Monday, June 29, 2009

The Madoff Sentence

CNN reports on the sentencing of Bernie Madoff. He received the maximum.

A federal judge sentenced Bernard Madoff, the convicted mastermind of the largest and most sweeping Ponzi scheme ever, to the maximum sentence of 150 years in federal court Monday.

Judge Denny Chin of U.S. District Court in New York announced the sentence just moments after Madoff apologized to his victims.

Chin, who called Madoff's crimes "extraordinarily evil," said the maximum sentence was important for deterrence, and also for the victims, many of whom erupted into applause after the judge announced the sentence. Many hugged and some of them broke down in tears.

A few months ago we discussed the most enjoyable New York Times article by Ralph Blumenthal in which he suggested Madoff should receive the Dante treatment: every punishment matches the crime. Apparently the courts heard that message, at least in the sense that an excessive crime receives an excessive punishment.

What do you think? Is this kind of sentence a deterrent? Do you sense an element of vengeance in the reaction of the victims? What do you think about my theory that white collar criminals should not spend time in prison? For me, prison is to prevent violent criminals from continuing to harm others. Wouldn't heavy fines and government supervision accomplish that in Madoff's case?

What's your opinion?


  1. I'm a bit conflicted on this one. While I do agree that our prison space is finite and best utilized by keeping violent criminals off the street, I have to reconcile the issue that if someone robbing$200 from Burger King(which has insurance and will be reimbursed) gets 15 months in jail, what should happen to some robbing $50,000,000,000 from those whose life savings are wiped out with no insurance company to the rescue?

  2. I agree. There may be some cases where the financial criminal needs to do time. But for me that should be determined by whether he's a continuing threat to society and not revenge or deterrence. I don't believe vengeance is a good motive and I don't believe in deterrence, period.

  3. MikeB,

    You don't believe in DETERRENCE?

    Are talking about prison time being a deterrence or just in general don't believe in deterrence?

  4. What do you think about my theory that white collar criminals should not spend time in prison?

    I seem to remember, Mike, that you're a big believer in the concept of "shared responsibility" (to the extent that supporters of gun rights "share responsibility" for evil acts committed with guns).

    If someone whose life savings was wiped out by Madoff's evil became so distraught that he committed suicide--perhaps even murdered his family first--would Madoff "share responsibility" for the violence? Would he not be, in a sense, a "violent criminal"? Or is there a difference based on the fact that there is no indication, as far as I am aware, of an interest in guns on Madoff's part?

  5. One big argument is about capital punishment. Is it a deterrent? I say no. Same thing about tougher prison sentences in general. They don't deter because criminals for the most part don't expect to get caught.

    Prison has one good purpose, to keep violent offenders off the street. I think that should be the only criterion in determining sentences, not vengeance and not deterrence. That's my opinion.