Let the punishment fit the crime
Economics has intervened where justice often has fallen short.
Due to the massive costs of mass incarceration, the Justice Department, Congress and many state governments have begun to scale back long mandatory sentences for non-violent crimes, while diminishing unfair disparities in sentences for comparable drug crimes.
Ultimately the result will be not just lower prison costs, but fairer sentencing.
The soul- and budget-searching has excluded one area of criminal sentencing, however, that also is about money and justice. The problem is that the class of criminals involved - those in business and high finance - is radioactively unsympathetic.
Yet the issue is fundamentally the same as that in the case of street-level drug dealers and users receiving long mandatory sentences commensurate with higher levels of crime.
No one argues that notorious pyramid builder Bernie Madoff doesn't deserve his 150-year sentence for stealing about $20 billion of his clients' money. But the objective is exactly that - to ensure that the people at the top of such schemes, rather than mere functionaries, receive the harshest sentences.
Much as drug-crime sentences are geared to the amount of drugs involved, financial-crime sentences are geared to the amount of money involved.
Some defense lawyers have asked the U.S. Sentencing Commission to take a different approach. Rather than basing the sentences on the amount of money involved, they ask that individuals be sentenced according to their culpability for the scheme itself.
That indeed is a fairer approach. The commission and Congress, for the sake of fairness and economy, should make the change.