obtaining the best possible legal outcome for the client and is paid to do just that. Our objective is to make sure that attorneys are aware of how the prison systems work so that they can assist in positioning their client for advantageous outcomes AFTER the legal sentencing. Many attorneys are not well schooled in these areas and find that we are a formidable help in this process. Attorneys as a whole are also not familiar at all with the actual inner workings of the prison system or prison facilities and look to us for that guidance. As a result, most attorneys welcome and dual pronged approach, however from time to time, we run into attorneys who believe they can handle everything. If such is the case, we operate under the radar and proceed with objectives that we can accomplish independent of the attorney such as the pre-admittance coaching and educational process.
CZ: Once a client goes to prison, how would they stay in contact with you? Can they call, email, or write directly to your firm?
RZ: They may contact us in any manner.
CZ: I understand that Executive Prison Consultants publishes Camper: A Comprehensive Guide to Serving Time in a Federal Prison Camp. Can this guide, which you present to clients, be purchased by non-clients? If so, where can one purchase a copy?
RZ: Our book is available to anyone through our web site. There is a quick link on the home page that routes the purchaser to a very simple easy to follow credit card process. Book copies are mailed priority mail within 48 hours of purchase.
CZ: Do most of your clients serve time in Federal Prison Camps, or all levels of security?
RZ: Our last analysis of this took place at the end of 2011. In that year 70% were minimum security clients (camp status), 20% were low security, and 10% were medium. I anticipate the percentages for 2012 to be fairly close to 2011.
CZ: Does the client have to retain your services or can their family make the initial contact and handle payments?
RZ: In the case of clients who are already inmates, we always deal primarily with an outside contact, usually a family member. In cases where the client is still a defendant, there is about a 50-50 mix. Some defendants handle matters on their own while others have a parent, spouse, close friend, or relative handle the business side of the agreement.
CZ: What would you say to someone who is entwined in the criminal justice process and is on the fence about retaining a prison consultant?
RZ: This is very simple: Seek the help and advice of a reputable firm that knows this system, knows the process, and can offer valuable guidance. Our experience in this business is very clear: Those who have never experienced the legal process or the prison system can gain an abundance of knowledge, reduce their anxiety, and handle the personal ordeal in a non-emotional, logical, and well-thought through manner. In so doing, they experience a far better situation throughout the entire duration and position themselves for a successful return to family, friends, and community. Those who go in without such guidance and direction suffer through a myriad of experiences and challenges. Invariably, they call us to help out. We often can solve specific problems for them, but the process is much more complicated and difficult to deal with compared to appropriately educating and positioning the client in advance.
CZ: How can prospective clients (or their families) learn more about Executive Prison Consultants?
RZ: The best “first step” is to explore our web site at www.executiveprisonconsultants.com Once there, the prospective client, family member, or friend can contact us via our toll free number or via email. We will then put that person in direct touch with a consultant who can answer their questions and explain our services, process, fees, etc.
(This interview was first published by AND Magazine)