Ethics Quiz Of The Week: Compassion For Madoff?

Infamous swindler Bernard Madoff had his attorney file court papers this week requesting that a federal judge  grant him a “compassionate release” from his 150-year prison sentence. The 81-year-old convicted sociopath says he has less than 18 months to live because his kidneys are failing. Madoff has served just eleven years, or less than 10% of his punishment.  His dying wish, he says, is to salvage his relationships with his grandchildren.

By all means, we should care about Bernie Madoff’s wishes. He pleaded guilty in 2009 to 11 federal counts in a heartless scheme that ruined the futures of thousands and put non-profits and charities out of business.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz Of The Week is

Should Madoff get a “compassionate release”?

My take?


The question of whether be is no longer a threat to society is, or should be irrelevant.

12 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz Of The Week: Compassion For Madoff?

  1. His grandchildren could visit him where he is incarcerated. Of course, I would be concerned that it would be like something out of The Prodigal Son.

  2. I have seen numerous instances of criminals who profited from their crimes and then managed to sequester their profits where the law couldn’t touch it. Their friends and relatives hold their “loot”. or it is stowed overseas.

    Madoff can rot in prison until every victim gets back every dime of what he defrauded from them. It might take a while…

  3. Unless we are prepared to release all other aging prisoners suffering end of life ailments he should remain in prison.

    I do not however believe in sentences that extend beyond life in prison. Such sentences are illusory. The idea that someone gets 30 years but serves only 12 years is equally illusory. This practice creates the appearance of unequal treatment in the courts. I realize judges need discretion but when sentences have little or no deterent on crime because the time one serves is so short then the sentence is not doing what it is designed to do. Consequently, we wind up extending sentences for some who are notorius while others receive lesser sentences for similar offenses. This creates the belief that our justice system is skewed.

    A sentence for a given offense should be applied equally. If the sentence needs to be limited as a positive reinforcement let it be done by a parole board.

    • The way I see it, multi hundred year sentences are just future proofing for when technology allows people to live for hundreds of years.

    • This creates the belief that our justice system is skewed.

      The justice system IS skewed. Most are just now noticing. The elites do not spend time in jail. Madoff should get off because he was one of the elites cheating the serfs. Those elites are afraid of being in his position, because they know deep down inside that they are as guilty of bilking the masses as he is.

  4. I don’t think this can be answered competently without knowing what the law is.

    It could be argued, on principle, that it should never be allowed, or never be allowed for certain offenses, but, if it is available to someone like Madoff, it is difficult to provide an intelligent analysis of the question if you don’t know the standard for relief, if any.

    Consequently, I abstain.


    • Along similar lines, can we even get to the legal question based on an assertion made by a convicted swindler? Is he really terminally ill? We’re going to take his or his doctors’ word for it? I’d say, “Sorry Bernie, you’re not believable.”

  5. The compassionate thing is to make a nice visiting area for grandkids in prison. Too many never will recover, and it’s not about forgiveness but about deterrence. No do overs until his victims get it too,

  6. A friend of mine tried to get compassionate release for her brother dying of hepatitis he contracted in prison. He had been convicted on drug charges and was in his 40’s. They basically didn’t want to release him more than a week or two before he died. They wanted him incapacitated enough that he couldn’t leave the house. He died before his health became bad enough for them to release him. That is what normal, non-history making criminals get for compassionate release.

  7. Jack,

    I initially went the went the other way in this one. I heard my father father saying “We should show the most compassion to those who showed none” — his variant of the “lost causes” speech in Mr. Smith — but you’ve put me back on the fence. Thank you for the mental fodder.

  8. We tend to treat non-violent crimes more leniently than those where a victim is physically harmed, but I’m not sure that is always appropriate. No one wants a person hung for stealing the Earl’s silver teaspoon, or hounded for years over the theft of a loaf of bread, but for most people, their possessions represent the trade of a portion of their lives, and often the sacrificing of other opportunities in order to acquire (and maintain and protect) those things.

    I know people who, appearing solidly middle-class, lived unpretentious and frugal lives and lost millions in the 2008 downturn. No one made them whole while Obama awarded GM to the unions (and stiffed Delphi employees), and while many the architects of the debacle escaped unscathed. Their subsequent lives, health, and retirement were harmed.

    Financial injury can be just as devastatingly vicious in its effects as an assault. Let Bernie rot.

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