A little more than a year ago, Sholom Rubashkin, a 51-year-old father of 10 with deep roots in his Iowa community and no prior criminal record, was sentenced to serve 27 years in prison following his conviction on financial fraud charges. Remarkably, that sentence looks lenient compared to the sentence prosecutors originally urged: life without parole. The attention garnered by the U.S. Department of Justice’s initial sentencing position, as evidenced by a letter to the sentencing judge from six former U.S. attorneys general (joined by former senior Justice Department officials and former judges), has waned during the past year. But Rubashkin’s sentence should not be quickly forgotten because it stands as a stark example of the disproportionate and draconian punishments that result from the broken fraud sentencing guidelines.
Not long ago, first-time perpetrators of economic crimes frequently received sentences of probation with special conditions for compensating their victims. Lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent financially motivated offenders were correctly deemed unnecessary. The purposes of sentencing could be accomplished without removing them from society for extended periods of time. These offenders suffer a multitude of unique collateral consequences, including the all-but-certain end to their careers, and the social stigma of a steep and public fall from grace.