General Question

cockswain's avatar

Should white collar crimes be prosecuted more similarly to violent crimes?

Asked by cockswain (15254points) October 15th, 2010

I’m of the opinion that most of the terrible violations of human rights in the world stem from greed. Clearly there is not enough of a deterrent to prevent US white collar criminals from continuing their selfish ways. Maybe if an inside trader knew they would likely go to Leavenworth or Folsom for screwing grandma out of her retirement, he would be less inclined to take that action. Currently it seems, with the exception of high profile cases like Bernie Madoff, a lot of these guys do a few years in minimum security prisons, maybe get out early for good behavior, and return to their somewhat diminished fortunes.

If these clean, white, well-groomed, soft-handed men were to be sentenced to 5 years in a really nasty prison, maybe this would diminish the frequency of the crimes.

We send someone who knocks off a liquor store for $200 with a knife to prison for a long time, or even a bank robber with a gun who gets $20,000. Why not nail the guys who grab millions?

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22 Answers

jrpowell's avatar

I totally agree. Hello comrade. And now the right will call us anti-business.

iamthemob's avatar

I disagree, but only because I don’t really see the likelihood of enforcing this well. The difference between a lot of white collar crime and violent crime is that violent crime is clear. In business, it’s not clear who did what, when, to cause what effect, would know that it would cause that effect, was not doing it at the behest of the shareholders, wasn’t unreasonable to think things were going to turn around, etc. It requires so much more analysis to determine how much the person knew, should have known, and was wrong in thinking about what was going on.

I prefer a more bottom-up method of enforcement – advocacy groups purchasing voting-level shares in corporations responsible for human rights violations, consumer groups advocating local purchases in order to know where your materials, food, etc. was coming from, etc. There’s no reason to have the government regulate anything but monitoring and disclosure (in general – there’s other things that need to be done, of course). We can do the rest and regulate with our dollars. If we don’t want to keep getting screwed, we can help stop it.

CMaz's avatar

I agree. We should also bring back Waterboarding.

Nullo's avatar

Violent crimes and white-collar crimes are different in nature. No less criminal, to be sure, but I’d like for the punishments to be tailored appropriately.

I heard that Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison, by the way. Dunno how he’s actually spending his time.

Perhaps we can find someone to answer for all the violent criminals who get let out of prison early? Even free, Bernie Madoff wouldn’t ever work again. But the no-name murderer who by rights ought to have been hanged?

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Different crimes require different punishments as a deterent. The vast majority of property crimes are drug related. People are stealing to get money for drugs. These people need a different type of sentence than people who commit white collar crime.

Violent criminals need another punishment altogether, but I’m not sure what it is.

And where do we stop? Where do we set the boundaries? Does a person who repeatedly speeds in traffic and gets caught deserve to spend time in a maximum security prison? I don’t think so.

Crime and punishment is not black and white. There are gray areas.

incendiary_dan's avatar

White collar criminals definitely do get jobs again. It’s not exactly the same, but Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci went to jail on corruption charges some years back (heavily involved in the mob), and now he has a job as a radio personality.

More to the point, some of these jobs hurt a lot more people. They even kill a lot of people, but I suppose most of those are actually legal and the way business works in some industries. These are the people that are not even just getting away with it, but are praised as good businessmen and given promotions. Rewarding bad behavior is the way this culture works.

I’m all for the bottom-up solutions too, except maybe using methods like 7.62×39.

MeinTeil's avatar

What about No Collar Crimes like prostitution?

ETpro's avatar

Our FED just had to pump in capital into the banking system to the tune of $23 trillion dollars to cover what amounted to white collar crime, but our penchant for deregulation had made most of what they did quite legal.

woodcutter's avatar

white collar criminals are usually a lot smarter than street thugs. They’re educated and often times have their bases covered protecting or hiding assets. They don’t have to settle for public defenders. They may even have some sway with the legal system or connections. Or maybe it costs way more money to hold someone in a super max where all the dangerous ones need to be. Cheaper to keep them in minimum security.

ETpro's avatar

@woodcutter And they can always wear a pink shirt to cover their crime. After all, it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. :=_

Nullo's avatar

@incendiary_dan The x54® has greater efficacy, comparable to Method 1906. All the same, a widespread application of any of those measures would be terribly uncivilized.

@woodcutter There probably isn’t a need to keep Madoffs and Ponzis in supermax.

Nullo's avatar

Here’s a thought: we hand over white-collar criminals to their victims.

tearsxsolitude's avatar

I don’t think that they should be. I think white collar crimes should mean that they have to be under a strict probation where they have to earn back all the money that they stole. Putting them in jail just means more taxes for us to pay so it’s like they’re taking MORE money from us when they’re in jail and that’s just rediculous! I’m only 17, so what the hell do I know, but that’s just how I see it.

woodcutter's avatar

@Nullo correct, there wouldn’t be a need to put Madoffs in supermax. But wouldn’t it make their lives more interesting? Just sayin.

Nullo's avatar

@It costs more, I think. Space that we could be using to hold the revolving-door rapists.

cockswain's avatar

@iamthemob I agree with your point completely and had it in mind as I wrote the question. My limited understanding of a lot of white collar crime is that it frequently is that no one single action violates a law, but when all actions are put together into a cohesive case then it can be shown a law was broken. It is expensive, time-consuming, and sometimes very difficult to piece such a case together. The guy robbing the liquor store is therefore successfully prosecuted, but the guy siphoning money out of a hedge fund for years may go unnoticed. And when detected, may be able to circumvent successful prosecution with skilled attorneys.

@Nullo Madoff was the exception I made in the details of my question, and I’m not suggesting Supermax is the appropriate place for these guys. Really what I see as a better deterrent is putting these guys into a general prison population with violent criminals of all types. The scumbag that ruins many peoples nest egg for his own selfish pleasures should in turn become the plaything of an Aryan or Latino gang. Maybe one of those gang members had a grandma that got taken by one of these con men. My opinion is this would mete out proper justice.

The idea that white-collar criminals are less dangerous to human health and safety because they didn’t steal their prize through directly threatening means does not excuse them for a lesser penalty. Generally their victims are greater in number, and given the option someone would rather deal with the trauma of being robbed in an alley for $100 vs having a lifetime’s savings wiped out.

There needs to be a better deterrent to reducing these crimes.

iamthemob's avatar


The thing is, it also is difficult at times to determine when you’re breaking the law because it requires this elaborate piecing together. The fortunes that companies spend on corporate lawyers are not in defense of actions, but mostly to determine whether acts they take are in compliance. Sometimes, however, many legal choices create an illegal situations. At that point, pure panic can motivate cover-up attempts. Also, there may be no illegality, but you still end up bankrupting a company and making out like gangbusters. These uncertainties are what cause most of the issues, and prosecution doesn’t really, as you seem to indicate, prevent them from happening again.

cockswain's avatar

Are you saying a large portion of white-collar “crime” is unintentional? That’s an interesting point, if true.

iamthemob's avatar


I don’t want to make any assumption about the percentages either way regarding intent. However, a lot of white-collar crime isn’t intent-based, but based on recklessness or negligence – information the executive or what have you “should have known.” The more complex our global economy, the less likely it is that responsible people are monitoring sufficiently the things they should be responsible for.

chicagogrrl361's avatar

I study criminal justice. I always tell people if they’re gonna commit a crime, commit a white collar crime. Most times when executives embezzle, commit fraud, etc. they end up making deals with the companies/people they screwed over that they’ll give back a portion of the funds in exchange for it to be handled by lawyers and that they won’t be prosecuted. Only a portion of all white collar crimes are actually prosecuted, most of them are left up to the lawyers to handle

cockswain's avatar

Clearly that is the way it is, but do you think it is the way it should be? What are your thoughts on ways to reform the system, if you do think it is need of reform?

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