"Which Prison Would You Prefer,
Sir, This One Offering Tennis Courts, or Perhaps This Other One Which Has
December 12, 2001
I just read about something
that at once borders on the absurd, and is a sad commentary on our system of
justice in this country.
It's no secret that there
are, in effect, two different systems of justice, one for the rich and
well-connected, the other for the poor and powerless. The situation
has reached a new low, however, with the rise of "postconviction
These are lawyers,
criminologists or former corrections officers who seek to influence judges
to give their clients the shortest sentence, and to recommend that their
clients serve the time in a prison that the specialist and client have
settled upon as the best one to meet the client's needs. Such services
can run into the tens of thousands of dollars.
According to someone familiar
with the process, these specialists
will act almost like an
agent in Hollywood, negotiating the perp's rights, wheeling and dealing to
get her into the best spot... He can say, `This prison has tennis, this
one has nicer rooms.' "
minimum-security prisons and so-called "Club Feds" for white
collar criminals are a far cry from the oppressive, brutal institutions
television viewers are familiar with. For example, instead of cells,
there are private rooms. Prisoners can wear what they want. One
prison has tennis courts. There are other recreations facilities.
Non-profit groups provide
some sentence mitigation services to the indigent. But just as there
are non-profit agencies which provide legal help to the poor, while the
wealthy can hire teams of high-prices lawyers who with far more, if not
unlimited time and money, can provide a far more effective defense, one must
assume that those who can afford to pay for the private, highly costly
postconviction specialists will wind up with far better treatment than
defendants forced to rely on the free services.
Compared to the rampant
injustices involved in the imposition of the death penalty in this country,
the ability of rich defendants to utilize these sentence mitigation services
in connection with their white collar crimes may not seem to be a burning
issue. I agree. But the thought of a tax evader, embezzler or
perpetrator of fraud choosing among prisons as if selecting a vacation hotel
just seemed a bit much not to comment upon.