Free Fallin’: RHONJ’s Teresa Giudice Surrenders To Prison

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“One of the many lessons that one learns in prison is, that things are what they are and will be what they will be.” – Oscar Wilde

“The Real Housewives of New Jersey’s,” Teresa Giudice, surrendered to a federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut in the early morning hours of Monday, January 5.  Just before 3 a.m. E.T. Teresa turned herself in to serve a 15-month prison sentence for fraud. (She and husband Giuseppe “Joe” Giudice pleaded guilty to tax fraud last year.  They admittedly hid assets from bankruptcy creditors and submitted phony loan applications to acquire some $5 million in mortgages and construction loans.)

One’s personal freedoms are stripped upon surrender to prison, and oh what a tangled web of rights one relinquishes in lockup. 

Americans have a merited coterie of individual rights as established by the U.S. Constitution.  There are procedural rights; personal liberty; substantive guarantees against criminal or civil penalties; personal or family privacy and autonomy; protection against unlawful searches and seizures; freedoms of thought and religion; freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association; substantive protection of property rights and economic interests; and equal protection.  

Meanwhile, a prisoner may be deprived of personal liberty against his or her will following the conviction of a crime.  A prisoner is not afforded all the privileges of a free citizen.  For many, prison signals an autonomous world coming to a frightening end.

The federal prison system is a complex legal labyrinth of loneliness, discipline, restraint, economic hardship, and sexual politics, all of which impact the individual prisoner in diverse ways.

No two people will adjust to prison life the same way.  How RHONJ’s Teresa Giudice will fare at the Federal Correctional Institution in Danbury, Connecticut, a minimum-security prison for women that inspired the hit Netflix series, Orange is the New Black, depends a great deal upon her humility and malleability.  A softened stance must replace the iconic table flips and shoves that were a staple of Teresa’s past life.


In this Q&A, I invite All About the Tea posters to join me in a hearty dialogue regarding the principal legal issues associated with prison life, including the right to privacy; sexual abuse (safety and security); drug detox; and access to legal counsel.

In Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517 (1984), the Supreme Court declared prisoners do not have a Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures of their property. The justices for the majority pointed out that the expectation of privacy in prison is incompatible with internal security and safety measures. Consequently, a reasonable or legitimate expectation of privacy is not extended to a prison cell. 

The decision in Hudson impacts prisoners in material ways: Prison officials can monitor an inmate’s movements throughout prison, watch prisoners in their cells, and conduct warrantless searches inside prisons.  The ruling likewise provides that prison officers are empowered to detect, without limitation, prisoners’ illegal activities in order to ensure safety.

Too, prison officials can legitimately monitor and record prisoners’ conversations with other prisoners as well as visitors.  The one notable exception is that prison officials cannot intrude upon conversations that are legally afforded confidentiality, such as those between the prisoner and the prisoners’ attorney.

Like other inmates, Teresa will remain subject to random searches and pat downs and can be ordered to provide a urine sample or undergo an alcohol Breathalyzer test at any time, without notice. If an inmate is abusing drugs or alcohol, there are detox programs to aid in rehabilitation during prison, but they do not resemble those of Promises in Malibu or The Sanctuary located in eastern Australia (site of pristine beaches and sub-tropical rainforests).   

Although those incarcerated may have an extensive history of drug and alcohol use, a relatively small percentage of them receive any treatment within the justice system. While prisons may offer an individual assessment of a drug or alcohol problem, a lack of suitable care due to inadequate funding can limit the effectiveness of any program within the federal prison system to treat those confined within its walls.

When someone goes to prison, they do not get to keep their medication nor are family members permitted to bring prisoners legal drugs. For the most part, if you need life-sustaining medication you will be allowed to take it with you while you are incarcerated. If your prescription is for something other than life-sustaining conditions, you may be rebuffed. Each facility has its own rules regarding prescription medications. Inmates have no guarantee they will be given medications prescribed by their own doctors and instead they might receive prescriptions chosen by the government’s physician. Prison health staff issue medication daily but sometimes the medication is kept on the prisoner.

What other personal freedoms will fall by the wayside when Teresa enters prison? Prisoners do not have a First Amendment right to speak freely, and to that end prison officials may discipline inmates who distribute correspondences and flyers that are incendiary or incite violence.

No longer will Teresa be able to communicate freely with her family and friends. Part of the function of prison is to punish, and that includes a restriction on phone calls and interaction with loved ones.  The law recognizes the importance of visitation rights in aiding the prisoners’ eventual transition back into the community, however prisoners do not have a constitutional right to enjoy contact visits or sexual relations with visitors.

Calls from correctional facilities come with exorbitant fees, though inmates do have the option to write letters as well. Visiting hours are allotted but they are usually provided for on weekends and federal holidays.  Courts routinely hold that restrictions on visitation must be reasonable and related only to security needs and good order.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat as Needed. If a prisoner is denied an opportunity to shower or shave, courts have insisted that minimum standards on human decency and personal hygiene be met.  Courts have granted prison officials the ability to force inmates to keep themselves clean for purposes of maintaining the health of the general prison population. In short, courts tend to give deference to prison officials regarding prisoners’ rights.

The prison experience can be violent, manifesting itself through sexual abuse and assaults among inmates and between inmates and prison officials. While the incidence of sexual assault in minimum-security prisons is sporadic, prison inmates do face sexual assault at some point while serving their time. 

Last but certainly not least is Teresa’s ability (or lack thereof) to interact with her lawyers. Prison visits by a lawyer provide an essential foundation for the kind of effective attorney/client relationship that is necessary for the attorney to conduct business on behalf of his or her client. Prisoners have a fundamental right to legal counsel thus prison officials must allow reasonable times and places for inmates to communicate confidentially with their attorneys

Bear in mind a prisoner does not have the ability while in prison to fully aid in further litigation or appellate matters because they do not have access to all their papers that could help them in their case, ergo, sometimes the best a lawyer can do for his or her client that is serving time is to simply triage a complex legal matter. 

Teresa is adjusting to a new reality today – one behind bars with freedoms that are quickly being truncated. Returning to the theme of the Oscar Wilde quote above, it is clearly critical for prisoners to take stock of reality in order to preclude them from making the same mistake twice.  Only then can prisoners regain a sense of personal freedom upon their release.


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