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(MINNEAPOLIS) — Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pleaded guilty to killing George Floyd in 2020 — when he dug his knee into the back of the Black man’s neck even though he was aware Floyd had lost consciousness and pulse. But in exchange for his plea, Chauvin, 45, made one request: that he be allowed to do his time in federal prison, even if it means he will serve a longer sentence.
Under the agreement Chauvin signed in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Wednesday, he must serve a minimum of 20 years in prison, and a maximum of 25.
While he was sentenced by Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill to serve 22-and-a-half years in state prison, Chauvin could have been paroled in less than 15 years, assuming he accumulated all good-time credit, according to the federal agreement.
“The Floyd family understands Derek Chauvin may serve more time in federal prison than he would in state prison because federal guidelines indicate a greater percentage of a sentence is required to be served than at the state level. It is important to the family that he serves as much of his sentence as possible,” the Floyd family’s attorneys, Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms, said in a statement to ABC News.
Chauvin — who a jury convicted in state court of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter — is to be sentenced in the federal case at a later date.
During his state sentencing hearing in June, Chauvin seemed to allude to his decision to plead guilty in the federal case. Turning to members of the Floyd family seated in the courtroom, he said, “There’s going to be some other information in the future that would be of interest and I hope some things will give you some peace of mind.”
Difference between federal and state prison
When asked if there is a big difference between federal and state prisons, experts agreed that federal prisons are better.
“The general reason is federal prison just tends to be safer and nicer than state prison and local jails,” former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told ABC News. “There are many reasons for that. They’re just managed better by the Bureau of Prisons, where state and local jails just are not.”
Rahmani, president and co-founder of Los Angeles-based West Coast Trial Lawyers, added, “There is overcrowding issues in state prisons and local jails that you just don’t have in federal prison.”
The annual cost of housing an inmate in a Minnesota state prison is about the same as the federal government spends on its prisoners.
According to a 2015 study by the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit research and policy organization, the average annual cost of housing an inmate in Minnesota state prison is roughly $41,000.
The federal Bueau of Prisons estimated that the annual cost of housing an inmate in a federal facility in 2020 was a little over $39,000.
Upon receiving his state sentence, Chauvin was immediately placed in the Minnesota Correctional Facility at Oak Park Heights, a maximum-security prison. A spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Corrections confirmed to ABC News that Chauvin is being held in the administrative segregation wing of the prison, isolated in a cell 23 hours a day.
Inmates housed in administrative segregation are usually there for disciplinary reasons or “when continued presence in general population could pose a particular safety concern,” according to the state corrections’ website.
Safety appears to be Chauvin’s top concern
Rahmani, who was not involved in the Chauvin case, said one likely reason why the former veteran police officer would prefer to serve his sentence in federal prison is for his own safety.
“He’s been a police officer for quite some time and he’s arrested a lot of folks and probably put them in Minnesota state prison,” Rahmani said of Chauvin, who was a member of the Minneapolis Police Department for 19 years. “It’s much less likely that he’s going to run into people that he’s had interactions with federal prison. So, it’s going to be a lot safer for him.”
Justin Paperny is a former stockbroker who served time in federal prison for securities fraud and founded the consulting company White Collar Advice, which counsels white-collar criminals on what to expect in prison.
Paperney told ABC News that while Chauvin will be allowed to make a recommendation on which federal prison he would like to go to, the ultimate decision will be up to the federal Bureau of Prisons.
“There has been criticism that asking for a certain federal prison was a privilege,” said Paperney, who counseled several parents facing federal prison sentences after being convicted in the “Varsity Blues” college-entrance cheating scandal. “In reality, every federal defendant, whether you’re rich or poor, should ask the judge for a recommendation for a prison. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get it.”
‘He’d be wise to lay low’
Paperney and Rahmani said the federal Bureau of Prisons can send Chauvin to any of its 122 federal prisons throughout the United States that house more than 151,000 inmates.
“In federal prison, Chauvin will still likely be isolated,” Rahmani said. “Isolated would probably be the safest for him, or could be housed with folks who are white-collar criminals assignments, who are no risk to violence towards him. Anytime you have a police officer in prison that’s going to be a very risky situation for that individual. They’ve got to basically put him somewhere safe.”
Paperney said anyone headed to federal prison should conduct their own research on what to expect from the various facilities and the different levels of security.
Such prison research was explored in a recent episode of the hit HBO drama series “Succession.” The character Tom Wambsgans, son-in-law to ruthless media tycoon Logan Roy, gets hold of a binder of prison data to thumb through in anticipation of being sent to a federal pen as a sacrificial lamb in an FBI probe of the family business.
While it’s not a binder, per se, Paperney said he actually wrote the book “Lessons From Prison,” which includes strategies and case studies on how people can prepare themselves for life behind bars, learn to make amends and make their prison experience productive.
“Generally speaking, the federal government is going to have a lot more resources than a lot of states who are cash strapped and broke,” Paperney said. “Given the length of his [Chauvin’s] sentence, and no possibility of release any time soon, it makes more sense to be in a federal prison with more security and better access to resources and programming, everything from better food to better housing, to better bunks.”
Paperney said that if he had to chance to consult Chauvin, he’d give him the advice he gives most of his clients.
“Any new prisoner must recognize they’re moving into an environment where people have lived for weeks, months, years. It is a microcosm of society,” Paperney said. “So, he’d be wise to lay low, to listen, to watch, to not assert his authority, not try to impress or influence or offer unsolicited advice. He needs to stay quiet and adjust because the eyes will be on him.”
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