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The Plight of the White (Collar that is)

Anyone who has gone through the "system" comes out with a radically different understanding from what he believed when he went in. When I refer to "The System", I refer to someone who has actually spent in actual prison. While there are plenty of ideas floating around as to how we should fix the system, no one can speak with any expertise without having actually gone through  the system. Politicians can advocate all they want, but the reality is they are reacting to appease various competing interests and are not acting in a proactive manner  that focuses not only on the amount of time incarcerated but even on what happens after prison.

I am not going to go into the inherent flaws in our system of incarceration as I have already gone through many of them in a previous entry ( ). What I am going to assert now is that the system of incarceration in our country is disproportionately discriminatory against the white collar felon. Sure, many will shake their head and say that I am biased and maybe they are correct. After all, there are no minimum mandatory sentences for white collar convicts and of course the average sentence served by a white collar defendant is much lower than that of other crimes. Most white collar felons do all of their time in a camp whereas other convicted felons start out in higher security facilities. Even non violent drug offenders will often start out in higher security facilities. On the surface, my assertion is not only wrong, but is offensive and arrogant as well.

There has been plenty of noise made about prison reform and the need to lower the prison population. Do not think for a second that this is because our elected officials have had an epiphany and realized that there are plenty of people in prison who are not threats to society (there are). No, they do not care about that at all! No, there is no altruism here at all. It is all about saving money. For the white collar felon,  all of the  talk of prison reform and news of presidential commutations brings little solace. President Obama granted 1715 sentence commutations, more than any of his predecessors, during his eight years in office. However, 98% of those commutations were granted to those convicted on drug offenses. According to the Bureau of Prisons, however, drug offenses only make up 46% of the total prison population. In other words, the white collar felon received virtually no benefit from the Obama commutations. Similarly, much of the ideas floating around to reduce prison population are geared to reducing the, albeit unjustifiably harsh, sentences  for drug offenders and are not all all focused on white collar inmates.

Why is this the case? The answer, sadly enough is political. Wall Street bankers are demonized in the media. They are blamed for anything and everything that goes wrong in the economy. The are portrayed by the media, and even opportunistic politicians as greedy predators exploiting the lower classes. Individual defendants are paraded in front of TV cameras as they are arrested or walked into court. On the other hand, drug dealers, those who knowingly exploit their customers' addictions are treated with kid gloves by the media. How often does the media closely monitor the trials and outcomes of these indictments? As a result, legislation that benefits white collar felons is seen as favoring the rich whereas legislation benefiting drug offenses is seen as humanitarian and enlightened.

Just as importantly, and perhaps most importantly, truly reforming the system needs to include what happens after an inmate leaves prison. The system disproportionately penalizes white collar defendants. Let's look at the run of the mill drug dealer who has served five years. Having spent time talking with a few of these people, I am not speaking from the vantage point of a speculator. Drug dealers know exactly what they are doing. They know that they will likely go to prison for what they are doing and are well aware of the risks. Because of this, they are able to prepare more adequately for their time in prison and are able to even prepare for life after prison. Their 'business',  is conducted not via the banking system but strictly in cash. They are able to put money aside for when they are released into society if they desire. When they are released, they are not only allowed but are encouraged to pursue careers in white collar industries such as finance law and medicine. If they wish to resume their illegal activities and resume dealing drugs, there is nothing preventing them from doing so. For the released drug dealer, the opportunities are limitless if he is motivated.

The white collar felon faces a radically different set of circumstances when he is released however. Many white collar felons were unaware that they were violating the law and even if they were the odds are that most of their gains and their assets are easily traceable. In other words, they are usually not in a position to prepare for life after prison because, they usually are not even aware they will be going to prison. The next obstacle comes when he wants to go back to work. While he will have the same restrictions as any other felon, he faces additional restrictions as a white collar felon. For example, a doctor who is convicted on charges of insurance fraud is no longer permitted to practice medicine even though his crime had nothing to do with the practice of medicine. How is he supposed to sustain himself if he can't go back into the one industry he knows even if he is willing to not take insurance. A financial professional is effectively barred from the finance industry even if he wants to go into an area of finance that has nothing to do with the reason he went to prison if the first place. It is virtually impossible in most states for a for a former white collar felon to obtain any professional license. While a non white collar felon who wishes to find employment is one of those fields is viewed as reformed or rehabilitated, a white collar felon is viewed as someone who needs to be prevented from being in a position where he may commit a similar crime. In this backwards system, from the standpoint of starting over, it is sometimes better to have been convicted of a drug crime or even a violent crime than have been convicted of a white collar crime.

I write this not to vent, but to articulate another issue that faces white collar defendants. A white collar defendant will, when considering a plea, think that he serves his time and then it is over. Not so. He needs to be aware that agreeing to plead guilty to an offense is a life altering decision, one that will have a longer lasting impact than the time that he is incarcerated. Until there is real prison reform, the white collar felon will continue to be the one treated most unfairly by the criminal justice system. If the President truly wants to make America great again, he will certainly need to assistance and input of those white collar felons who have paid their debt to society.


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