A recent article noting that former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick had been transferred between prisons, combined with rumors that President Trump might commute the sentence of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich made me think about the fairness of Kilpatrick’s 28 year prison sentence.
According to a 2016 article from the Washington Post, only one other person has ever been sentenced to more than 20 years for political corruption. In fact, they only list four that got more then 15 years and they seem to involve extreme cases, like Rita Crundwell embezzling $54 million from a town of 15,000 people.
Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin thinks that sentence was “outrageous” and supports commutation. Another former Illinois Governor, George Ryan, only served about six years, despite his corruption leading to the deaths of six children in a fiery crash involving debris from a semi driven by someone who paid bribes to get his commercial drivers license. That WaPo article I mentioned was prompted by former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver getting 14 years in his original trial (the verdict was overturned on appeal) which they labeled “one of the longest prison sentences for a politician.” It seems to be rare for anyone to get more than 10 years in a public corruption case.
It may well be that more politicians should get longer sentences for corruption. But Kilpatrick’s is far out of line with sentencing norms. He got more than double what the average rapist serves – the kind of time usually meted out to killers and such. And since he’s in federal prison, he will have to serve something like 85% of his sentence.
Just as Detroit itself has sometimes been treated as a ritual scapegoat onto which other cities can project blame or focus for urban ills, Kilpatrick seems to have been latched onto as someone to whom the modern dysfunction of Detroit can be transferred.
Kilpatrick was a crook and made bad governance decisions to boot. He certainly deserved a good long prison sentence. But it’s hard to believe he should spend more time in prison than Blago or Silver.
If Trump really wanted to commute someone’s sentence, rather than Blago’s, a better idea would be to reduce Kwame’s sentence to a more reasonable 14 years.