After the Wall Street debacle, the U.S. Sentencing Commission stipulated more stringent sentencing guidelines for white collar offenses. Sadly, the initiative may have gone a bit too far.
During the heart of the Great Recession, fraudulent financial dealings on Wall Street inundated media outlets everywhere. Stories about the careless actions of the Lehman Brothers and other investment bankers like Bernie Madoff sent the public over the edge.
After the Wall Street debacle, swift action was taken to please the public thirst for justice. The U.S. Sentencing Commission stipulated more stringent sentencing guidelines for white collar offenses. Sadly, the initiative may have gone a bit too far.
Some have now solicited the Commission to consider changing the current sentencing recommendations for white collar offenses.
The current structure
A big reason behind the push for change has to do with how sentences for white collar crimes are handed down. Sentences are typically correlated to the amount of money involved in the entire transaction, regardless of individual circumstances, the amount of involvement in the crime, or noneconomic factors like motive.
Such structure means people were getting life in prison just for being among the list of names associated with the criminal activity. Small fish caught up in big financial enterprises, as they say.
Change to the sentence guidelines for drug offenses
Another reason has to do with the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s recent decision to change the guidelines for certain drug crimes. The Commission decided to retroactively reduce the sentencing guidelines for federal drug trafficking offenders, after public scrutiny about unfair mandatory minimum sentence laws snowballed.
If the Commission agrees that penalties for drug offenses should not be based on the quantity of drugs involved, criminal defense advocates argue that the same should be done for white collar offenders. Simply because an individual is among a large, illegal financial transaction doesn’t mean he or she should receive life in prison. Not every white collar offender is a Bernie Madoff, they say.
Skyrocketing U.S. prison population
Another reason is attributed to the skyrocketing U.S. prison population. There are 2.5 million people behind bars in the U.S.-and a large percentage is located in federal prisons.
And the price tag to taxpayers? In 2013, the appropriation to the Bureau of Prisons was over $6.4 billion-a cost that rises every year.
Given budget constraints and cuts to the nation’s education, infrastructure, and other programs in order to fund the skyrocketing prison costs, the public is taking notice.
Efforts have paid off
Fortunately, solicitation efforts to the U.S. Sentencing Commission have paid off. This past August, the Commission agreed to address present-day white collar crime sentencing guidelines as part of its agenda for the upcoming year. However, it remains to be seen what action the Commission will take.
Keywords: white collar crimes, sentencing guidelines, U.S. Sentencing Commission