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From MacLean’s: Why it’s time to set Conrad Black free

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It’s funny how some of us tend to limit the concept of justice to black & white. I brought up the article below during a recent conversation with friends and they were appalled by Steve Maich’s point of view that perhaps the just thing to do would be to let Black go free, even if he is guilty. While it was amusing to watch the steam pour out of their ears in an Looney Tunes worthy moment, it was also quite enlightening to see just how difficult it is for some to separate the concept of justice with that of the classic reward and punishment system.

I have to formulate my own opinion about this particular subject, but this article has helped me open my mind more than I would have thought it possible for Conrad Black to do so. So… Thank you, Mr. Black.

Why it’s time to set Conrad Black free

By Steve Maich

Conrad Black just spent his first Christmas in a U.S. federal prison, and if the thought of that gives you pleasure, then you’re not going to have much use for the next 900 words. This is an argument in favour of Black, but not exactly in his defence. This is an appeal to pragmatism, and perhaps to mercy, because sometimes pragmatism and mercy are essential elements of justice. This is an argument for why Conrad Black should be released from prison, if not now, then soon. Not because he’s innocent, but because there is nothing more to be achieved from his incarceration. It is a waste—of money, of potential—and it’s time to wrap it up.

The U.S. president is entitled to pardon or commute the sentence of any federal prisoner. The last days of any administration often see a bonanza of executive leniency, and Black has applied to have his penalty reduced. Most Canadians are hostile to the idea—a recent poll showed more than 70 per cent are glad to see Black languish in the joint for the full term of his sentence—and it’s easy to understand why. Black is not a terribly sympathetic figure and presidential pardons seem arbitrary and undemocratic. But P.S. Ruckman, an associate professor at Rock Valley College in Illinois, is a leading expert on the pardon power, and he believes it is “an essential part of the U.S. justice system.” First, because it provides a check on the power of the judiciary, but also because it allows justice to be more “precise.” In a system dominated by procedure, strict rules of evidence and rigid sentencing grids, justice is often a blunt force. The pardon system allows for a more subjective test of fairness.

Legal experts generally cite two key objectives in the punishment of white-collar crime: deterrence and retribution. Rehabilitation is mostly irrelevant because once you’ve been busted for corporate fraud, people generally won’t let you hold their wallet, much less run a public company. As for deterrence, there is little evidence to suggest that such a thing exists in cases of high-stakes fraud. It’s been almost 20 years since Ivan Boesky and his pals went away for their massive insider trading scheme, and it still happens brazenly every single day. Enron collapsed seven years ago, and still there is enough shady book work going on to keep forensic accountants and short sellers in brisk business. Next week will mark the 60th anniversary of the death of Charles Ponzi, the godfather of the pyramid scheme, and only last month did money manager Bernard Madoff unveil his masterpiece of the genre. When there are millions to be made, and countless ways to cover your tracks, and the perpetrators think they’re smarter than the cops, the risk of being caught is an afterthought.

But even if deterrence were possible, what more could you really want? Black lost control of the company he built over three decades, then watched from the sidelines as it was torn apart and sold in pieces. Much of his personal fortune has been decimated by his long and ongoing legal struggle. He has been forced to quietly accept the gleeful scorn and ridicule of the world press, including prurient and highly suspect examinations of his personal life. And then, of course, there’s the indignity of the time he has already served in prison. The life Black built has been shattered. Now the only thing to argue over is how finely to grind up the shards.

Read the rest of this article here.

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