OK, so President Trump’s campaign manager got “only” 47 months in prison for $15 million worth of tax cheating and bank fraud.
I, for one, am not outraged. I agree that the judicial system unfairly over-sentences people for lesser offenses and is, on the whole, more harsh in its treatment of black and other minority offenders.
And I agree further that what he did is more harmful than many, many offenses for which perpetrators have received more time, including some locals caught dealing the wonder drug of the 1970s, cocaine, or the now-legalized marijuana.
Take, for example, Kailief Bowder, who spent three years in Rikers (New York’s notorious jail) awaiting trial on charges of stealing a knapsack. Charges were later dropped. Bowder committed suicide two years later.
Examples could fill the rest of this column. The woman doing 21 years for selling crack. The defendant offered a three-year prison “deal” for stealing $100 worth of quarters. The Trump fanatic who voted illegally in Texas for her hero and got five years.
No, what Mr. Manafort did was evil and malicious for sure, especially the witness tampering that ensued when he was out on bail. But the comparisons tell us more about over-sentencing in a system that still believes big sentences are a deterrent than it does about Manafort’s race and wealth privileges.
The leading local case for a different system of sentencing is the prosecution of the two persons who started the Lake Christine Fire that almost resulted in the destruction of Basalt, and took out three homes and over 2 square miles of forest. The cost of fighting the fire exceeds $16 million. The father of one of the accused also faces charges for allegedly covering up his son’s location.
The fire was apparently ignited by the two 23-year-olds when they went to the shooting range and fired prohibited tracer rounds during a severe drought. The case now hinges on a technical defense: whether the two were in police custody when they admitted to their actions. If deemed to have been in custody, their statements might not be admissible as evidence.
They face up to six years in prison. The real question is, who and what does the lengthy prison term serve? The public won’t be getting its forest back, the homeowners won’t be reimbursed, and the defendants could have a felony rap that would most likely cripple their ability to earn anything in the way of restitution for the rest of their lives.
Restorative justice is the notion that we use the criminal prosecution process to restore the victims and the perpetrators, rather than simply discard them from society in hopes that others won’t do what they did. It seems unlikely that the sentence imposed and the destruction of the futures of these two young people will have much deterrent effect on other potential idiots who can’t refrain from blasting away at the shooting range during times of high danger, anymore than some skiers and boarders can’t seem to stay out of avalanche zones during dangerous conditions.
If you spend any time talking to probation officers and experts, they will almost always tell you that ordinary people, those outside the professional criminal class, do not weigh the chances of getting caught and the probability of serving time against the benefits of their actions. We are not a mathematical people — hence the enormous success of Las Vegas and various state-run lotteries in which the basic math says no and the heart says yes.
Rather than six years in the joint, maybe we would all be better off if we didn’t try to fix stupid with retaliation. Consider for a moment what would happen if the two individuals were given four years in the forest with a directive to undo as much of their destruction as possible. Surely that sentence would give them a chance to consider the damage done and the incentive to restore not only nature but themselves. In prison, thoughts tend to form around the notion that the time being served is a function of bad lawyering by defense counsel, or the injustice of a system that lets the wealthy or the well-connected or the privileged Manaforts of the world off easier.
With public service and without a felony rap, the two may even be able to make restitution payments that are difficult to make as unemployable ex-cons. And the rest of us won’t have to spend the $30,000 per year to incarcerate the perpetrators.
Perhaps it is time to rethink the sentencing of offenders below the Manafort level instead of whining about his 47 months being not enough.