Justice: Is It Wise to Let Stew Leonard Stay in Prison?
Stew Leonard's First Store in Norwalk, Connecticut
Stew Leonard's in Yonkers
Stew Leonard Sr., Entrepeneur: 'Our Mission Is To Create Happy Customers'
'The Customer Is Always Right'
Stew Leonard Sr. shouldn't be in prison!
That is not to say he should not be punished for the grievous offenses he has admitted to -- offenses he's been convicted of and sentenced for -- and for which he is now serving time (allowing for his four-week hiatus for hip surgery.)
Certainly Stew deserves to spend time in prison for violating the laws, and for violating the trust of all who know him. The fact that he does not find prison to be conducive to his well-being falls far short of justification for reduction of his sentence.
Neither does his assertion that he's "a changed man" hold any water. As U.S. District Court Judge Peter Dorsey said, the original sentence was intended to punish Stew for his conduct over a long period of time.
Loss of 'Moral Center' Admitted
Stew admits losing his principles, his business integrity and his "moral center," as he put it. Such admission amounts to justification for the judge's position.
But the reason Stew "deserves" to be in prison is that our judicial system, flawed as it is, prescribes prison for most convicted felons. Others convicted of similar, and even less grievous offenses, are required to spend years in prison. Stew cannot be exempt from such punishment; indeed, there are many who would argue he should be held up as an example and punished more severely than others.
While Stew deserves to be in prison, he shouldn't be in prison -- simply because prison is not a very intelligent way to punish people!
But, insofar as that's the system as it now stands, Stew must stew in prison, along with thousands of others whom we must feed, house and otherwise maintain at great expense with little or nothing to show for it.
As a society, we haven't given much thought to the way we punish criminals; we go along with the same old way it's been done for centuries; throw them in jail and forget about them.
But how effective has it been? Has the imprisonment of criminals put the fear of God into men and brought about significant reduction in crime? Hardly.
No Room in the Prisons
The courts have taken steps on their own -- in my judgment extralegal steps -- to modify sentences imposed by statute primarily because judges know there's no room in prison to hold the growing number of convicted criminals.
Plea bargaining and probation have been employed to try to make room in our prisons for serious, violent offenders. But even that hasn't worked; too often prisoners who do not deserve freedom have had their terms cut short because of overpopulation, deemed to be illegal.
The old cliché, "Let the punishment fit the crime," continues to be looked at more closely.
Why not take a good close look at every category of crime and determine anew what would be an appropriate -- and realistic -- punishment for those convicted.
If the crime involves violence, then, by all means, put the convicted felons in prison -- but, even then, don't give them 20 years and let them out in five (Good behavior is nice, but it's something they should have thought of before they committed the crime.)
For other offenses, prescribe community service -- or whatever -- in the statute itself. Don't leave it up to the courts.
I wrote this is a column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on Oct. 29,1994. Stew Leonard Sr. made millions in his unique Norwalk dairy but was convicted of tax fraud for diverting $17 million in cash register receipts. He was sentenced to 52 months in prison, three years probation, and ordered to pay $13 million in back taxes, a $650,000 fine and $97,000 to cover the cost of his incarceration.
'Stew Leonard: My Story' by Stew Leonard with Scotty Reiss
ADDENDUM: I finally got around to reading Stew Leonard's book, published by Colle & Co. in 2009, thanks to my local library in Valley Stream, N.Y., and the library of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. I heartily recommend the book. I decided to find and read it after visiting the newest Stew Leonard's store in Farmingdale, L.I., N.Y., with some friends. I was privileged to have dined with Stew Sr. and several Norwalk, Connecticut, officials at Little Anthony's, a onetime local restaurant up the road from Stew's original ("dairy," as Stew insisted, not "supermarket.") The Norwalk store had only been in business a year at that time and as we drove to Little Anthony's Stew told us, "I can't believe how much money I'm making."