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May 22, 2019

"The Second Step Act should give white-collar criminals a chance after release"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent Washington Examiner commentary authored by Cassie Monaco.  Here are excerpts:

I will also never forget the day I found out that my husband had been charged with a nonviolent criminal offense.  The emotions that I felt and the pain that I had at that very moment are indescribable, not to mention the feelings of utter shock, knowing that your life will never be the same again.  Today, my husband is serving six and a half years at a federal prison in Colorado.

As the wife of an incarcerated individual, I had two choices: Do I indulge in self-pity, or do I channel my energy and emotions into something more productive? I chose the latter. And so I got involved with national advocacy efforts on criminal justice reform, and I created an organization called A Day Closer, with the sole mission of reducing recidivism by keeping families intact while a loved one is incarcerated.

The First Step Act is providing much needed relief and assistance to many of those incarcerated and their families.  It is also restoring dignity back into our very broken criminal justice system.  However, the act still leaves behind a group that oftentimes gets over looked: individuals convicted of white-collar crimes.

I can understand the lack of sympathy out there for many white-collar criminals, but not all of them are bad people.  In addition to admitting their crimes and apologizing to the victims, they are left financially destroyed, with their professional and personal lives ruined forever....

The First Step Act understandably focuses on relief for drug offenders.  But oftentimes, those offenders do not have the burden of restitution once they are out.  The white-collar group, although they are less likely to fall victim to recidivism, will however be saddled with a life sentence in the form of extraordinary restitution.  They will never be completely free, even after time served. This needs to change.

As the national conversation shifts to the Second Step, lawmakers should sponsor and support legislation that provides some relief with regards to restitution amounts. Meanwhile, by executive order, Trump should return the Office of the Pardon Attorney to its former place under the Executive Office of the President.  Finally, Trump should create an independent commission that advises the president on matters related to Executive Clemency.

The goal is simple: give those that have committed white-collar crimes, admitted to their mistakes, and served their time a real chance to start over and rebuild their lives, without being saddled with the burden that excessive restitution creates.

May 22, 2019 at 11:05 AM | Permalink


How self-serving. If person C, through a criminal act, hurts innocent person V financially, then C has a responsibility to make V whole. The author obviously doesn't think so. And that means the person has not fully accepted responsibility for their crimes.

Posted by: William Jockusch | May 22, 2019 8:28:58 PM

Because the employment opportunities for felons are so limited, most restitution never gets paid anyway. The numbers I have seen for former felons show that their unemployment rate is between 27% and 45%. And those who do find jobs rarely earn more than $25,000 per year, with most earning far less. Many former felons only get by by living with family members or close friends. It is a stigma that never stops, and haunts former felons for the rest of their lives. And it means that most can never pay whatever restitution, if any, that they may owe.

Posted by: James Gormley | May 23, 2019 8:22:30 AM

For heaven’s sake, Doug,

I can’t believe you would even bother to publish this BS.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 23, 2019 1:49:40 PM

Looks like he stole $1.6 million, including from a non-profit, and was asked to repay it. "She said he committed his crimes to help support the lifestyle of his family after he and his first wife divorced."
80 months + 3 years supervised release.

Why isn't she at least candid about what he did before saying it was too much?

Posted by: Paul | May 23, 2019 8:52:21 PM

Tarls, not a big fan of the right-leaning Washington Examiner?

I think it quite interesting to see what some folks want as the next focus for federal reform AND who is publishing this kind of commentary. And, notably, this piece engendered more comments than lots of others.

Posted by: Doug B | May 24, 2019 10:53:50 AM

Shame on them too for publishing it. It’s not a right/left issue, but of clearly being an attempt to be as opaque as possible to write a completely self-serving op-ed.

As Paul mentioned, she couldn’t even be bothered to tell us that he stole $1.6 million, some of it from a non-profit that provides HIV preventative measures to women in developing countries. As Bill Otis often points out, she then goes on to describe her husband’s crime as “non-violent” as if it means that no one was hurt by it.

One can look at it from a legal, moral, and public opinion viewpoint. None of those could possibly fall in her favor. If polled, I suspect that 95%+ would say of course someone who stole $1.6 million should pay it back. Even the phrase “excessive restitution” should be an insult to to any person not a WCC.

The only thing that could be worse than the “First Step” legislation is taking this “Second Step.”

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 24, 2019 12:45:25 PM

Curious to hear what you think is so terrible about the First Step Act, Tarls.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 24, 2019 9:28:44 PM

See Tom Cotton

Also, any law that could result in the American Taliban, John Walker Lindh, get out of prison earlier is horrible legislation.

That’s just a start. Let me know if you need more specifics.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 28, 2019 1:39:00 PM

Tarls, Lindh got the standard good time credit that all federal prisoners have been eligible to receive since the elimination of parole in the Sentencing Reform Act 1984. The timing of Lindh's release has zero to do with the First Step Act. Here is a Powerline piece that seeks to link these stories but which rightly notes "First Step did not cause or contribute to Lindh’s early release."

Given that your first comment is so wrong, I suppose I do "need more specifics" to see if other misinformation is driving your disaffinity for a law that received overwhelming bipartisan support from both houses of a Republican-controlled Congress and was pushed hard by Prez Trump.

Posted by: Doug B | May 29, 2019 8:08:12 AM


I did not say that Lindh was released because of First Step. I said he could be, in other words, he would qualify for it.

It’s not that he did not qualify for the criteria. It’s just that the date of his release did not coincide with the timeline.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 29, 2019 12:06:42 PM

FYI, your last sentence is nothing but an appeal to popularity. Even unanimous support would not make the legislation any better or worse, only its merits do that (or lack of them).

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 29, 2019 12:11:14 PM

OK. Here are some details, one I almost never see discussed regarding my disfavor. I know FA is federal legislation, but let’s use some state statistics as a stand in.

“Low level drug offender” is mostly a myth. They make up roughly 15% of state offenders and I suspect less in the Federal system. In reality, it’s much lower. Most convictions come via the plea process, which already lessens the sentencing in the front end. Good credits are also already a back end reduction. That’s two bites at the reduction pie. However, there is a third bite they are getting. The plea bargain also results in many violent offenses getting plead to non-violent convictions, making them eligible for such programs as the FSA. This brings down the truly low level non-violent offenders in prison to 5%.

One of two things are occurring with FSA supporters. 1. They are dishonestly proposing ineffectual legislation in order to later claim that it didn’t raise crime rates so we might as well go for deeper cuts; or 2. you know damn well that violent offenders are being released and the end justifies the means. No less dishonest. I’ll let you choose which is true.

Posted by: TarlsQtr | May 29, 2019 12:47:44 PM

Sorry to misunderstand what you were saying, Tarls, and thanks for a little more accounting of what troubles you. Unfortunately, I think you are making up statistics, do not understand the federal docket, and do not recognize what the FSA primarily does.

To begin, where do you get the notion, in the federal system, that "plea bargain[ing] results in many violent offenses getting plead to non-violent convictions ... which brings down the truly low level non-violent offenders in prison to 5%"? Here is a link the the offenses of conviction in the federal system in 2018: https://www.ussc.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/research-and-publications/annual-reports-and-sourcebooks/2018/Figure02.pdf The chart shows over 75% of federal offenders are sentenced for immigration, drugs or white-collar offenses. Are you asserting the vast majority of these folks are really guilty of some other violent crimes but federal prosecutors are too lazy or disinterested in securing convictions for their real offenses? Guidance from Main Justice says prosecutors must pursue and seek conviction for the most serious readily provable offense, and my experience suggests that is what federal prosecutors generally do.

Second, the FSA does not just add a few days to good time credits, but also provides for prisoners to do productive programming to earn time off based on an assessment of whether they are at a low risk of re-offending. There is such broad support for the FSA because many realize we have not provided federal prisoners with effective incentives to improve while in prison so that they will be lower risk upon release. Unless and until you are prepared/willing to warehouse all prisoners with LWOP sentences, it makes a lot of sense to provide means and incentives for prisoners to earn release a bit earlier through productive programming. That is what the FSA aspires to do (whether it does so effectively depends a lot on how DOJ and BOP implements it).

Finally, I do no think any FSA supporters want the FSA to be ineffectual, and the honest ones should say that the FSA is going to allow some (lower-risk) violent offenders to be released earlier if they complete programming. But the hope is that these violent offenders can and will get useful programming while in prison and that DOJ/BOP will do a sound job screening who can be more safely released earlier.

Any honest proponent of any reforms to reduce prison time/size should admit there is always a risk that some number of released persons will go back to a life of crime. But the hope is that effective prison reform can and will increase liberty, reduce recidivism and reduce taxpayer costs. These goals have seemingly been achieved in Texas and a number of other red states, and the supporters of the FSA hope we can do the same at the federal level. Generally speaking, responsible advocates have been honest making these points, but I am sure there are some folks inclined (as always) to overstate a point/claim.

Posted by: Doug B. | May 29, 2019 3:13:05 PM

I'm the Mother of a white collar inmate as well. At 39 years old, first time offender, non violent, he was given 45 years. He had 7 counts against him and we got a lawyer who got 3 of them dropped. When he went back for re-sentencing, the judge still gave him 45 years. He has already spent 8 years incarcerated.There is nothing in the First Step Act that will give him a chance to get out early.

I would think it better to allow him to get a job and at least make payments to the people who lost money. Rotting in jail accomplishes nothing and the taxpayers are supporting him.

Posted by: Diana D | Oct 23, 2019 6:46:25 PM

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