Prison Consultants

Richard Zaranek
Richard Zaranek
Richard Zaranek is the President of Executive Prison Consultants, a nationally known consulting firm that prepares criminal defendants for incarceration. | Photo: Richard Zaranek | Richard Zaranek, Jail, Prison, Wealthy, Crime,

Getting Ready for Prison

In our modern age we've all heard of life coaches, professionals who help clients get their lives in order. There are also sober companions, who are essentially life coaches who help alcoholics and addicts get their lives together. Now there is another breed of coach: prison coaches. Unlike life coaches and sober companions, prison coaches -- or prison consultants, as they prefer to be called -- help wealthy clients prepare for life on the inside, in prison.

In the old days, the Martha Stewarts and Bernard Madoffs of the world who became entangled in the criminal justice system would grit their teeth, steady their stride, and walk into the cell block. They did it all alone, with only Hollywood's idea of prison, or the cable drama "Oz" as a glimpse of what life in the big house was going to be like. This is no longer the case for white collar offenders.


Prison coaches come from one of two schools. Either they have worked within the confines of a prison (or the field of criminal justice) or they have been to prison themselves as the result of a criminal conviction. Prison consultants from the first group tend to be former middle or upper management prison administrators or attorneys who specialize in in-prison matters. Those from the second group tend to be white collar offenders (e.g., those charged with securities fraud or tax evasion) or former jailhouse lawyers, individuals who were immersed in the law while on the inside.

The field of prison consulting is filled with both groups, and a mixture of the two. More often than not, prison consultants work alone in one-man offices. Though there are also firms of consultants grouped together which can share a broad range of expertise and, therefore, specializations.


According to Richard Zaranek, President of Executive Prison Consultants, "[O]ur number one priority is to help our clients survive federal incarceration and obtain early release from prison. That's what we do[.] . . . [W]e provide a concentrated and comprehensive informational experience that will prepare you for serving a sentence in federal prison." Jack Donson, President of My Federal Prison Consultants, agrees, stating, "A substantial number of my clients are first-time, white-collar offenders who, understandably want to know what to expect once incarcerated so they can best prepare for the experience." Simply put, they assist their executive clients in becoming "prison ready."

Becoming prison ready is not an easy task for persons who fall within the clientele demographic of these types of prison consulting firms. This is because they tend to be white-collar types who have no real experience with the criminal justice system. As such, they literally know nothing about courts or prisons, a marked departure from their traditional enclaves.

With no understanding of the relevant concepts at hand, these executives require assistance not only with obtaining the required informational foundation in order to survive a term of incarceration, but practice, too. This is where consulting firms come into play.

As George Christie, Jr. of Felony Prison Consultants says, "[We] assist you in every phase, but will focus on preparing you for the most stressful and difficult aspect of your journey, incarceration. Having lived it, we can be your best guide to survival. We can provide you with every tool you need to emerge with sound body, mind and spirit."

These consulting firms inform their clients about as many aspects of incarceration as possible, answer all of their questions, and drill with them concerning prison society and appropriate responses to typical situations. Steve Vincent, Director of Federal Prison Consultant Services, clarifies, "We offer telephone consulting sessions and/or 1 to 3 day private sessions in your home or office." All of this is done in an effort to prepare clients for incarceration.

Perhaps the most detailed explanation of what a prison consultant is and what they can do comes from Michael Sabo, Executive Director of Prison Consultants of America. He explains, "We specialize in consulting white-collar, drug, and sex offenders. Our staff of trained professionals will present you with options from various Bureau of Prisons (BOP) programs on how to best navigate the system. We will also instruct you and your loved ones on what to expect during your incarceration. We want to educate you prior to and during custody to help alleviate your concerns, fears, and worries regarding imprisonment." They might have a leg up on the competition, considering that Sabo's firm employs a number of professionals from different disciplines, who can consult and assist with a broad range of client needs. These professionals include former inmates, pre-incarceration specialists, program specialists, re-entry consultants, prison program consultants, and even a licensed marriage and family therapist.

After a number of hours of coaching and counseling, clients of prison consulting firms have a much better idea of what is to come and how to cope with the anticipated stresses.


Different prison consulting firms and individual prison coaches prepare their clients differently, but there is a common thread. At the most basic level, prison consultants will counsel clients on the telephone, for a fee. While not the ideal method of counseling or coaching -- that would be an in-person experience -- these firms regularly spend hours on the telephone consulting with clients. This type of counseling tends to be less expensive since travel costs and travel time are eliminated, but the consultant's time is not. As such, clients should expect to be charged anywhere from $50 to $250 an hour for such consultations.

The next more in-depth step up involves the in-person consultation. The costs are about the same for the time actually spent in consultation, but travel time and expenses are also accrued. However, since the consultant can actually interact with the client in person, they can be more effective and thorough. Total costs for this level of service generally run between $1,500 and $2,500. Sometimes this is billed by the hour and sometimes by the service package. When additional services are included (e.g., PSR Review, Sentence Mitigation Consulting, Plea Agreement Review) the costs can reach upwards of $5,000 to $10,000.

Much of a prison consultant's work revolves around counseling clients, not necessarily producing a tangible product. As such, the concept of counseling can look minimal, when in reality, it is extensive. These counseling sessions can be extremely comprehensive. National Prison and Sentencing Consultants states a number of discussion areas included in their Prison Preparation Service on their website. These areas include:

~Voluntary Surrender
~Federal Bureau of Prisons Regulations
~Transfer Regulations
~Medical Facilities
~Inmate Finances
~Prison Orientation Programs
~Mail and Package Regulations
~Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP)
~Intensive Confinement Centers
~Special Housing Units (SHUs)
~Relocation Procedures
~Foreign Transfers
~Medical Issues and Concerns

In the same breadth of client counseling or coaching are services focused on the families of clients. These typically include counseling, Q & A sessions, troubleshooting when problems or concerns present themselves, and assistance with complying with prison policies and procedures. National Prison and Sentencing Consultants lists the following Family Services on their website:

~Immediate Access to Assistance
~Professional Referrals
~Inmate Family Support Networks
~On-Line Group Support Information
~Inmate and Family Financial Planning and Referrals
~Introduction to the Prison System and Bureaucracy
~Administrative Grievance Procedures (known in the BOP as the Administrative Remedy Process)
~Post-Release Issues

National Prison and Sentencing Consultants performs one function which many don't. They place their services and fees clearly and publicly on their website. They note them as follows: Plea Agreement Review ($1,500-$5,000), Pre-Sentence Report Review ($3,500-$5,000), Sentencing Factor Recommendation ($7,500 and up), Alternative Sentencing Assistance ($7,500 and up), Prison Designation, Evaluation and Recommendation ($1,250-$3,500), Pre-Surrender Incarceration Services ($2,500-$3,500), Post-Incarceration Services ($1,500-$5,000), Prison Based Sentence Reduction ($1,750-$5,000), and Federal Sentence Mitigation Investigation Analysis ($12,500 and up). They publish their hourly rates as ranging from $195 to $550, but also explain that "Fee arrangements can be structured so as to take into consideration your financial resources and current circumstances. We make every effort to assist our clients and friends regardless of financial ability."

And the possibilities don't end here. Jack Donson, President of My Federal Prison Consultant, presents on his website a plethora of pre-incarceration services which his firm offers. These services include:

~Thoroughly prepare offenders for incarceration & their Federal [Pre-Sentence Report] Interview.
~Effectively assist incarcerated offenders and/or their attorneys dissect the intricacies of Bureau of Prisons policy.
~Systematically analyze sentence computations for accuracy.
~Precisely list factors considered in determination of program eligibility like the Residential Drug Treatment Program (RDAP).
~Thoughtfully walk attorneys and offenders through programs such as Residential Re-Entry Placement (RRC/Halfway House) and the [BOP's] Furlough Program.
~Provide expert witness reports and declarations on virtually any BOP-related topic or program.

This seems only natural considering that, according to Mr. Donson, he's "the only consultant to receive national awards from the Federal Bureau of Prisons." Mr. Donson states that during his career of over 23 years employed by the FBOP, he served primarily in a Case Manager capacity. For his services, Mr. Donson charges $200 an hour and requires retainers in the $2,500 to $5,000 range, depending on services required.

Prison Consultants of America is one of the more innovative prison consulting firms around. They state on their website, "Prison Consultants of America is a valuable resource for making your prison experience as comfortable, safe, and as short as possible. Through family therapeutic counseling, we will share our firsthand knowledge of how the BOP operates. We will work diligently to get you assigned to a facility closer to home and provide you with guidance and necessary paperwork to cut short your incarceration and return home as soon as possible. We want to be there with you and your loved ones every step of the way until you can return to your everyday life." Rates for their services can't be standardized since every client receives a different focus of service with different components employed. In a way, this is how it should be since every client requires a different focus and approach in order to fulfill their personal objectives.


In an attempt to better explain who these prison consultants are and what they do, it is helpful to analyze one of the respected prison consulting firms. Executive Prison Consultants (EPC) is headed by Richard Zaranek, a former public administrator who spent time in the Federal Bureau of Prisons for a financial crime.

Executive Prison Consultants is a firm which utilizes a total of 9 prison consultants. The consultants are divided up based upon the 6 regional territories created by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Whenever a client contacts EPC, they are routed to the consultant who is located in the appropriate region. This way, the consultant can meet with the client in person to better coach them and, if the client does become sentenced to a term of incarceration, the consultant has better access to the prison which the client is housed at, and to the family, if required, to provide personal support.

EPC's services can be divided into two categories: Defendant Services and Inmate Services.

Within the defendant category, Executive Prison Consultants endeavors to enter into a relationship with the client prior to any plea agreements with the government. They help to shape the plea agreement in an effort to make sure that the client is advised as to the following issues, which might not be ones that defense counsel is expert in, to ensure:

~The least amount of time in prison.
~Favorable facility placement.
~Self-surrender status.
~Agreements relative to issues that can affect security rating, restitution/fines, and obtaining additional time for client to finalize family and financial affairs prior to reporting to prison.
~Recommendation for placement in programs like the BOP's Residential Drug Abuse Program (which has the ability to reduce a client's time in prison via a time reduction and additional halfway house placement).

Executive Prison Consultants also includes a full scale orientation and education program which acclimatizes the soon-to-be incarcerated client to life in the prison environment. This is a comprehensive program and is conducted either at a neutral location or in the client's hometown. The cost for the total Defendant Services package is typically $5,000 to $6,000, plus expenses if consultants have to travel. If clients retain EPC later in the defense process, costs are adjusted downward when certain issues can't be effected by Executive Prison Consultants' influence or involvement.

Within the Inmate Services category, Executive Prison Consultants works with each incarcerated client on an individualized basis depending on what the client wants done and what EPC believes -- from a collective consultant perspective -- is reasonable and possible. This is important to note since some consultants will work on any request regardless of however irrational or impossible the task might be, something EPC strives not to do.

Executive Prison Consultants regularly handles the following in-prison matters:

~RDAP Placement Analysis and Objections
~Assistance with Direct Appeals
~2255 Motions
~Medical Treatment Interventions
~Restitution/Fine Adjustment (in terms of Inmate Financial Program modifications)
~Inmate Work Assignments
~Disciplinary Hearing Preparation and Appeals
~Administrative Remedies

The cost for the Inmate Services category of services ranges from $500 to $2,500 per task, depending on the task. If the client retains EPC for a single function, the cost is typically in the $750-$800 range. When multiple functions are utilized, the typical fee is in the $1,500 ballpark. The average EPS client pays $1,300 for in-prison services.


This is a challenging question to answer since success rates vary depending upon firm retained and service employed. Generally speaking, services that prepare a client for prison are very well worth their cost. This component is a guaranteed one, in that the service will result in a better understanding of the incarceration process and all that it entails. As such, as long as the prison consultant or prison coach is experienced, their counsel will make a difference in their client's quality of life while incarcerated.

Where matters become trickier is where the consultant is tasked with influencing corrections' officials. Whereas the consultant can successfully counsel a client and their family about life on the inside and the processes their clients will go through, this might not be the case with other matters. Plea agreements, for example, are challenging to work out in the first place. Problems can easily occur when the defendant's counsel and/or prison consultant is trying to gain favorable conditions in addition to the existing terms that the prosecution is already offering in the plea agreement. The same is true with initial facility designation. While a prison consultant could even convince a judge or prosecutor to make a specific facility recommendation, if the facility is full or if it is of the wrong security level, the client will not be designated there. The same can be true with self-surrender status. If the client is not a good candidate, no amount of effort on a prison consultant's part will make a difference.

In-prison matters are another area where tangible components are not being employed (e.g., written objections to a PSR), influence is (e.g., letters and phone calls to prison officials). As such, if an inmate desires to transfer to a different prison, a consultant could send a letter to the client's case manager or could advise the client on how to request a transfer (and provide some pointers in making the request), but the BOP by no means has to abide by the request. In fact, they often don't.

The only area where retaining a prison consultant really helps with in-prison matters is when the BOP has made a correctable mistake. For example, if a client has been incorrectly scored (assigned too many points on their Custody Classification Form) and is housed at too high a level of security, a consultant could calculate the client's correct point total and bring the matter to the BOP's attention. Another area where prison consultants can make themselves known is in prison disciplinary hearings. By a consultant preparing their client for a disciplinary hearing, preparing a written statement for the client to present, and handling any appeals, the tables can turn in the client's favor and the client can have a much better chance of being successful in obtaining an acquittal. In cases like this, or particularly egregious cases of misconduct, consultants and attorneys can be very effective.


The long and short of the matter is that if the criminal defendant has the funds, a prison consultant or prison coach certainly can't hurt their position. An experienced consultant or coach can inform their client and their family of what is to come, alleviate some level of anxiety, and troubleshoot when problems occur. The particularly talented ones can also work on plea agreements, prison designation, RDAP accessibility, provide effective sentence mitigation efforts, and even soften statements made in the Pre-Sentence Report and, thereby, reduce a client's security score.

In the words of Executive Prison Consultants' President Richard Zaranek, "With experienced and professional experts guiding you through the process, you can place yourself in a position to minimize the negative impact a prison term will have on your life." Simply stated, an experienced prison consultant can improve a criminal defendant's quality of life by a lot or a little. But regardless of the amount of improvement, it is still improved.

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Updated Aug 12, 2017 12:13 PM EDT | More details


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