What would jail be like for Trump if judge seeks prison time over gag order violations?

As the third week of testimony in Donald Trump’s hush money trial draws to a close, the former president continues to face the possibility of an unwelcome predicament: that he could see the inside of a jail cell.

Earlier this week, Mr Trump, 77, was held in contempt of court for a tenth time after violating the gag order issued by Justice Juan Merchan in the case.

The order was first implemented back in March as an attempt to stop Mr Trump making statements about jurors, witnesses and families of the judge and prosecutors.

To date, Mr Trump has been fined $1,000 for 10 separate violations of that order.

And now, Judge Merchan is warning the former president that any further breaches could result in time in jail.

On the surface, Mr Trump appears stoic in the face of prison time, claiming that a stint in jail would be a “sacrifice” he’s willing to make in order to uphold what he deems to be his constitutional rights.

However, since this final warning, the ex-president has remained more tight-lipped about the trial where he is charged with falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels to silence her about an alleged 2006 affair ahead of the 2016 election. Mr Trump denies both the affair and the charges against him.

But if he does breach the gag order again, and Judge Merchan follows through on his warning and hands out a jail sentence, what would Mr Trump’s imprisonment look like?

Trump speaks to reporters outside the courtroom (2024 Getty Images)
Trump speaks to reporters outside the courtroom (2024 Getty Images)

Imprisoning a former president would involve major planning involving the likes of a workaround of his Secret Service deal, where he might be held, what he might eat and – the killer question – whether he’ll be able to style his hair.

Downstairs in the New York criminal courthouse there are a number of small jail cells. Meanwhile, 11 miles away lies the infamous Rikers Island: a sprawling 413 acre penitentiary with a reputation for violence and unsanitary conditions.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said this week that Rikers is “ready” to receive Mr Trump, if required.

While experts predict either could be a feasible option, Martin Horn, the former commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction (NYCD), said it is likely he would initially be sent to a holding pen behind the court.

“I suspect that the first thing would be to lock him up [in one of the pens] to cool his heels for a couple of hours,” Mr Horn told The Times.

“The judge would lock him up for four hours, or six hours,” he added.

For longer sentencing, Rikers Island would be a more appropriate option.

Aerial view of the notorious Rikers Island (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Aerial view of the notorious Rikers Island (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The facilities are not designed for lock-ups surpassing 12 hours, as they lack showers and medical examiners. The catering might also not be up to the billionaire’s taste either with just cheese and baloney sandwiches on offer, the ex-NYCD commissioner added.

Judge Merchan would also be entering uncharted waters if he decides to jail Mr Trump as the Secret Service provides the former president with round-the-clock security.

Mr Horn believes that the court may be developing “some sort of workaround given that armed personnel are typically prohibited in those areas”.

Rikers’ West Facility, a suite of 12 structures with six to seven cells a piece, was built to keep prisoners with contagious diseases apart from others.

It could be a fitting area to hold Mr Trump, Mr Horn suggested.

“Each cell is air-conditioned, it’s larger than the typical cells and it’s equipped with its own shower so a person doesn’t have to leave for a shower. It has a commode and a wash basin as well as a bed and a desk,” he said.

“In addition, each of these cells has what I would describe as an anteroom attached to it that is separated from the cell by a security glass window so the inmate can be observed at all times,” Mr Horn concluded.

In September, Mr Trump was said to have begun asking sources about what prison life might be like, according to Rolling Stone.

The Republican presidential candidate would likely have to swap his courtroom attire of a blue suit and coloured tie for a prison uniform, along with regulatory underwear instead, a spokesman for the NYCD said.

However, as per the department’s list of “permissible items,” Mr Trump’s family could send him a suit jacket to wear (although it can’t be blue), a tie, two white handkerchiefs and four pairs of trousers.

Mr Trump’s famous quiff, which has been branded a shade of “Burnt-Cheetos Auburn” after a garish colour change in 2002, might also suffer, according to Sarena Townsend, the former head of internal affairs at Rikers Island.

“Hair products?” she told The Times. “I don’t think so. That’s contraband, baby!”