Madoff May Bring Attention to Need for Prison Reform

By · Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

I hope the case of Bernard Madoff brings some real attention to the absurdity of America’s sentencing scheme. Newspapers are reporting that he may face up to 20 years in prison. I know that sounds like a lot of time in confinement. Truthfully, as a man who has just finished his 22nd holiday season in federal prison, I know that 20 years is a lot of time. With a well-connected white-collar criminal receiving a lengthy sentence, however, my hopes are that citizens will question the value such sentences bring to society.

Mr. Madoff is 70-years-old. He was a criminal whose crimes caused losses to hundreds or thousands of victims. According to newspaper reports that have been widely published, he admitted to a fraud that amounted to $50 billion. This past week, one of his victims committed suicide as a supposed consequence of the loss that Madoff’s crime delivered. Will incarcerating Mr. Madoff for 20 years bring justice?

Average life expectancies suggest that Mr. Madoff would not live to finish a 20-year term. Though even if he did, would that amount of time in prison make things right with his victims? I don’t think anyone else is going to feel better because an old man is locked in a prison cell. Yet I may be wrong. Perhaps locking him to die in prison is just what society needs.

Whatever sentence a judge finally imposes on Mr. Madoff, I have a running bet with other prisoners that he will not receive a sentence as long as my judge imposed on me. Tens of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders who engaged in transactions with consenting adults, and so did not make a victim of anybody, are serving sentences that are much longer than anything Mr. Madoff will receive. Yet as drug offenders without a voice, no one knows about the struggles that come with the long sentences they serve. No one cares. When high profile people like Bernard Madoff come into the system, the media focus more addition on others who are forgotten inside America’s packed prisons.

As a long-term prisoner, I strive to help others make better decisions while they adjust through confinement. In my article titled Growing Up In Prison, I describe the steps I take to motivate young prisoners who were never given the privileged relationships that Mr. Madoff abused. No one cares about their plight. Yet if Mr. Madoff receives less time than them, perhaps the media will report on the discrepancies. Likewise, if Madoff receives a sentence that exceeds 20 years, perhaps Americans will still question whether justice has been served. I welcome any news that brings attention to this prison system that confines so many, and that desperately needs reform.

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