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Finley: Roger Stone doesn't belong in prison

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Roger Stone does not belong in prison.

The Donald Trump confidante whose sentence was commuted by his White House buddy certainly deserved his conviction. He was found guilty by a jury of lying to federal prosecutors and Congress and obstructing the investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016 election.

And it doesn't matter that the now-discredited FBI probe that led to the lying was a political hit ginned up by an anti-Trump Justice department. Lying is lying.

Trump, for his part, should have kept out of this affair. For the president to use his powers to give special treatment to a friend undermines justice, as well as his own credibility. Lots of people get screwed by the justice system. Trump didn't spare all of them.

Stone shouldn't spend 40 months of his twilight years idling in federal prison, but he should pay a price, Finley writes.

But perhaps he should have. 

Had he accompanied the Stone commutation with clemency for thousands of other convicts locked up for crimes that didn't endanger public safety or property, those on the left who say they want an end to mass incarceration might have cheered the move instead of condemning it.

Up to 39% of the 2 million Americans rotting away in prison cells shouldn't be there, according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

The researchers found 14% of those incarcerated have already served long sentences, are reformed and no longer present a threat to society. Another 25% are non-violent offenders — criminals like Roger Stone — who didn't reap great profit from their crimes and are not likely to repeat them. 

Locking them away for months or years serves no societal purpose that couldn't be achieved by other means. It simply sates our thirst for vengeance.

And though Stone shouldn't spend 40 months of his twilight years idling in federal prison, he should pay a price.

Accountability can be achieved in lots of ways other than prison, and done so more effectively and less costly.

Why should taxpayers pay for Stone's housing for 40 months? I'd rather he pay for a lot of other people's food and housing during that period.

Fines, garnishment of future earnings and public service work would turn criminals like Stone into contributors, rather than a straight drain on the Treasury.

Alternative punishment is only limited by our imagination. Accountability should be connected to the harm the crime caused. In Stone's case, he undermined the rule of law. Would his 40 months be better spent, and more instructive for him, in a community program, working with indigent defendants or handling the legal issues of the poor?

That's a better deal for taxpayers. The NYU report estimates that $20 billion could be saved annually by clearing our prisons of non-dangerous inmates.

We have to get over our insistence that a prison sentence is the only way to deliver justice to the victims of crime. 

It may make us feel good to see Roger Stone and others like him marched into a cell, but that satisfaction is not worth the price in taxpayer dollars and ruined lives. 

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

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