Jewish World Review March 15, 2004 / 22 Adar, 5764

Neil Cavuto

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Consumer Reports

FREE MARTHA! (Kinda) | So Martha Stewart is going to jail. On paper, she could do 20 years. In reality, she'll likely do little more than 16 months. I'm not here to judge whether either is appropriate. I am here to question whether either is necessary.

Surely we can find a better use of Martha's talents than sitting her in a prison cell.

Trust me, I take no sides on this issue, but I do wonder about the whole jail issue. I'm talking about fat cats and not-so-fat cats alike who see jail time, when I think they can and should be doing better things with their time.

Let me be clear. I'm not saying let the big wig walk. I am saying let the big wig do something that makes a big difference. Take Martha, surely there's a better way to put her ample skills and talents to use than occupying a cubicle somewhere. I'm not here to recommend something patronizing, like decorating prison wings or upgrading the culinary offerings at Attica (not that she'd ever see that place!).

No, all too often we send people to prison when they could be of far greater use to society actually helping society. What if we put Martha to work in a soup kitchen or used her ample business skills to offer guidance to women just starting out in business? (Let's leave out any stock-trading advice for the moment.)

My point is there often is no point to our legal punishment system. That's not to say that those who do serious wrong shouldn't do serious time. I just think they should make productive use of that time. While the urge for revenge is real and palpable, so is my urge for constructive revenge.

Let's face it, sometimes some of our finest minds go wacky. They do slippery things, weird things, illegal things. And they've been held accountable. I say, great, now back to the fine mind part. Let's focus on what they do well, and remind them and society of what they did do wrong. I'm convinced we can do both.

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Why not take the corporate raider who ran around securities laws and force him to help companies improve their bottom lines so they're not so easy pickings? Similarly, get the guy who falsified profits and have him meet with company boards to show them the real dangers of even "thinking" about playing with the books.

Like I said, this doesn't and shouldn't apply to just the fat cats. What about the woman caught shoplifting? I say, put her to work in a soup kitchen.

The guy who throws trash on the highway? Have him clean up the highway.

The tag team that tried to embezzle money? How about forcing them to raise money for a charity?

You get my idea. Painfully few in our penal system do. I'm all for punishment, but I'm more for punishment with a cause. Because when all is said and done, Martha Stewart is a smart lady and a very talented businesswoman. She doesn't deserve any breaks because of her talents, but we deserve something from her talents.

I think the only way you can repay a debt to society is to truly do something for society. Don't just sit in a cubicle, do something outside that cubicle. The world has punished you, now you help the world.

It's easy to say, you do the crime, you do the time. I'm all for that. I just want to make better use of that time. Serious criminals, criminals who've killed people or physically hurt people, there we must be careful, and keeping them locked up is a good idea.

But others who've done harm in less obvious ways — destroying peoples' pensions or portfolios — they require other remedies. And the best remedy for me is restitution in a productive way, a meaningful way, a help-society way.

We all know Martha's going to jail. I'd like to see Martha go to work.

Not just reforming herself while she's there. But helping the rest of us, who put her there.

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Neil Cavuto is managing editor of Business News at FOX News Channel. He is also the host of "Your World with Neil Cavuto" and "Cavuto on Business." Comment by clicking here.


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© 2003, Neil Cavuto