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July 15, 2005

Ebbers Should Not Go To Prison

The 25-year prison sentence for 63-year-old former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers is a tragic example of how criminal justice has failed to mature and respond creatively to differing crimes and the needs of society.

Ebbers' crimes were staggering in scope and financial impact and he should be punished severely. But we should not send to prison a retirement-aged financial and management expert—-probably a genius without sufficient moral character. Find a better punishment that is relentless, long-lasting, and difficult, but redemptive for society and for Mr. Ebbers.

We should not be using precious and expensive prison space for non-violent, non-dangerous offenders. Alternatives to incarceration, if creatively developed and effectively enforced, are a way to punish wrongdoers without punishing ourselves.

It was right for the court to take nearly all of Ebbers assets and to leave a small amount of money in his account. Instead of placing him in a prison cell because we’re mad at him, for the next 25 years Ebbers could be forced to earn little more than minimum wage, and to serve the community in a way that would use his skills, benefit the poorest of the poor in the community, and in no way enrich him or his family or enable them to prepare for retirement. This is one thing he stole from many people.

Non-prison punishments can be quite taxing, would enable more restitution, and would have a positive impact on all involved, rather than simply tossing an older man in prison to rot for the rest of his days.

There’s more information on restorative justice here.

We need to hold offenders responsible and be sure that punishment is sure and swift. But punishment is not necessarily prison. We’d all be better off if we learned that and encouraged enlightened legislators and judges to be more creative and restorative as they deal with crime and punishment.

Posted by Jim at July 15, 2005 09:03 AM

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