Bernie Madoff wants a judge to grant him "compassionate release" from prison because he is dying of kidney disease. In a New York Times op-ed, a sociology and criminal justice professor argues that the judge should do so. Yes, Madoff "is as close to the financial equivalent of a serial killer as one might encounter," writes Colleen Eren, author of a book on Madoff. And, yes, his Ponzi scheme wrecked lives, wiped out life savings, and led to three suicides, including that of his own son. Still, Eren is struck by the "visceral" reaction to Madoff's request, especially from those on the left who say they want to end mass incarceration. It shows the "obstacles to transformational criminal justice reform" in our society, writes Eren. She suggests compassionate release should be the norm for those who are terminally ill if they have served at least 10 years. Madoff has served 11.
"If our societal goal is to reduce incarceration, we are going to have to confront the inconvenient truth that retribution cannot be our only penological aim, and justice for victims has to be much more extensive than the incarceration of those who have caused them harm," writes Eren. "We desperately need to shift our cultural impulse to punish harshly and degradingly, and for long periods." Madoff may be the "worst of the worst," but it's dangerous to use this "worst of the worst" criteria as a backbone to our criminal justice policy. That's partly why the death penalty still exists, despite widespread evidence of racial and class bias. Eren notes that the 81-year-old Madoff has lost both sons while in prison, is a "social pariah," and is the subject of universal scorn. "This is not to say he deserves sympathy, but he has been punished." (Read the full column.)