Beyond Hard Time

Read more here, for an op-ed in The New Republic on what the disparate reactions to Manafort’s sentence and California’s death penalty ban reveal about our criminal justice system:

For many years, the justice system has allowed serious corporate corruption to go unpunished, banks to be prosecuted repeatedly for the same crimes, and corporations and executives to get deferred prosecutions and below-the-guideline sentencing. This system of pronounced judicial leniency has created a punishment model for many corporate offenders that I call “too big to jail”—and in recent years, matters have gotten worse. Even within this already skewed and top-heavy system, I have documented declining corporate penalties under the Trump administration. Ending “too big to jail,” however, doesn’t mean passing tougher sentences for white-collar crimes. After all, Congress has created plenty of tough new white-collar offenses since the 2001 Enron scandal—and, for the most part, these new tools have sat on the shelf untouched by prosecutors.

Instead of enacting more draconian sentences, we must invest in white-collar law enforcement the same way we invest in other measures to protect public safety. Consider this: the Internal Revenue Service has had its budget cut over the past decade to the point where audits have decreased by 42 percent and the number of tax fraud cases the agency brings has been cut by nearly 25 percent. Under such lax enforcement, tax fraud schemes—of the very sort repeatedly carried out by Paul Manafort—are able to thrive…

The way out of the double standard we apply to punishment is to reject the notion that true justice inheres in strictly hewing to a one-size-fits-all model of criminal sentencing.