I was a prosecutor in Westchester County, NY, for more than 25 years. For almost all that time, I specialized in investigating and prosecuting white collar crime: embezzlements, swindles, investment fraud, corruption, forgery, etc. Restitution was a constant theme. I always wanted to get the stolen funds returned to the victim. The difference between a prison sentence or probation often hung in the balance. It did not take me long, however, to recognize the unintended and unnamed victims of the defendant’s crime. It was his (at least 99% of the time his rather than her) family.
Oddly, enough it was the defense attorneys who represented those I convicted who introduced me to these people. During the course of plea negotiations or sentencing argument in court, defense counsel often commented on how incarceration would harm the defendant’s family. I never doubted that was true, but always objected that it was relevant to the sentencing. After all, I argued, the defendant was not really concerned about his family when he committed his crimes, why was he suddenly and conveniently concerned about them when it might keep him out of prison? It was disingenuous to use sympathy for his family as a barrier to a justified incarceration.
Of course, and particularly in the state system (as opposed to the federal), not all those convicted of white collar crimes go to prison. But even during a term of probation, the white collar probationer will most likely be paying restitution to his victims, which means that some of whatever he is then earning legitimately is diverted from his family to his victims. He continues to hurt his family even as he hopefully rehabilitates into socially acceptable behavior.
That was where my job ended. After all, I was a prosecutor and not a social worker. Although it was very rare, I did have continuing contact with some defendants. Indeed, some even thanked me for convicting them, since it was the forceful redirection they needed to reform. But over time, the plight of the victimized family remained with me just as did the more recognized status of the crime victim. Moreover, the state had Victim Services offices that could assist crime victims recover from the harm done to them; the family did not.
Our criminal justice system will never be perfect. But how hard could it be to allow the family that has lost husband, father, income and perhaps home as well to have a place to go to register their need for assistance and receive guidance? Society should care for all the victims of a crime.
Oddly enough, Jeff Grant and I were law school classmates.
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Jeff thank you for this post and Ken thank you for your insights. Of course all families suffer greatly when a loved one is sent to prison but when it is a head of household the results are devastating. White collar wives and families suffer in the extreme because in addition to losing a spouse/parent for a long period of time they usually must also lose their homes and anything else of monetary value toward restitution and are left with nothing to survive on. In other words innocent spouses and families are punished via the legal system right along with their head of household. This is unjust and needs attention in the courts. The public demonizes families of white collar criminals like no other as they are treated as if they had somehow been complicit in the crime(s). The social stigma of being a white collar family runs deep but the legal/financial nightmare seems to go on without end. That a wife is held responsible for her husband's restitution is not only unjust, but beyond comprehension. I was six years divorced from my white collar criminal husband and upon returning to Massachusetts and getting a job after an absence of several years, I was informed that I could not only not get a drivers license but that I couldn't even drive on MA roads unless I paid the full amount due, (of nearly half a million dollars!), on my ex-husband's state tax bill from his embezzled monies. I was also informed that I risked the "full force of the law" if I did not comply. I find it shameful that although most of the money was returned, (thank goodness), to his employer the state expected to be reimbursed for taxes due on the full amount. I was liable because we were married at the time of his crime. White collar criminals, like all criminals, don't stop to think about the dire consequences to family members. This also must change.