Monday, December 25, 2006

Is There Too Much Focus on White Collar Crime?

Gary Fields has an incredible article in the Wall Street Journal today that focuses on whether Congress will again revisit the sentencing guidelines for convictions by crack offenders.  The 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine has long been a issue of concern for many critics of the guidelines. The mandatory minimum sentences involved in drug cases also influence the enormous sentences received by these offenders.  But two items in this article also say something, albeit indirectly, about white collar crime.

First is that while there are 94,434 individuals incarcerated on drug convictions, there are only 7,454 on extortion, fraud, and bribery.  An additional statistic reported in this article that is relevant to this blog, is that violent crime "in 2005 rose more than it has in any of the last 15 years." 

Clearly white collar individuals play a smaller number in our prisons when compared to groups such as drug offenders.  Also clear is that the recent increased government focus on corporate criminality may need to be revisited if it turns out that there is a correlation between the expense of resources in this direction as opposed to the money being spent on prosecuting violent crimes and thus a resulting increase in violent crimes. The additional question is what does it mean that violent crime is increasing despite increased sentences and more incarceration -- has the move away from a rehabilitative model failed?  Should we also be looking at this question with respect to white collar crime?  Will draconian sentences really serve to deter criminality, and should we be more focused on rehabilitating individuals?  Or perhaps even an education model that attacks the criminality prior to it occurring?


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I will look to you to keep me informed of the nature of the debate on the important issues you list, and I thank you as a concerned citizen for your work to keep them before us. I do wonder about the numbers ser forth in the WSJ, as according to the recent NCCN Fact Sheet, which I hope becomes famous, 2.2 million Americans are incarcerated with the rate of that incarceration the highest in the world. In any event, this seems a national tragedy and even disgrace and there is depressingly only limited evidence of a stirring to make it right, or at least less wrong.

My only other comment is that having witnessed first-hand what I consider the wrongful prosecutions of many former Enron executives -- and their inability to resist effectively the power of a state hell-bent on a witch hunt despite being for the most part men-of-means -- that a focus on white-collar crime is not entirely misplaced. These prosecutorial abominations, though in all fairness egged on by a broader lynch mob-like mentality in both the Congress and the press, reveals just how flimsy our constitutional rights are, especially when unpopular citizens are faced with a highly motivated and well-resourced group of prosecutors and FBI agents. This raises issues that should be of grave concern for all of us

Posted by: Nicholas | Dec 26, 2006 10:48:42 AM

Much of what passes for white collar crime could be alleviated with warnings and fines, rather than incarceration. Many people do push to the edge of law for what can and cannot be done - but then, so do prosecutors.

I see incarceration as a waste of taxpayer dollars, serving no purpose. There are so many more reasonable and productive ways that non-violent, first-time offenders could be serving the community, rather than serving time.

I've begun to look at our justice system as part of a "prison industrial complex."

Posted by: jan | Dec 29, 2006 7:01:54 AM

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