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A shot at redemption: focus on first-time nonviolent offenders

A long-time Tiffany & Co. executive seemingly had it all.

And then, as she notes in her own words, Ingrid Lederhaas-Okun "lost it all in one horrible day" three years ago.

That was the fateful day she decided to steal more than $1 million in jewelry from Tiffany.

Unsurprisingly, she was caught.

And punished in a manner she says was irrational and prohibitively expensive to society.

Lederhaas-Okun writes in a recent article for a national news publication that she accepted a plea deal of 10 months in prison "in an effort to end the pain and embarrassment" visited upon her family.

Some people might argue that Lederhaas-Okun's post-incarceration comments about her sentencing -- and subsequent difficulties reintegrating into society based upon her permanent criminal record and attendant stigma suffered as a felon -- are mere grousing.

But they might be missing the point.

Actually, several points. For one thing, Lederhaas-Okun notes that a high number of individuals convicted of white collar crimes are first-time nonviolent offenders with low recidivism rates following sentence completion. That might reasonably seem to make them prime candidates for prison alternatives in sentencing.

That would be the cheaper choice, Lederhaas-Okun points out, and it would promote rather than hinder social reintegration for many offenders.

Lederhaas-Okun correctly notes the heightened focus in recent years -- and in a broad-based nonpartisan fashion -- on sentencing reform for nonviolent drug offenders.

She says a similar spotlight should be on reformed guidelines for economic crimes, with both select offenders and the general public being better served by outside-prison outcomes that stress rehabilitation rather than simple punishment.

"Like many others, all I want is a second chance," Lederhaas-Okun says.

And she believes that for most nonviolent offenders who are standing before the criminal justice system for the first time, that shot at redemption can best be realized through sentencing that deemphasizes incarceration in lieu of providing options -- e.g., supervised work opportunities and restitution payments to victims -- that better enable reassimilation into the community.

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