CHICAGO—Wednesday, former embattled Chicago Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and wife Sandi have finally been sentenced for misusing $750,000 in campaign money and engaging in tax fraud.
Jackson’s promising political career began to quickly crumble when suspicion arose that he allegedly tried to buy his way into President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat.
After disappearing from the local political scene, a bout in and out of the Mayo Clinic last year, and a federal probe into his campaign finances, he resigned from his post as Illinois 2nd Congressional District Representative and plead guilty to the gross misuse of campaign funds on personal items.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson has decided that Jackson will serve a 30-month sentence and pay back the campaign funds, plus an additional $750,000. Federal prosecutors have requested Jackson’s wife go to prison for 18 months following her admission to falsifying the couple’s tax returns for a few years.
But caught in the middle of a scandal of two would-have-been rising political stars are their two school-aged children.
Experts say it’s not common that both parents get indicted simultaneously, however the notion that the Jacksons could be receiving preferential treatment because they have young children, or because of their political prowess, is false, simply because when children are involved, the court and prosecutors make special considerations. In this case, prosecutors actually requested Sandi serve her sentence before her husband, but only after Jackson requested he serve his time before his wife.
“It’s very rare that they indict both the husband and the wife,” said Steven R. Hunter, a Chicago-based federal criminal defense attorney. “It’s been my observation that if children are involved, the prosecutors, it’s bad (public relations) for them to say ‘we’re sending mom and dad to prison,’ and the kids go off to foster care or what have you.”
According to Dick Simpson, political science chair at the University of Illinois—Chicago, “The expectation is that the judge will space the two sentences, that one will go to jail first and the other second.”
NBC News reports that the Judge has left it up to the Jacksons to decide who will serve their sentence first.
The future is unclear for two kids of federally prosecuted parents, Simpson said. “There isn’t any one effect that can be predicted,” he told theGrio, while comparing the situation to military families where one parent goes abroad, couples who have to split up because of a job, or even divorce, which is very common in the country. “It generally depends on the parents and the children,” Simpson said.
Monday, Jackson requested through his attorneys to serve his time in either an Alabama prison camp or a prison in North Carolina. Jackson’s lawyers said that since he attended college in North Carolina, he has substantial ties to the area, which “he believes will aid his rehabilitation during any term of incarceration.”
According to Ed Ross, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, it’s not uncommon for defendants to petition the court to serve their sentence at a specific facility.
“The court can entertain that and recommend to the Bureau of Prisons a particular facility for the individual to spend the term of their incarceration, but it’s solely a recommendation,” Ross said.
The Bureau of Prisons ultimately decides where a prisoner serves out their sentence.
Ross said before prisoners even enter the Bureau of Prisons, they must go through a security designation process. Officials will use several factors, including prior offenses, history of violence, medical and security needs to determine a suitable facility placement.
In Jackson’s case, the claim that he needed special medical attention due to his bipolar disorder will not hold much weight. The Bureau of Prisons claims to have adequate medical care for almost any illness, said Hunter, adding that, “It is extremely rare that they will concede that they can’t provide the care.”
Renita is a Chicago-based multimedia journalist. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaDYoung