An advocate for reform? - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

An advocate for reform?

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Posted: Monday, March 7, 2005 5:12 pm | Updated: 9:51 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

America’s most famous felon, Martha Stewart, has a lot ahead of her now that she’s out of jail — getting her company back into the black, launching two TV shows and re-establishing herself as the credible voice of domestic perfection.

Her five months in a minimum-security women’s prison — dubbed by some “Camp Cupcake” — was hardly “The Shawshank Redemption,” but while there she became a convert to the cause of prison and sentencing reform.

That’s according to Laurie Cohen of The Wall Street Journal, who corresponded with Stewart during her time in prison.

Stewart objected to cutbacks in the quality and quantity of food for budgetary reasons; the indifferent medical care; the lack of educational opportunities; and the harshness of federal sentencing guidelines, especially for first-time, nonviolent offenders.

These are all worthwhile reforms, but improving prison conditions and the chances of rehabilitation don’t engender a lot of public sympathy or legislative support. A high-profile spokeswoman like Martha Stewart could change that.

The timing is unusually opportune: In January the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the current system of mandatory sentencing guidelines. It presents a chance to weed out unnecessarily harsh sentences.

However, Cohen reports, Stewart’s image advisers are urging that she forget prison advocacy because it will only remind the buying public that she’s a convicted felon. And she naturally might want to put her prison experience behind her. But out of her personal calamity has come an opportunity to do some real good. Let’s hope she ignores her advisers.

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