Garner: No favors for Skakel
Correction officers claim special treatment given
By Karen Ali - The News-Times
As Michael Skakel’s life is picked apart and his conviction still hotly debated on Web sites, he is biding his time in a prison cell, awaiting his Aug. 28 sentencing. He faces a sentence of between 10 years to life.
His trial lawyer, Mickey Sherman, said that Skakel, who does not share a cell at Garner Correctional Institution, is "as upbeat as anyone can be under the circumstances.”
"He’s getting along with everybody. The correctional people are treating him very well,” the Stamford lawyer said. Sherman added that Skakel is getting many letters of support.
That said, some guards at the prison have spoken out this week about their belief Skakel is being treated better than other inmates.
The 41-year-old Skakel was convicted June 7 of murder for the nearly 27-year-old killing of his Greenwich neighbor Martha Moxley. Prosecutors have alleged that he killed the 15-year-old girl he had a crush on because he became angry that she was having a relationship with his brother, Tommy.
The guards say that Skakel was allowed to use a staff bathroom during a visit, bypassed waiting lists for treatment programs, and was allowed an unusual visit with his cousin, Robert Kennedy Jr.
Another example of the preferential treatment is that the prison warden, Giovanny Gomez, personally greeted Skakel, the guards said.
"We are outraged that a convicted murderer is shown special treatment and that the Moxley family is again victimized,” said Tom Sellas, a union official for the state correction officers.
However, a correction spokeswoman, Christina Polce, said that "he (Skakel) was not given any preferential treatment.”
Polce said that despite the notoriety of the Moxley murder case, Skakel has not been treated any differently by prison officials. "We make no special accommodations for any offender,” she said.
In terms of the special programs he was allowed to enter, Polce said that the prison "probably had an opening.”
Polce said that the bathroom visit Skakel was allowed was not unusual and would have been allowed for other inmates.
She also disputed that Skakel was given extra special treatment when he was allowed visitors within a few days of his incarceration. Polce said that the correction department doesn’t have a policy of making inmates wait for weeks before allowing prisoners to visit, as the guards charge. As long as background checks of the inmates are complete, the inmate can see visitors, Polce said.
Polce said that the warden of the prison didn’t personally greet Skakel upon his arrival at the prison June 10, but simply happened to be on one of his routine tours of the prison. "It wasn’t a greeting. It was the warden doing his job,” Polce said.
And as for Kennedy visiting him at a time when visits are not allowed, Polce said that Kennedy, a environmental lawyer, was allowed to visit because he is part of Skakel’s legal team. Lawyers are allowed unlimited contact with their clients.
She added the guards may be making the accusations based on "perception.”
The other routines of prison life are the same for Skakel as they are for other inmates, Polce stressed.
For example, while in prison, Skakel, a former speed skier who was once on the U.S. World Cup Team, is allowed outside on a very limited basis, according to correctional officials.
Polce said that he and other prisoners can go outside to a small courtyard for two to three hours weekly. They can walk, play handball or basketball. "It’s not like they are out there playing baseball,” Polce said.
Each day, Skakel is given an hour of indoor recreation in the morning and an hour in the afternoon, when he can watch television in a common area with other inmates, use exercise equipment, make phone calls or take a shower.
"Skakel has contact with other inmates when he is out of his cell for recreation, meals, programs, etc.,” Polce said. "He receives his meals on the unit and eats with other inmates in the common area.”
He is also allowed to take part in religious services and educational programs.
A divorced father of a 3-year-old, Skakel is allowed two 15-minute phone calls daily, which he can make in his housing unit. He is allowed two "contact visits” per week and one on alternating weekends. Seven people are allowed on his visiting list. Children can visit, but they must be accompanied by an adult, Polce said.
Sherman said that Skakel’s visitors have been family members, friends and his lawyers.
Skakel is also allowed two legal calls per month.
Polce said that she did not know why correctional officials decided that Skakel would have his own cell. "He’d best be served in a single cell at this time.”
Skakel, who has not had any disciplinary problems while in prison, is handcuffed only when removed from his unit. He typically wears a tan prison suit, Polce said.
Breakfast takes place at 6:30 a.m. and lights are out at 10 p.m. Reading is allowed in the cells.
While he does not yet have a job, he has been placed on a waiting list for one, Polce said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.