There are many points of contention regarding Sam Bankman-Fried’s (SBF) arrest, release, and subsequent detention, the most recent of which involved the curly-haired former billionaire not receiving his medications on a timely basis and being denied vegan meals. However, these issues aside, there are many more surrounding his case that point to a justice system that’s unfair, inconsistent, and, quite simply, broken.
Bankman-Fried got to go home
The first moment that suggested this young, caucasian, male, white-collar criminal was receiving special treatment was when the alleged fraudster was granted bail despite the enormity of the crimes he was being accused of.
Of course, the bail bond was significant — $250 million — but family and friends were easily able to put up the required collateral to send him home.
This brings us to our first problem: many people who are charged with a crime and sent to jail simply cannot afford bail. According to the Center for American Progress, “80% of people involved with the criminal legal system are… unable to afford the necessities of life.”
Those in favor of cash bail will claim that the solution to this problem is commercial bail bondsmen. In other words, those who can’t afford to pay for or leverage assets as collateral for bail should work with a commercial company that will take whatever they can get from the individual already in dire financial straits.
This is capitalism on steroids.
For SBF breaking the rules repeatedly isn’t a crime?
SBF didn’t just break the rules once or twice, he broke them on at least three occasions during his bail. For most individuals, even one ‘slip-up’ would be enough to land them back in jail. However, for some reason, America’s most hated tech bro was allowed to break the rules repeatedly and without consequence.
This seemed to embolden the accused scammer and he ultimately wound up back behind bars because he decided it was okay to leak the personal diaries of Caroline Ellison, the head of trading at Alameda Research and one of his exes, to The New York Times.
Lack of medication and no vegan meals
SBF has only been in jail a couple of weeks but he’s already complaining about not getting the medications he’s prescribed (Ensam and Adderall) on time, and the lack of vegan meal options outside of water and bread.
While these issues may be laughable — at least when reading headlines like “SBF whines he isn’t getting his ADHD meds” — they’re two of the few examples of SBF calling attention to an important issue. Prisoners and those in jail aren’t having their medical needs met and are being fed like subhumans. If one of the most famous, white-collar prisoners in history isn’t having his basic needs met, it speaks volumes about what those who have no voice are likely receiving.
Public outrage is justified, and yet…
It’s fair that the crypto industry and the public at large feel shafted by SBF — that’s an accurate characterization of the alleged activities perpetrated by him and his fellow executives. But the entire point of the justice system is to allow punishment to be allotted by a group of peers who are trusted to see the evidence and come to an equitable conclusion.
To celebrate SBF not having his basic human rights met is to be rooting for the villain in this story: let the white-collar criminal get his meds and food, at the end of the day he’s still going to (probably) spend decades behind bars — the last place an effective altruist believes they should be.
Let SBF be a case study
Unfortunately, over 5% of all Americans will spend some time behind bars in their lifetime. While it would be nice to simplify the laws, push for more lenient sentencing structures, and create a prison system designed for rehabilitation as opposed to punitive measures, the reality is that this will take decades to organize and legislate.
What can be fixed faster, however, is the use of cash bonds and the treatment of accused criminals and those already in the penal system.
Cash bonds, as a concept, should be entirely nixed. In the age of GPS, smartphones, ankle monitors, and satellite tracking there’s no need to force accused criminals to pay exorbitant fees before they’re even proven guilty of anything. Instead, bonds should operate in a manner more closely related to probation: accused criminals are given a set of protocols they have to abide by pre-trial and if they break those protocols they’re placed in jail until their day in court.
Secondly, since the US is dead-set on allowing private prisons to operate and constantly grow, the conditions within those prisons need to be monitored and have any issues addressed as quickly as possible.
Meeting the medical needs of prisoners and providing them with doctor-prescribed medications is the very least that can be done, even using the most generous definition of “human rights.”
Lastly, if prisoners request meals based on religious or personal preference, we should accommodate them. Prison food is notoriously disgusting.
Prisoners are inherently the definition of second-class citizens, and while it makes sense to not allow their stays in penitentiaries to be luxurious and extravagant, it’s important that standards are maintained and people — regardless of their crimes or mental issues — are treated with respect and care.
The fact the knee-jerk reaction of the public to SBF’s claims of mistreatment in jail was to scoff and laugh is troubling, even if seeing an entitled Silicon Valley rich kid in pain feels good.