How much punishment is enough?

I don't ever want to see people go to jail, no matter what they've done. I feel a pang of sorrow when I read about or hear a sentencing on the news. I do want people off the streets who are a danger to us, even though I feel sorry to see them go. But I usually think even their sentences are too long.

So what's the right punishment for the 11 Georgia educators convicted of racketeering and lying to investigators? Thousands of students were promoted over several years and their teachers were given bonuses for their students' achievements when the teachers had erased wrong answers and written in the right ones. They surely deserve punishment, not for conspiracy or lying as much as for denying poor students the opportunities they rightfully deserved to be tutored and given extra help.

I've gotten some criticism for not being sufficiently concerned about property damage in Ferguson and on Grand Avenue in St. Louis City (a block and a half from my house). I do care about the plight of property owners caught in a civil uprising, but I care more about children deprived systematically of their education by teachers cheating in order to gain promotions.

Nonetheless, what's the right punishment? Racketeering carries up to 20 years in prison. Maybe that's a fair balance to the losses the children continue to suffer. But it doesn't do anything to restore that balance, much less actually help these children.

The educators are now convicted felons. Even without prison, they don't have a bright future. Nor do the educators who pleaded guilty. They carry misdemeanor convictions and won't ever teach again.

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I think what I'd do is give them closely supervised teaching jobs and fine them heavily: They wouldn't have to teach if they didn't want to, but they would have to pay, say, $500,000 in fines earmarked for educational opportunity for the children who had been in their care. (Similarly, I'd require restitution, not prison time, for anyone convicted of property damage.)

What these teachers did is terrible. They betrayed a sacred trust, the care of young minds. How do they make amends? How do we hold them accountable?


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