DETROIT — Larry Nassar was nearly assaulted by the furious father of three of his victims while awaiting sentencing Friday in a Michigan courtroom.
His next likely stop is federal prison, officials say, where his safety will still be anything but assured.
Other inmates "have seen him on TV, they know who he is, and he's going to have to watch his back," said Edward Bales, founder of Florida-based Federal Prison Consultants.
Nassar — formerly renowned as a top doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University and now disgraced as a man who repeatedly abused the young athletes who trusted him and came to him for help — is to be sentenced for sexual assault in Eaton County (Mich.) Circuit Court on Monday. He's already been sentenced to 60 years in prison on federal child pornography charges and 40 to 175 years — to be served consecutive to his federal sentence — on other sexual assault charges in Ingham County (Mich.) Circuit Court.
An Indianapolis Star investigation of USA Gymnastics, begun in 2016, uncovered widespread sexual abuse of athletes by coaches and others and failures to alert authorities. The IndyStar, part of the USA TODAY Network, revealed the first allegations of abuse by Larry Nassar, a high-profile women’s gymnastics team doctor, and triggered a criminal prosecution that led to his imprisonment.
Nassar, 54, probably is headed to a medium-security federal prison and possibly a high-security prison, said Bales, whose firm provides advocacy and consulting services for federal prisoners. Nassar will almost certainly be placed in a cell by himself and may even go directly to protective custody — which is essentially solitary confinement, Bales said.
It's rare for inmates to go directly into protective custody, unless their notoriety or actual threats make authorities believe they are immediately at risk. Bales gave the example of Bernie Madoff — not a sex offender but widely loathed for defrauding billions from investors. Madoff went directly to protective custody in federal prison before he was gradually released to the general population, Bales said.
Although Nassar will almost certainly be in prison for the rest of his life, he probably will be sent to one of a handful of prisons that offer the Sexual Offender Management Program, he said. For medium-security facilities, that includes prisons in Marion, Ill.; Marianna, Fla., and Petersburg, Va.
Sexual offenders are typically grouped together in federal prisons both for programming purposes and because they can protect themselves better as part of a group than if they are on their own, he said.
Nassar will be one of about 14,500 sex offenders housed in about 200 federal facilities, according to Zoukis Prisoner Resources, but clearly will be one of the most notorious.
"Sex offenders who can’t pass themselves off as something else will typically find themselves in an undesirable position," federal prisoner and author/researcher Christopher Zoukis wrote in a 2013 article.
"At best, they’ll be avoided, and perhaps openly and directly called names and excluded from activities (e.g., sports, card games, TV rooms, work assignments, etc.)," Zoukis wrote.
"At worse, they’ll be robbed, beaten or even killed. Many will find that they aren’t welcome to sit at certain tables in the chow hall, or might have to spend years in protective custody."
Maia Christopher, executive director of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers in Oregon, said many people like to joke about what might happen to sex offenders in prison, but such comments are counter-productive.
"You're saying there is a group of people who deserve to be sexually abused," said Christopher.
That's wrong, she said.
"If we're going to stop sexual assault, it has to include everybody — not just the people we like," Christopher said.
Craig DeRoche, a former Michigan state House Speaker, who is now senior vice president of advocacy and public policy at Prison Fellowship, an outreach organization for prisoners, former prisoners, and their families, said even prisoners such as Nassar can seek to redeem themselves while behind bars.
"Many prisoners who work on their own personal transformation will never leave prison," DeRoche, a Republican, said Friday. "They try to redeem their past failures by helping others who will leave prison."
Nassar "has to focus on himself first and getting himself into a place where he can contribute positively," he said. "He does have to live there for decades. He can contribute positively or negatively.
"That's a decision he will have to make," but "at Prison Fellowship, we say there are no throw-away people."
Bales said inmates are generally better treated in federal prison than in state prison. But that's not necessarily true if they end up with a target on their back because federal prisons house national gangs that can spread the word from one prison to another if an inmate is transferred for security reasons.
In Michigan, two inmates were sentenced in 2016 and 2014 respectively for killing sex offender cellmates at Saginaw Correctional Facility.
Around the country, the former Roman Catholic priest John Geoghan, who was convicted of child sex abuse and murdered in his Massachusetts cell in 2003, is among the more notorious inmates to die violently behind bars.
Chris Gautz, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections, said it's unlikely Nassar will ever end up in a Michigan prison.
A spokesman for the federal Bureau of Prisons declined to discuss the specifics of Nassar's incarceration.
Contributing: Perry A. Farrell, Detroit Free Press. Follow Paul Egan on Twitter: @paulegan4
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