- Lester Munson, Legal Analyst
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Michael Vick's days as a minimum security inmate at a federal prison camp in Leavenworth, Kan., feature leather craft, ceramics and foosball. But, so far, they don't include the classes in a drug program that could result in his early release.
Vick is still waiting for admission into the federal prison system's Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP), according to a prison spokesperson. Unless he gets into that program, he will be locked up until at least June 2009. If he makes it into RDAP, he could be transferred into a halfway house (known in prison patois as a "community corrections center") as early as January. And, for Vick, that small step into a halfway house could be a giant leap back to the NFL.
To qualify for the halfway house, Vick must be employed. If the NFL ends his indefinite suspension and an NFL team is willing to sign him, he may be able train and prepare for the 2009 season from the halfway house, according to experts of federal prison programs.
"It's entirely possible that a professional athlete could work at his job while finishing his sentence," said Ed Eckhaus, a former federal probation officer who now helps people convicted of federal crimes and their attorneys work through the complexities of the federal sentencing system. "The usual pattern is 12 in and 12 out -- 12 hours in the facility and 12 hours out of the facility each day -- and the 12 out could include working at a job approved by the prison system."
Although Vick gained a head start on his prison time by reporting to a local jail in Virginia even before he was sentenced, he continues to wait for a decision on the drug program. U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson of Richmond, Va., took the first step for Vick when he included in his Dec. 10, 2007, sentencing order a provision that Vick was eligible for "substance abuse treatment." Vick tested positive for marijuana during the weeks before his sentencing on a federal dogfighting conviction.
In addition to the recommendation from the judge, Vick must qualify at the Leavenworth prison camp.
News reports and statements from his attorney in early January indicated that Vick was being transferred from Virginia to Leavenworth to enter the drug treatment program. But he hasn't yet started it. Billy Martin, Vick's lead attorney, did not respond to phone calls and e-mails requesting comment on Vick's situation.
"He is not in drug treatment at this time," said Kevin Johnson, the institution's executive assistant and public information officer.
Asked whether a determination had been made on Vick's eligibility, Johnson said, "You'll have to talk to Dr. [Christy] Collins," who is in charge of RDAP at Leavenworth. Collins did not respond to a series of telephone messages from ESPN.com.
It is possible that Vick is on a waiting list for RDAP, a common situation in the 60 federal prisons that offer the program. But the Leavenworth camp is now at only 80 percent of its capacity, with 390 inmates.
If Vick makes it into RDAP, he would attend 500 hours of classes, counseling and group therapy over a period of nine months, an average of 14 hours of class per week. The classes include occasional drug tests, and the program includes 12-step meetings.
After satisfying RDAP's requirements, Vick would be eligible for early release into the halfway house. If, then, he gains admission into RDAP next month, he could complete the program in January.
In the halfway house, Vick would be under strict supervision with specific travel limits and curfews.
"If there was any violation of any kind, the offender is back in the penitentiary," Eckhaus said.
"It would be a demanding process to match placement in a community center [halfway house] with a job in the NFL," said Jim Tibenski, another "mitigation specialist" who guides people through the prison and probation system. "The system does its best to place people in their normal work."
The federal prison drug program has been in effect for 10 years.
"It is based on the recognition that many offenders have drug or alcohol problems, and that treatment of these problems can greatly reduce recidivism [repeat offenses with a return to prison]," said Herb Hoelter of the National Center for Institutions and Alternatives, a think tank that focuses on incarceration and probation issues.
All three experts told ESPN.com that Vick appears to be qualified for RDAP, even though his only reported drug problem was the test he flunked in the weeks before sentencing.
"Any documented history of drug use, even marijuana, is enough if it has had an impact on the course of the offender's life," Hoelter said.
If he is not admitted into RDAP, Vick will continue with the daily life of a minimum security inmate. He can make phone calls with a debit card to as many as 30 people approved by the warden. He can spend up to $290 each month in the prison commissary. And he is allowed 24 hours of time with visitors each month.
And, of course, he has access to the leather craft, the ceramics and the foosball.
Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who reports on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Michael Vick's hope for early release from federal prison depends in part on his participation in drug treatment program, but he hasn't been admitted to it yet, writes ESPN.com's Lester Munson.