Federal sentences for economic crimes increased on average from about 20 months in 1997 to 25 months last year, says the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Law Prof. Ellen Podgor of Stetson University and editor of a blog on white-collar crime said, “Maybe the perception [of light sentences] used to be true, but it’s not anymore.” Federal sentencing guidelines do not allow parole, so the best former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling can do is reduce his term by 54 days each year if he behaves well, and by a year if he successfully undergoes counseling. At best, Skilling can trim his term to 19 years and nine months, making him 73 years old when he is freed.
As for imprisonment, “there is the image that these prisons are Club Fed,” said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. “But it’s still prison, and it’s tough for someone who is used to being in charge and having no restraints. The lifestyle change is probably more dramatic for them than for someone on his second drug-sale conviction.” The bigger challenge for law enforcement is catching white-collar criminals to begin with. Police economic crime units are understaffed. Budget cuts prevent detectives from receiving adequate training to keep up with sophisticated thieves who master the latest financial and technological trickery.