Thursday, June 19, 2008

Would you drive yourself to jail?

This story got me thinking.

To recap, Samuel Israel was a hedge fund manager who defrauded investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars. He was convicted, sentenced to 20 years and out on bail while authorities prepared his medication (I didn't know they did that). This CNN story has a little more background.

First, thinking about this has got me wondering if long prison sentences are appropriate for monetary crimes. I'm sure this guy is an ass, and the amounts of money he stole very likely could have ruined lives (cf. Enron), but wouldn't forcing him to live as a pauper while repaying his victims be a better sentence?

Second, and the thing that kind of blew my mind a little, he was supposed to drive himself to prison to start his 20 year sentence. The guy's 48. Neither article says if there's any possibility of parole or time-off for good behavior, but apparently Israel considered it a death sentence. So what's he got to lose? I can't fathom calmly driving myself to prison to surrender what could very possibly be the last third of my life. And especially not if I was as narcissistic as this guy has to be. What the hell were they thinking? If this guy isn't out of the country already, I'll be very surprised.

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Toast said...

Chris, I wholeheartedly agree. For some time I've toyed with the idea that Jail should be reserved for violent criminals only, while non-violent criminals are punished using alternative means. For example, as you seem to be suggesting, put white-collar criminals in Wage Prison. Limit what they can earn to some bare minimum amount. Anything they make above that goes to some sort of fund for their victims. If they choose to keep earning large, it helps the people they harmed. If they choose to work at Burger King, well, justice is still served.

Jail, in my opinion, should be reserved as a mechanism to physically restrain people who seek to do violence to their fellow citizens.

Chris Howard said...

That's pretty much what I was thinking. We had a discussion about some of this when Michael Vick went to jail. I remember Mike is against jail for anything but violence against people. I hadn't really thought about it much before then.

John Howard said...

I don't know if I'd limit jail exclusively to violent criminals (or maybe I would, I haven't really thought too much about it before). But I would certainly not send people to jail for things like drug use. We have way too many people in jail, and at some point, we're going to have to try something different.

Chris Howard said...

I agree that all non-violent drug offenders should be released. If they're addicts, treat them End the war on drugs completely, legalize some, decriminalize others and use the billions in savings to provide education and free treatment for all. That's a whole other post. I would support jail time for some white-collar crime, if the crime endangered people, trhough negligence or willful disregard. Like stealing money that causes safety measures to be skipped or not implemented.

Aside from all that, what about the other point - can you imagine asking someone to drive himself into jail, not for a few years, but for basically the rest of his life?

Aaron Boyden said...

One of the purposes of prison is supposed to be to deter crime. I would expect white collar criminals to be more calculating and rational in their decision making than violent criminals, and prison would also contrast more strongly with their usual opulent lifestyle, so one would expect them to be easier to deter. Why eschew that approach in precisely the case where it is most likely to actually be effective?

Chris Howard said...

Why eschew that approach in precisely the case where it is most likely to actually be effective?

Is there any evidence that it actually has deterrent value? I know that's one of the stated purposes of prison time for both violent and non-violent offenders, but I have my doubts that it really works that way.

Susan said...

I bet living on a Burger King or Wal-Mart salary would be a big shock to their system, and they'd have to support themselves instead of being supported by taxpayers. Think you're good with money" Try living at the poverty level, hotshot!

And how much would parking cost if you drove yourself to jail and had to stay for 20 years?? :)

End the war on drugs, tax them and make some money instead. As much as I hate sin taxes, I'd prefer them to going to jail.