After months of legal chess, Alex Murdaugh’s co-conspirators Russell Laffitte and Cory Fleming are finally in federal custody for their roles in helping Murdaugh allegedly steal from his law clients, and it appears that he wants to join them—but why? 

Fleming, a fellow attorney, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in May 2023 and received a 46-month federal prison sentence in August 2023

After a short stay at USP Atlanta, Fleming arrived at FCI Jesup in Jesup, Georgia, on Oct. 13.  He is currently assigned to the low security satellite facility of the prison, according to a BOP spokesperson. 

Laffitte, the former CEO of Palmetto State Bank, was convicted of wire fraud, bank fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and three counts of misapplication of bank funds after a Nov. 22 trial. He was sentenced to 7 years in federal prison and was ordered to report to FSL Coleman in Sumterville, Florida. 

Alex Murdaugh is in the custody of the South Carolina Department of Corrections after he was convicted in March 2023 for the June 2021 murder of his wife and youngest son, but it appears that his attorneys, Dick Harpootlian and Jim Griffin are doing their best to get him into federal prison where the living conditions have a reputation for being way more comfortable than state prison. 

Coffee hour, a lengthy commissary list — sometimes with prices better than your local grocery store — and ample access to activities are just some of the privileges that federal inmates can enjoy during their sentences. 

“It’s just this sense of privilege where everybody’s been trying to fight to get to federal prison, well now you get to see why federal prison is easier,” Cup of Justice podcast co-host Eric Bland opined during a recent episode.  “You’re not in a six by six cell. It’s not just beef sticks, tuna fish, and mackerel. You’ve got a snack list that rivals any college kid’s ability to go to a general commissary.”

While policies vary based on the specific institution, here’s what Laffitte and Fleming can expect during their time at Coleman and Jesup.

Listen to Liz Farrell Discuss Fleming’s Stint at Atlanta USP here:

Levels of Security in Federal Prisons

According to the BOP, there are currently 158,513 individuals in federal custody with nearly 70 percent of inmates residing in low or medium security facilities. 

Minimum security prisons make up nearly 15 percent of federal inmate populations, while 12 percent are in high security and 3.5 percent are in unclassified prisons. 

Laffitte’s institution, FCI Coleman, is a low security federal prison, while FCI Jesup, is a medium security prison. Both classifications of inmates can expect electronic detection systems and double fences around the perimeters.

Because both Laffitte and Fleming are assigned to the low security sector of each prison, they will live in dormitory or cubical style housing.

Other Differences in Medium and Low Security Institutions:

  • Medium security prisons have a larger staff-to-inmate ratio than low and minimum security institutions
  • Low security prisons focus more on work programs; medium security prisons offer a wide variety of treatment programs. 
  • Minimum security prisons are sometimes known as “prison camps” because inmates have more independence with fewer restrictions

High security prisons are often referred to as United States Penitentiaries and are what people often picture when they hear about prison. Inmates in high security prisons can expect to live in either a single or shared cell and have the highest staff-to-inmate ratio. 

These prisons are surrounded by highly secured perimeters including barbed fences and large walls.

Who Runs Federal Prisons?

While the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was established in 1930 by Congress, the agency has an interesting history. Technically though, the federal prison system has existed within the Department of Justice (DOJ) since the Three Prisons Act of 1891. 

Before the establishment of the BOP, federal prisons were run almost autonomously by individual wardens, with some oversight from the Superintendent of Prisons–an official with the DOJ. 

After 1930, BOP agency executives chosen by the Attorney General assumed oversight, management and administrative responsibility of all federal prisons. The BOP currently operates 122 federal prisons with just over 158,000 inmates total. 

The current Director of BOP is Colette S. Peters who works alongside a board of six directors from Federal Prisons Industries Inc. (FPI) and a chief of staff. An FPI Commissioner serves directly under Director Peters. 

What is UNICOR?

FPI has publicly been known by the trade name UNICOR since 1977 and is a “wholly owned Government corporation” according to the UNICOR website. UNICOR utilizes inmate labor across six “business groups” representing all manufacturing and services within the organization. These business groups include:

  • Clothing and Textiles
  • Office Furniture
  • Electronics Business
  • Recycling Business
  • Fleet Solutions
  • Services Business

Those inmate-made products are then sold to federal government customers.

According to the UNICOR website, “the whole impetus behind Federal Prison Industries is not about business, but instead, about inmate release preparation.”

However it should be noted that private industry does benefit greatly from prison labor, albeit mostly at state prisons. 

“With a few limited exceptions, FPI is restricted to selling its products to the Federal Government,” according to the UNICOR website. “The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2012 opened doors for greater private sector collaboration. UNICOR received legislative authority to work with private sector companies to manufacture and sell products in the commercial market, provided certain eligibility requirements are met.”

FPI is governed by a board of directors appointed by the President of the United States and meet two to four times per year to discuss prison operations, product line recommendations and “to identify and prevent potential conflicts with the private industry,” according to the BOP website. 

The following footage is courtesy of Zoukis Consulting Group

What can inmates at FCI Coleman Low Expect?

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FCI Coleman is the largest federal complex within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, with five complexes on the property and a total of 2,073 inmates. 

The five FCI Coleman facilities include a female minimum security prison, two male high security prisons, one medium and one low security male institutions, as well as an administrative facility. 

New inmates — like Russell Laffitte — entering FCI Coleman Low are issued a Phone Access Code (PAC) which allows them to make phone contact with people outside the prison. Inmates may only contact individuals who are on a pre-approved list, which can contain up to 30 phone numbers. 

Inmates are able to collect 300 minutes of phone time per month and all collect calls are authorized. If an inmate wants to speak to an attorney unauthorized, they may file a request. All phone calls to attorneys are collect only, according to the orientation handbook.

All inmates may utilize the prison laundry services and are responsible for each of their items. New inmates will also receive a routine dental examination upon arrival to the premises. 

All inmates who do not have a verified high school diploma, GED equivalent, or proficiency in speaking English (beyond a middle school comprehension) are required to enroll in either 240 hours of GED class instruction and in English as Second Language (ESL) class until passing the proper certification tests. 

Inmates are also welcome to take skill classes, vocational training, as well as recreational activities and apprenticeship programs. Below are a few of the classes and activities that are offered to inmates at FCI Coleman:

  • Culinary Arts Training
  • HVAC Training
  • Electric Training
  • Mavis Beacon Typing program
  • Music program
    • According to the Coleman admission and orientation handbook, the music program consists of: Piano, Acoustic Guitar, Drums, Percussion, Saxophone, Flute, Accordions, Trumpet, as well as music theory classes and various levels of instrumental classes
  • Access to arts and craft lessons including:
    • Drawing, painting, leather work, crotchet, among other activities
  • Access to leisure library
  • Access to law library
  • Access to recreation yard
    •  According to the Coleman admission and orientation handbook, the recreation yard includes: a soccer field, softball fields, volleyball court, basketball courts, racquetball courts, horseshoe pits, bocce ball courts, a running track, fitness stations, and a back patio
    • The recreation program also offers intramural sports leagues, with first place winners receiving “awards for their accomplishments”
  • Access to fitness classes and weight loss programs
  • Holiday activities
    • Christmas Bingo
    • Talent shows
    • Dodgeball / kickball tournaments
    • Obstacle course runs
    • Basketball, softball, soccer “Jamboree”
    • Turkey bowl
    • Arts and crafts show
    • Karaoke contest

Attached is also the full commissary menu available to inmates at FCI Coleman Low.

What can inmates at FCI Jesup Expect?

FCI Jesup is a medium security federal prison located in Jesup, Georgia. Approximately 1100 male inmates live in the medium security facility, with another 650 inmates–including Fleming– living in a low security satellite facility and 150 inmates living in a minimum security satellite camp on the premises. 

Upon arrival, new inmates will be assigned to a housing unit with either a two-man or three man cell. New inmates are interviewed by a Health Services staff member to ensure health care needs may be met at the facility. 

New inmates also receive a routine dental examination, a physical examination and an intake screening with the psychology department. 

Staff counselors are available for one-on-one counseling as well as group counseling. Jesup also offers inmates a smoking cessation self help program which utilizes self help groups and Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), such as nicotine patches. 

“Commissary staff are authorized to sell one, two-week supply of NRT, in the dosage amounts and according to the time limits noted by Medical staff on the Medical Clearance Certificate,” according to the handbook.

In addition, the psychology department offers a “unique opportunity for a small number of qualified FCI inmates to act as suicide companions.”

According to the orientation handbook, qualified inmates will receive training from psychology staff regarding suicide watch procedures and “special  training regarding interpersonal communication skills and information related to suicide prevention.”  

“Inmates interested in being interviewed for the Inmate Suicide Watch Companion Team must submit an Inmate Request to Staff to the Psychology Department.”

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, all inmates who are medically able and have completed orientation are required to maintain a regular job assignment. Pay is determined by performance level, with grade 4 pay being $0.12 per hour and “maintenance pay” being $5.25 per month. The highest pay rate, grade 1, is $0.40 per hour.

Inmates at Jesup must receive a GED or high school diploma to be promoted past grade 4 pay, according to the orientation handbook. 

According to the orientation handbook, “inmates receiving performance pay who have committed a 100 or 200 level incident report for a Drug or Alcohol related prohibited act will automatically have their performance pay reduced to the maintenance pay level…”

Cash awards and various incentives are provided to inmates completing GED programs and life skills programs. 

All inmates are also allowed to bring five personal books that must remain on top of their desk. Harmonicas are also permitted in units. 

Inmates may also request various items including specialty sneakers. Other items may be requested with a special purpose order which is approved by the warden. 

“It is not practical to stock all approved items of a special nature in the Trust Fund Sales Unit, such as books and athletic equipment,” the orientation handbook states. “Requests for the purchase of these items will be authorized on an individual basis and shall be coordinated through the appropriate Department.” 

Inmates can spend a maximum $160 bi-weekly on commissary items, not including costs for stamps and medication. 

A list of contraband is available in the Jesup orientation handbook. Inmate rooms are subject to unannounced and random staff searches. Staff may also search inmates at any point “to control the flow of contraband.” 

Inmates have access to a law library and chapel facility as well as a recreation space that offers intramural sports, a movie program, an arts and crafts program, and music programs. FCI Jesup also hosts a holiday and weekend coffee hour for inmates. 

All inmates are allowed four adult visitors at a time on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and federal holidays. 

Attached is also the full commissary menu available to inmates at FCI Jesup.

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Sam Berlin

Sam is an award winning-journalist originally from Raleigh, North Carolina and currently living in Brooklyn, New York.

She graduated from Syracuse University in 2020 where she studied magazine journalism, photography, and sociology.

She joined Luna Shark Media in 2023 where she assists with research, producing, recording and editing for True Sunlight and Cup of Justice podcasts.

Through her detailed, ethical reporting and multimedia experience, Sam creates enterprise stories and works to unravel the truth around her.