The New York State Board of Parole has denied Dennis Kozlowski's bid for parole. The decision appears to be based on his notorious reputation rather than the actual merits of his case. It certainly conflicts with the state's own criteria for release.
You may remember Kozlowski as the once admired CEO of Tyco International who was convicted in 2005 of looting millions from the company. The offense was serious and the sentence appropriately harsh: an 8-1/3-to-25-year prison term and restitution of $134 million, plus a $70 million criminal fine.
Kozlowski had every reason to be hopeful about his chances for parole, since under the state's criteria he was an ideal candidate. He has been a model prisoner with a spotless discipline record. He paid the court-ordered restitution and fine in full. He has no prior criminal record and is clearly remorseful. He has the support of family members and friends who would serve as a strong network during his transition back into society.
So why was parole denied?
In its written decision, the board gave two reasons. It said Kozlowski could not be released "due to concern for the public safety and welfare." And it said paroling him would "tend to deprecate the seriousness" of his offenses.
But is he really a threat to public safety? He has no record of violent or dangerous behavior. There is no chance he could repeat his crimes, since he will never again work for a publicly traded corporation or be in a position of fiduciary responsibility. No individual or organization would be at risk if he were paroled.
As for the board's second point, state parole guidelines consider the seriousness of a crime and factor in the applicant's criminal history. The guidelines suggest a sentence of six to 30 months for someone who committed Kozlowski offenses and has no other criminal record. Kozlowski is now in his 80th month of imprisonment. How would releasing him "deprecate the seriousness" of his crimes when he has served more than twice the recommended maximum?
Among those who wrote the Parole Board on Kozlowski's behalf was the judge who sentenced him, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus. This respected jurist said parole would be consistent with the sentence he imposed and noted a variety of reasons why Kozlowski is a good candidate for release. Yet the board ignored the opinion of the person who knows this case better than anyone.
It appears that Kozlowski has been turned into the designated scapegoat for the sins of corporate America.
People are angry with good reason about the long string of business scandals as well as the excessive pay for many CEOs. But Kozlowski is not responsible for all that. He is one person who was convicted of very specific crimes. He should be treated like anyone else convicted of those crimes. There should be no additional penalty because some people consider him the poster boy for corporate greed.
New York regularly releases violent offenders back into society. Murderers, rapists and child molesters are paroled, often after less time behind bars than Kozlowski has served. If it is okay to release these individuals, I find it difficult to understand why a 65-year-old first-time offender who was convicted of non-violent crimes is such a threat to public safety that he cannot be paroled after nearly seven years in prison.
Our justice system should do more than exact vengeance. It must hand out punishment, yes. But it also must factor in fairness, compassion and rehabilitation. The world is not a safer place because Dennis Kozlowski is in prison. If he satisfies the criteria for parole, he should be released. The system should work for everyone, including him.
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