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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Tyco’s Kozlowski: Isolation or Work-Release?

L. Dennis Kozlowski, a former CEO of Tyco, was denied parole “due to concern for the public safety and welfare,” according to the New York Department of Corrections. A parole board ruled that releasing him in 2012 would have the effect of minimizing his corporate crimes and affect public safety. The board concluded that early release would “not be compatible with the welfare of society at large, and would tend to deprecate the seriousness” of his offenses. He was convicted in 2005 of looting nearly $600 million in bonuses and other payments from Tyco in the 1990s.

As much of a sentence of 8 to 25 years in prison may seem to befit such a case of greed and abuse of corporate position, that Kozlowski was transferred three months before the denial of parole to a minimum-security facility in Manhattan and approved in a work-release program suggests that the seriousness of his crimes did not translate into the punishment after all.

Although white-collar convicts should not be conflated with murderers and rapists, prison should not be conflated with a dorm for the corporate criminals. Put another way, the punishment ought to fit the crime (rather than another, or none). If the sentence includes prison, then prison it should be.

It is worth asking, however, whether prison is suitable for white-collar crime. Put another way, would the public safety really have been compromised had Kozlowski been released early? Does stealing $600 from a corporation without any threat of violence put anyone’s safety at risk? If not, then only enough security to keep the criminals in the prison facility should be necessary, as they are not dangerous. This does not mean an open door policy or giving the inmates permission to go out of the facility to work.

Having to confront oneself for hours without distraction in a cell for a sustained period of time—as if a kid sent to his or her room for hours as a punishment—may well be fitting to the white-collar crime. Furthermore, taking the criminal’s wealth and property and requiring work to repay any losses to others also seems fitting. These two elements ought to be applied successively rather than concurrently so each can have its full effect.


Chris Dolmetsch, “Former Tyco Chief Kozlowski Is Denied Parole in New York,” Bloomberg, April 5, 2012. 

Kevin McCoy, “Former Tyco Chief Told No on Parole,” USA Today, April 6, 2012.