Today’s question: How can a wheelchair-bound woman with cancer and severe diabetes earn enough to pay back $617,467? While in prison?
For starters, all I know about Catherine Betts’ embezzling funds from the Clallam County Treasurer’s Office is what the news reported.
Her making off with taxpayers’ dollars distressed Clallam County Superior Court Judge S. Brooke Taylor, who assessed the county’s biggest fine ever, deeming her actions “world-class greed.”
Actually, with the world’s current batch of white-collar criminals, making off with less than $1 million, she’s small potatoes.
Don’t forget Enron, mortgage bankers, Wall Street speculators and others who’ve looted gazillions, sending the global economy into a tailspin. Most of these guys have yet to be brought to trial — while rules to limit gargantuan greed languish in legislative limbo.
Offering no information on where the county’s funds went or any hint of motives, Betts presented an impassive public face to the news media. No mentioning medical problems, no explanation of her motives. At last week’s trial, she declined to address the court.
The response: A record-setting punishment — for which we taxpayers will pick up the tab.
It costs some $40,000 a year to keep a prisoner in Washington — plus the skyrocketing expenses for a prisoner’s diabetes and cancer for 12 years.
Whatever that total may be, not a penny of that can restore what she stole. That $617,467 is gone forever.
By putting her behind bars, we have signed a big blank check simply to punish her.
Want more evidence that our criminal justice system is floundering?
No muttering about betraying the public trust when most of the pirates and profiteers who have plundered personal and public dollars haven’t even been charged for their crimes and ex-VP Dick Cheney won’t travel because he’d be arrested as a war criminal in Europe.
We no longer can claim to be a country governed by laws while the U.S. imprisons one in 100 adults — the highest per capita rate in the history of the world.
Countless studies show that if you’re poor or a person of color, your chances of doing time for a crime far outstrip that of a middle-class Caucasian.
With 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, we should hang our heads in shame.
Follow the money to see what our country really values.
U.S. taxpayers spend six times more on prisons than on education. Start there, in case you’re wondering why we’re losing our place in the international marketplace of ideas.
No doubt, the fast-growing billion dollar enterprises around privatizing prisons offer some answers. But I’m fed up with greed and corporate machinations.
There’s hope for transforming this broken system: restorative justice.
Restorative justice is a powerful system for transforming our communities that doesn’t depend on fines, jail time or other forms of punishment. It doesn’t discard people but finds ways to restore individuals and return them to be functional members of their communities.
Its focus is on repairing the harm caused by a particular crime. This involves bringing the victims, the offenders and caring community members together in a safe, secure environment.
Facing each other around a circle, speaking one’s story honestly and listening carefully to opposing views with concerned community representatives, is a caring, human process. It provides protection for those involved as well as for the best interests of the whole community. Learn more at www.restorativejustice.org.
Many indigenous cultures — Native Hawaiians, Canadian First Nations people, many Native American tribes and the Maori in New Zealand — used similar systems before the Europeans arrived.
In 2005, Nontombi-Naomi Tutu, daughter of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, visited Port Angeles. She recounted how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission helped South Africa transition from apartheid, holding sessions in remote villages to help everyone, black and white, heal from years of atrocities.
Restorative justice also is making inroads in Clallam County. Sheriff Bill Benedict says it’s especially useful with young offenders.
As more people discover that individuals shouldn’t simply be discarded for their mistakes and find ways that justice can heal them and their communities, there’s hope for all of us.
Diana Somerville writes about creating more sustainable communities and our personal connection with the environment. A Clallam County resident, she’s a member of the National Association of Science Writers, the Society of Environmental Journalists and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Reach her at www.DianaSomerville.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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