Friday, April 1, 2005

Is Prison Better for Society in the Waksal Case?

Sam Waksal's attorneys are trying to obtain an early release for him so that he can continue cancer research.  (See CNN) Waksal received a sentence of seven years and three months.  So far he has served just under two years.  But the question is - does society need him in prison or is there more of a need for him outside of prison?

Waksal, as you may recall, was CEO of ImClone, a stock that fell sharply after failing to receive initial approval from the FDA. Waksal, unfortunately told some relatives of ImClone's problems resulting in insider trading, a charge to which he plead guilty.  It was Waksal's transactions that served as a catalyst for questioning  Martha Stewart,  that led to her eventual prosecution and conviction.

But should Waksal be in prison or in a place where he can do cancer research?  Perhaps a part of Waksal's problems were his not sticking to the research side of his profession and moving instead into its business side.  But can scientists and physicians really avoid that these days?  Has the health field become a health industry that makes it difficult for the science types to fully understand and operate within?

If Waksal is allowed out to continue research, will people say that white collar offenders are being given a "preference?"  After all, the street crime offender might not have the education or opportunity to secure this same privilege.  But if the street crime individual has cancer, I can't help but wonder if they wouldn't mind having Waksal back in the lab as opposed to in a prison facility.  Where will society benefit more, and should that be a factor in how we handle punishment?


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