I feel compelled to at least address the Bill Cosby situation as it goes right to the heart of the issue of sentencing and the purpose of incarceration. I would not want to be the judge that has to decide Cosby’s sentence. However, my guess is that given the political climate out there today and certain legal decisions the judge made in the second trial as opposed to the first, the judge is going to, in effect, give Cosby a death sentence in prison with the allowance that he be allowed out if he becomes terminally ill in prison so that he can die at home and/or in a private hospital.
To be clear, if as it seems, Bill Cosby used his influence and power to prey on woman in order to get them to engage in non-consensual sex, that is a heinous act that should be vehemently punished both in order to send a message that such behavior is completely unacceptable and, if Cosby was a younger man, to keep him off the streets so that he could not repeat such abhorrent behavior. The specific question though in this particular case, given Cosby’s age and health, is what is the correct punishment for his crime? Should Cosby, as I suspect he will, get in effect a death sentence in prison? Does that solve the problem and help society and his victims?
No doubt Bill Cosby’s victims were and are traumatized by his actions. But is putting Cosby, at his age and health, though prison going to help his victims? Are they going to get “closure” by Cosby’s jail sentence? Only the victims know the answer to this. For the sake of argument though, and looking at the bigger issue of incarceration and sentencing in America, I look at this specific case a different way. If Bill Cosby was a younger man and in better health, and if thus he could commit these crimes again, there is no doubt that he would need to be kept off the streets and forced into therapy until such time as reasonable people believed Cosby would never commit such heinous acts again. In my opinion, given his wealth, he also should have to compensate financially the victims and society to pay for treatment, education and intervention for victims of sex predators like himself. I don’t mean a slap on the wrist fine, I mean that he should have to pay such a large amount that it would drastically change his ability to live and function in the custom in which he is used to. That money could be put to use in so many ways to help victims of sex crimes.
But Bill Cosby is not a younger man and the chances of him committing these crimes again are zero, so is there possibly a better answer for society than incarcerating him in effect for the rest of his life? Rather than taxpayers paying for Cosby to rot and die in prison, why not take all his money and put it to so many needed programs to help victims of sex crimes? In this particular case, rather than us paying for Bill Cosby to rot in prison, why don’t we make him pay financially for his crimes so that his money can help others in need? Again, when I say pay I don’t mean a slap on the wrist, I mean the type of payment in which he would lose his home, his lifestyle and all his creature comforts. Those payments would actually help society while incarcerating him for a long time, other than sending a message, doesn’t help society.
So I ask in this particular case, under these particular facts, given Bill Cosby’s health, age and wealth what is the right punishment? Do we want vengeance, or do we want a sentence that can create some good? I am not smart enough to answer the question but there is no doubt that we need to look at the sentencing laws in this country and the incarceration rates and ask ourselves whether the current state of mass incarceration is working.
Again, my guess is, given the current political climate, the judge is going to throw the book at Bill Cosby for fear of political reprisal if he doesn’t do so. But the question remains, is that really the right answer? I look forward to your comments.
Lawrence Goldfarb’s new book, From Hell to Eternity, will be released in 2018. Sign up to receive news, information and updates.