Prison Reforms Should Introduce the Concept of Parity

By · Monday, December 29th, 2008

Bernard Madoff, the con artist who led the largest Ponzi scheme in history, is said to have misappropriated more than $50 billion of investor funds. I’ve been reading about the people who suffered as a consequence of his massive fraud. One news report described people in their sixties and seventies who would have to return to work, others were selling their homes. Hundreds of nonprofit organizations have been forced to cease their operations as a consequence of Madoff’s crime spree. Yet he remains free on bail as of this writing. In the end, I doubt whether he will receive a sentence that equals the severity of mine.

I am not a proponent of long-term imprisonment for any non-violent offender. Sentences that keep nonviolent offenders in prisons for decades at a time do not serve the interests of justice or the interests of an enlightened society. My hopes are that all of these white-collar con artists will bring some attention to the absurdity of enormously long sentences for nonviolent offenders.

A case like Madoff’s must really sting those who trusted him with their funds. With billions in fraud, Madoff must have made victims of many hundreds, or thousands of people. Why is it, then, that his case is treated so much differently than the case of nonviolent drug offenders who engaged in transactions with consenting adults? Nonviolent drug offenders fill our nation’s prison system, despite their not having any victims? This is not to imply that drug offenders should escape punishment altogether. Though I think the system is horribly skewed when it incarcerates so many ordinary people of humble or disadvantaged origins for decades, while offenders like Madoff remain free on bond despite supposed admissions that he conned investors out of billions.

We need prison reforms that will bring fairness to America’s prison system. Such prison reforms should offer nonviolent offenders who have served decades opportunities to earn freedom. Mechanisms should be introduced to bring a measure of parity between the length of time that nonviolent offenders serve in prison with the length of time that Wall Street criminals serve.

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