Sunday, December 26, 2004

Martha Stewart calls on America to think about the plight of Women in Prison

White Collar Crime Prof Blog: Martha's Reply Brief and More

I found this piece about Martha Stewart's appeal. What I think is really important here is Ms. Stewart's plea that the "powers that be" look at the conditions of women in prison and sentencing unfairness especially in the federal system under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. During this Holiday season, it is easy to forget the toll that jail places on women even more so than men. It is very important to remember the role of women in the family and the effect of their incarceration on their younger children. There is no way that during the holiday season we can replace the loss to these children. It is heartbreaking to watch these families gather during the days before the holiday in the jail. "mommy are you coming home for Christmas?" "The best present I could get is if Daddy was under our tree on Christmas morning." For an excellent cinematic treatment of the issue I reccomend seeing "White Oleander" starring one of my favorite actresses Michelle Phiefer.

I remember representing a woman on a charge of possesion with intent to distribute. She was 19 years old (by 3 days) when she drove her 18 year old boyfriend( 3 weeks short of his 19th birthday) to Washington Heights in order for him to purchase a quantity of drugs. Niether he nor she used drugs but he wanted to by her an engagement ring and against her advice, he had made a deal with a guy he knew in town to sell him about a half an ounce of cocaine. He later went to the train station alone and his friend (turns out a confidential police informant) shows up with a friend (an undercover police detective) and the sale goes down. The police asked the boy for his source of the drug and then they went with him to his girlfriends home where she admitted to being angry with him but drove him anyway. The result... because he was still under 19 he was sentenced to probation and she was sentenced to three years to life ( she faced nine years to life) because she had turned 19 three days before. If that is not injustice and arbitrary then I cannot think of anything that is. To make matters worse while in Jail she lost her baby ( at the time 9 months old) and her mother died of cancer just 5 months later. She was released after 4 years in jail and still hasn't put her life back together some 6 years later. And of course her boyfriend is long gone.

The decision to prosecute Martha Stewart may have been the best thing to ever happen to accused people not because it was an important prosecution, but because it has awakened a sleeping giant in the women (and men) who are Ms. Stewart's fans and believe that she was a scapegoat. Martha Stewart has a great opportunity to better conditions for men and women in this system. She has the name, face, and access to decision makers. Her constitutency votes and they are often people of influence. She may with the proper coaching and sponsorship be able to convince the congress that we are wasting time, money, and opportunity, when we warehouse people on non violent crimes. I can only hope that she does not waste this opportunity.

If you have questions about sentencing in the state or federal courts do not hesitate to contact us at or .