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Interview With Herb Hoelter

Aired June 7, 2003 - 19:52   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The Martha Stewart case and the prospect of her sentence, if she is convicted, put me in mind of Thomas Jefferson, who once said jail is for poor people. All right, I'm probably paraphrasing a bit. I think the actual quote is all men are created equal. Still, sometimes it seems as though rich criminals seldom end up swapping smokes on Cell Block H. So if it's not hard time in the joint, what kind of sentence could she get?
Herb Hoelter is founder and CEO, that's right, CEO of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives.

He joins us now.

Herb, thanks for being with us.

Your job is really fascinating and it's kind of a new industry in the United States, new in the last couple of years at least. Basically, as I understand it, you are consulted by defense attorneys and you try to convince judges to get the clients, the defense attorneys' clients alternate sentences and basically not to do time, is that right?

HERB HOELTER, CEO, NATIONAL CENTER ON INSTITUTIONS AND ALTERNATIVES: Well, it's not quite that new, actually. We've been doing it for 25 years. We started the organization in 1977. And what we try to do is to let judges look at the entire case, to look at what the defendant's background is, to look at the crime that they committed and to look at what are the possible alternatives, including community service, house arrest, halfway houses and whatever else might be appropriate in the particular case.

COOPER: And I know you've counseled a lot of high profile clients -- Peter Max, the famous artist, you got him doing art projects, I think, in inner city neighborhoods. We're seeing some of the video right there. You've counseled a lot of people. If you were to counsel Martha Stewart or her attorneys, I mean what sort of creative sentences can you come up with?

HOELTER: Well, I think it would be presumptuous for us to talk about her sentence now, seeing that the government had to actually create new charges to even file an indictment against her.

COOPER: Right, and it's far off from...

HOELTER: And it would be... COOPER: ... her actually even, you know, considering any time.

HOELTER: Absolutely.

COOPER: But...

HOELTER: Absolutely. And it would be contrary to our philosophy. I mean we look at a person individually and each case individually. Certainly if she was convicted or if she pled guilty, she clearly has a lot of talent. There'd be a lot of creative ideas that one could develop to allow her to serve a sentence.

Our philosophy isn't that punishment should not occur, it's that it should occur in different ways. And there is a double standard in this country. The average first time defendant gets probation but the average first time white collar defendant, there's a presumption of incarceration, which we (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

COOPER: Well, let me just jump in there. I mean the people who disagree with you would argue that government cases -- that cases against white collar criminals often cost a great more. They often do end up being adjudicated. They're not as pled out as often as, say, a first time drug offense by a petty criminal. So I guess that's why, you know, there might be some argument there.

But let's just talk about what you do, I mean you look at what the person has, like with Peter Max, for instance, the famous artist, you know, obviously he's got artistic talent. So you look to find ways that he might serve or give back rather than do time, right?

HOELTER: Absolutely. Our whole philosophy is that one should pay back the community, either in terms of financial restitution and/or social restitution. I mean we've had construction magnates build wings of hospitals for kids with spin bifida. We've had food executives create large amounts of food coming into food banks. There's wonderful creative ideas that one can fashion that judges should look at, as well as the background of the different individuals that are there that come before them for sentencing.

COOPER: I want to give you your chance to respond to some critics, maybe who would be listening to this who say, look, you know, getting Peter Max to paint pictures with poor kids is nice, but it's not really punishment because he's an artist, he must enjoy painting, and I mean isn't part of sentencing people to jail sending a message to others who may commit crimes?

HOELTER: Well, it certainly takes part of their liberty. But what one also does or needs to consider in the case of particularly white collar criminals is all the collateral consequences that go along with it. I mean, you know, the cases are five, six, 10 years old, they still remember their names. That doesn't happen in the average criminal case. There's financial penalties. There's sanctions. The average SEC case, they're barred for life from trading and practicing their profession.

So there's a lot of other different punishments that go along with it. And I think that it's not just, you know, painting in the community. It's working hard to create a social good...


HOELTER: ... and that's what we try to create with our sentences.

COOPER: Herb Hoelter, appreciate you joining us tonight.

Thanks for your perspective.

HOELTER: Thank you very much.


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