How long should white-collar criminals be jailed? This is one of the most problematic issues in present day business. On the one hand, with the growing number of financial frauds and bankruptcies, employees appear absolutely unprotected and are not given any guarantees with regard to the future of businesses, for which they work. On the other hand, those who are responsible for developing and implementing sophisticated illegal financial plans may not deserve to be sentenced to life. Objectively, white-collar criminals do have to be sentenced, but the length of the jail term should be reasonable enough to ensure, that the criminal is able to compensate for the financial losses carried by employees, stakeholders, and the state as a result of financial fraud.
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To those who have suffered the negative consequences of bankruptcy, sentencing white-collar criminals seems the most appropriate and the most reasonable and legally justified decision. Employees’ rage is an understandable and expected reaction to the things that happen, when the companies they have worked for years suddenly collapse. “Every employee has a story to tell about his or her losses. All of them are tragic, and most of them are life changing. […] Retirees are finding their nest eggs gone; older employees are facing having to work much longer than they had intended; and younger workers are being forced to revise their financial and career plans” (Vigil). Nevertheless, none of these unpleasant arguments can justify long-term jail sentences in white-collar crimes. No, “no lawyer is suggesting that white-collar criminals not serve time. Rather, lawyers and jurists are asking what the appropriate sentence is for white-collar crimes relative to punishments for other crimes in a post-Enron world” (Sorkin). In reality, not the sentence itself, but the type of punishment for each particular white-collar crime will determine, whether white-collar criminals are able to learn from their illegal actions, and whether they are likely to repeat their illegal mistakes.
From the legal viewpoint, sentencing white-collar criminals requires that the state spends significant financial and non-material resources to support them in jails. Our prisons are too overcrowded to make long-term jail sentences justified. From the moral viewpoint, white-collar criminals do deserve to be punished for the moral and financial losses they have caused by their illegal actions. In case of Enron, employees have lost thousands and millions of dollars in their 401(k) retirement plans (Vigil). However, white-collar crimes cannot be equaled to murders or rapes, and “25 years is more than most people would get for rape or a nonaggravated murder” (Sorkin).
Those who consider long-term jail sentence a reasonable response to a white-collar crime and an effective means of deterrence should remember that “deterrence is highly contextual” (Sorkin). Although white-collar workers are “extraordinarily sensitive to threats since their whole socialization and environment encourage calculation of future benefit and cost” (Vigil), a long jail term is not the best solution. From an ethical perspective, employees and stakeholders do deserve being compensated for the material and moral losses they have carried, being deceived by their company.
Not long sentences and not imprisonment in its pure form, but some other kind of punishment that will make white-collar criminals re-pay their debts will teach them to be more cautious in their future financial actions. This kind of legal punishment will give employees and stakeholders a sense of hope and the feeling of trust toward the modern system of justice. As long as white-collar criminals are sentenced and are thus released of their obligation to compensate for the billion-dollar-financial losses, they will remain unchangeably loyal to their illegal ideas, which are still the major sources of cheap returns.
White-collar criminals do have to be jailed, but long-term jail sentences for white-collar crimes are in no ways justified. If white-collar criminals deserve legal and moral punishment, they should be punished in ways that will make them re-pay their debts to employees, stakeholders, and the state. Short-term jail terms could become a viable alternative to long or life sentences that are mostly used to manipulate the masses and to develop a sense of fear in those who work for large corporations. Long jail terms do not resolve the issues that currently exist in corporate world, and do not change corporate attitudes toward financial fraud as the source of fast profits.
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