Housing such a famous celebrity requires officials to walk a fine line between providing special treatment and recognizing potential risks to high-profile convicts, reports the Associated Press.
“It’s a challenge,” said Martin Horn, a former head of the New York City jails, where Lil Wayne’s plea agreement calls for him to serve his sentence after pleading guilty in a New York City gun case. “It’s not about setting (a celebrity) on a bed of roses, but it is about an obligation to every inmate to keep him safe.”
For now, jail officials say only that they will assess the multiplatinum-selling Lil Wayne as they do every other new arrival and find an appropriate place for him among the city’s roughly 13,000 inmates.
Defense lawyer Stacey Richman said she intends to ask for protective custody for Lil Wayne, as well as for attention to dental problems that postponed his sentencing by two weeks.
“If Wayne had his druthers, he would not be asking for anything for himself,” Richman said, but she said she was concerned for his health and safety.
Some jail officials prefer to hold even famous convicts in circumstances as ordinary as possible — a desire the inmates sometimes share.
Otherwise, “you’ll be viewed by other inmates and the prison system as thinking that you’re ‘more deserving,'” says prison consultant Herbert J. Hoelter, whose clients have included epic fraudster Bernard Madoff and NFL quarterback Michael Vick.
The police union in Greenwich, Conn., slammed the town’s police chief for letting ex-Supreme Diana Ross keep a cell phone and make a trip home while she was serving a two-day jail term in 2004. She had pleaded no contest to an Arizona drunken-driving charge and arranged to serve the sentence in her hometown.
The police chief said he thought she was allowed to do her time in two blocks and hadn’t known about the phone.
But if celebrities shouldn’t get coddled, they also face particular risks behind bars, prison experts and defense lawyers say. Fellow prisoners may want to make a name for themselves by challenging famous inmates — or cozying up to them in hopes of sharing in their fame after release.
Being prominent gets you noticed, and being noticed in prison is generally not very good,” New York defense lawyer Benjamin Brafman said.
For that reason, New York state prisons sometimes put celebrities together in protective custody units, where they interact with each other but not the prison population at large, spokeswoman Linda Foglia said.
Ex-New York Giant Plaxico Burress and former “Sopranos” actor Lillo Brancato Jr., for example, have been in the same unit at an upstate prison, she said. Burress is serving two years after pleading guilty to a weapons charge; Brancato is serving 10 years on an attempted burglary conviction.
Some celebrities find their stature an asset behind bars.
“I get a lot of love from the inmates. They are familiar with my work, watching my growth over my career,” rapper Gucci Mane recently told The Associated Press from the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, where he is serving a six-month sentence on a probation violation. “I love the fact that I’m a rapper. But behind these walls, I’m just another African-American coming up in the South. A lot of these brothas share the same with me. We have a bond.”