Now that all of Larry Nassar’s criminal cases have concluded, his life will transition from that of a jail detainee to that of a federal prisoner.
In total, he was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for three federal child pornography offenses and 40 to 175 years in Michigan state prison for a number of sexual assaults that spanned multiple different state criminal cases.
As a result of his plea agreement, he will start serving his time in federal prison, where he will most likely spend the rest of his life. While Nassar, 54, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in Michigan state prison, it’s unlikely that he’ll live long enough to transition from federal prison to state prison, even though his sentences are running concurrently.
What Nassar’s life will be like in federal prison will depend greatly on the facility where he is incarcerated. The Federal Bureau of Prisons currently houses 183,587 federal prisoners in close to 200 federal prisons and prison camps. Approximately 14,500 inmates are currently incarcerated for federal sexual offenses, which typically include possession and production of child pornography, along with the solicitation of minors for sexual activity. While these prisoners are housed in prisons of every security level (other than minimum security federal prison camps), many are clustered in Sex Offender Management Program (SOMP) facilities, where they are more closely monitored for risk-relevant behaviors and offered both residential and non-residential sex offender treatment programs.
Currently, the following prison locations are designated SOMP institutions:
-USP Tucson, Arizona (high security)
-USP Marion, Illinois (medium security)
-FCI Elkton, Ohio (medium security)
-FCI Englewood, Colorado (medium security)
-FCI Marianna, Florida (medium security)
-FCI Petersburg Medium, Virginia (medium security)
-FCI Seagoville, Texas (medium security)
-FMC Devens, Massachusetts (multiple security levels)
-FMC Carswell, Texas (multiple security levels)
Due to Nassar’s lengthy sentence, he’ll most likely be housed at one of the Bureau’s high security level prisons, which are also known as United States Penitentiaries or USPs. His sentence of over 30 years activates a Bureau-issued Public Safety Factor (PSF) of “Sentence Length,” which will restrict Nassar to a high security federal prison unless the PSF is waived. This is unlikely due to his very lengthy state and federal sentences.
Of all high security federal prisons, only USP Tucson in Arizona is a SOMP institution. This is probably the only high security federal prison where Nassar could relatively safely remain in the general population. If he was placed at any other penitentiary, he would likely be assaulted or not allowed out of solitary confinement, where the Bureau keeps those in protective custody.
Most inmates — even those convicted of notorious sexual offenses— are not housed in protective custody for long. It is common for those convicted of heinous and notorious sexual offenses who are not designated to USP Tucson to be bounced around from penitentiary to penitentiary, each time either being seriously assaulted in general population or in the hole. Otherwise, such inmates remain in protective custody unscathed, but completely isolated for months or years on end until the Bureau places them at a facility where they can survive.
Prison violence is a problem for any inmate, but especially for those convicted of sexual offenses. Informants and sex offenders tend to be the bottom of the barrel in prison culture. What is often found is that the level of violence matches the security level. In regular penitentiaries, violence is common and brutal. The convict culture is real and permeates every aspect of life in prison. In fact, most prisoners must join prison gangs or risk constant attack. But at minimum-security federal prison camps, violence is almost unheard of and most people are just biding their time until they go home. Medium and low security federal prisons tend to be a mix. Nassar is likely to be subject to violence if housed in a regular federal prison, but if he is placed in a SOMP institution, he will generally be safe outside of perhaps some nasty words or other forms of ostracizing from non-sex offender inmates. For example, he will most likely be excluded from certain sports and only allowed to sit at certain tables in the chow hall. It will probably be uncomfortable for a period, but not necessarily dangerous.
Due to Nassar’s visibility, the Bureau will likely designate him to USP Tucson, where he should be able to walk the yard with the approximately 40 percent of the population that is incarcerated for current or past sexual offenses. There, he will have access to the same services available to other inmates in general population. This will include limited educational classes such as Adult Continuing Education, library services, sex offender treatment, recreational opportunities such as individual and group sports and physical fitness, and access to some communication systems to contact family, like monitored telephone, email and letters. He will also be allowed contact visits with family and friends.
While Nassar will have a target on his back due to the notoriety of his offenses and the extensive media coverage, he should be relatively safe at USP Tucson or, if his Public Safety Factor is waived and he is housed at a medium security federal prison, a SOMP medium. At USP Tucson, there are many other sex offenders who have been sentenced to even more time than Nassar, and who have committed far worse crimes than he has — as surprising as that might sound. As such, he will likely fall into a routine which will eventually become his new life. He’ll wake up, clean his cell, go to chow, work in some form of menial prison employment, and generally find ways to pass his time. In prison, who he was will die, and something new will emerge. This occurs with virtually every long-term inmate. The question is, when he sheds the skin of the person he has been, will he find ways to fix what ails him, or will he spiral down into something even deeper and darker? This is a deeply personal question that many prisoners must answer. Even in prison there is further to fall, but there is also a ladder to start the climb.
Christopher Zoukis, the author of the Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts (McFarland & Co., 2014), is a contributing writer to Huffington Post, Prison Legal News, New York Daily News, Criminal Legal News, and the New York Journal of Books. He can be found online at PrisonerResource.com.