What Donald Trump’s Time in Prison Could Look Like

Donald Trump could become the first former president in United States history to be sentenced to prison as he faces 91 criminal charges across four cases, all of which he has pleaded not guilty to.

The front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination has been charged at the federal level over claims he mishandled classified documents after leaving the White House and broke the law attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. He is also accused in New York of orchestrating the payment of hush money to an adult film star and in Georgia of acting illegally while trying to block President Joe Biden’s 2020 win in that state. Trump has strongly denied any wrongdoing and insists the charges against him are politically motivated.

If Trump is sentenced to prison, it would present a near-unprecedented challenge to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, or to authorities in New York or Georgia if he’s convicted in either of those states.

A number of prison and legal experts spoke to Newsweek about what Trump could face inside, and they all expressed concerns over his safety, with one academic warning that another prisoner might try to kill him “just to make a name for themselves.”

Donald Trump in jail graphic
A Newsweek graphic depicting former President Donald Trump in a prison cell. One academic warned that another prisoner might try to kill Trump “just to make a name for themselves” if he is incarcerated.

Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, suggested Trump is most likely to be placed in a minimum security facility if given a custodial sentence.

“It’s impossible to know what prison Trump will be sent to if convicted and a judge actually imposes a sentence of incarceration,” he said. “The Bureau of Prisons [BOP] has sole authority in deciding where federal inmates are housed. Judges can make recommendations, but the BOP can ignore them.

“In Trump’s case, there is a unique risk to his safety because he’s a former president, so the BOP would have to make sure he is at a minimum security facility, with no threat of violent inmates, isolated from the general population. In Georgia, the Department of Corrections would have to make a similar determination. There, options include state prison, private prisons or a detention center.”

However Robert Rogers, an associate professor of criminal justice at Middle Tennessee State University who previously worked for the BOP, disagreed, telling Newsweek that Trump would most likely to sent to a “a maximum-security penitentiary so that none of his fanatical followers could possibly break him out.”

Trial attorney Tray Gober, a managing partner at Texas-based law firm Lee, Gober & Reyna, told Newsweek that the logistics around imprisoning Trump are unprecedented because of his lifelong Secret Service protection.

“In some ways, detaining former President Trump would present authorities with the same concerns that they face whenever a high-profile inmate is sent to jail or prison,” he said. “But his detention would be unique in our history, because he is guaranteed Secret Service protection for life.

“It’s crucial to ensure that any detention facility adheres to legal standards, offering fair treatment to all inmates, regardless of their status. Providing adequate accommodations for a famous inmate is not about granting them a privilege but about upholding the principles of our justice system.”

Gober argued that prison authorities will have to balance keeping Trump away from other prisoners, for his own safety, with fears over the impact that prolonged isolation could have on his mental health.

“While considerations like isolation, heightened surveillance, and strategic placement address security concerns, it’s equally important to preserve an inmate’s mental health,” he said. “Placing a high-profile inmate in solitary confinement may solve the problem of how to protect that person from attack, but it can destroy their mental health.

“Therefore, for any high-profile inmate with special security needs, it’s paramount for prison authorities to incorporate monitored outside recreational time, as well as secure shower and dining facilities, in order to strike the delicate balance between ensuring safety and upholding the principles of justice.”

If Trump is imprisoned, Gober concluded that “officials from the detention facility and the Secret Service will cooperate with each other to ensure that a lawful sentence is carried out while safeguarding the former president’s physical and mental well-being.”

Rogers said authorities would likely try to keep Trump separate from the main prison population, though he may have some contact with other detainees considered vulnerable to attack.

“I would anticipate that he would not have any contact with inmates in the general population,” he said. “If he had any contact at all with other prisoners, it would probably be in a separate, secured unit with other ‘dirty’ cops, prosecutors and judges. In other words, he would be in a special unit with others whom the run-of-the-mill inmates would like to harm for putting them there in prison in the first place.

The academic and former corrections officer said Trump is likely to have supporters in the general prison population but would also be in danger if allowed to mix.

“He would undoubtedly have a number of adoring fans,” Rogers said. “However, there would also be inmates who would try to kill him, in spite of Secret Service protection, just to make a name for themselves so that they would go down in history, not as common criminals and losers, but as someone who had killed an American president.”

In terms of his prison activities, Rogers predicted that “if allowed to do so, Trump would spend every waking moment working with his lawyers to get himself out of prison.”

Newsweek has reached out to Trump via the press inquiry form on his official website for comment.

The danger to high-profile figures in prison was demonstrated on November 24, when Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of killing George Floyd in May 2020, was repeatedly stabbed by another prisoner at a federal facility in Arizona, leaving him with serious injuries.

In July, Larry Nassar, the former U.S. national women’s gymnastics doctor sentenced to a de facto life sentence after abusing scores of women, was stabbed in the back and chest at a federal prison in Florida, though he survived.