A Law Blog Q&A With John Grisham

How about your friend Dickie Scruggs?

I correspond with Dickie in prison.

Can you give us an update?

He says that [in prison] you realize how tough you are. The only thing I’ll say – the one story he told me – is that he’s working with inmates to help them get their GED’s. That’s like Dickie. He’s always going to be doing something. He told me he was astounded at the low level of literacy among inmates. He also said he’s got a white-collar crowd he hangs out with, and they take long walks together.

It’s hard to imagine Dickie Scruggs in prison. Just like I’m sure it’s going to be hard to imagine Bernie Madoff and Marc Dreier in prison.

For some people, it won’t be hard. So what do you think of these long white-collar sentences we’ve been seeing?

It’s bad stuff. We have 2.5 million people in prison in this country. We’re not thinking. We’re warehousing these young black kids, we grind them through the mill for minor drug charges – or even, you know, more serious drug charges – and we spend $40,000 a year to incarcerate them. But we spend only $8,000 a year to educate them. We’re not using our heads. It’s costing a fortune and nobody’s talking about it.

And the white-collar guys, they don’t deserve prison. They deserve punishment. They deserve to be financially punished. But what is going to come from putting someone like Bernie Madoff or Marc Dreier or Dickie Scruggs in prison? You ought to say, OK, start a non-profit and run it for ten years. Make them do something good because they’re smart as hell. Of course, no politician is ever going to get elected by talking about lighter sentences for criminals.

WSJ Law Blog
1/28/9