Andrew Fastow is expected to serve a 10-year sentence, and Enron CEO Kenneth Lay could face as much as 30 years if convicted in the massive corporate fraud, in which Fastow and others concealed billions of dollars in debt in off-the-books partnerships. The crime wiped out $68 billion in market value, destroyed at least 5,600 jobs and vaporized workers' retirement savings.
So what's the connection between the jobs and money lost at Enron and Lea Fastow's forcible removal from her children, menial labor and potentially dangerous cellmates? Precious little if you ask me. Does a single Enron worker get his job back because Lea Fastow is washing underwear? Does a single Enron creditor get its money back because she is baking tater tots or cleaning dishes? And does Andrew Fastow's 10-year prison sentence repay his debt to society -- a debt that can be measured in the billions?
Our society does a poor job of penalizing crime. In the sphere of violent crime, the high recidivism rate of convicted felons indicates a failure adequately to protect society from dangerous criminals. In the white-collar arena, the unrequited losses endured by victims of financial crime similarly underscore the fecklessness of the system.
Besides the injustice to victims there is an inherent lack of mercy to criminals who are not given an opportunity to make amends. For the sake of the victims of Enron and other white-collar crimes, we need to shift away from a system based on punishment to one based on restitution.
Tom Kirkendall points out another problem with Weinrich's scheme:
[T]he fact that politicians have arranged for absurdly long prison sentences in business cases to appeal to the public passion to punish wealthy people excessively does not mean that there should be no penal system disincentive whatsoever for engaging in corporate crime. One imagines Bialystock & Bloom in "The Producers" blithely continuing to create Ponzi schemes in perpetuity under Weinrich's proposed system (and so long as Zero Mostel could continue to play Bialystock, that might not be such a bad thing).