Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Drew University employee sentenced

Last week, a federal judge sentenced 20 year-old William Scott, the former Drew University student employee who admitted to stealing 31 historical documents from the university's United Methodist Archives Center, to three years of probation and three hundred hours of community service.

When I first learned of Scott's sentence, I was a little steamed. In my opinion, just about anyone convicted of stealing cultural heritage materials deserve to spend at least a little time in a correctional facility; I might be willing to make exceptions for people who steal to feed their families or to pay for lifesaving medial treatment for a loved one, but that's about it.

I nonetheless recognize that imprisonment is expensive and that incarcerating a young, non-violent offender who does not have a prior criminal record might not be the best use of our limited resources. Moreover, the sentencing judge and prosecuting U.S. attorney clearly wanted to make sure that Mr. Scott's will have ample cause and opportunity to reflect upon his misdeeds. While on probation, Mr. Scott:
  • Must adhere to a 9:00PM curfew. (Most people would find such a curfew restrictive, but such restrictions are particularly painful for younger adults such as Mr. Scott, who once described himself as a night person who enjoys partying.)
  • Is barred from working any job that would give him access to cultural heritage materials.
  • Must write a monthly letter to the court describing the progress of his life.
  • Must write to each of the 72 people who submitted character letters to the court on his behalf and explain what his experience of theft, prosecution, and conviction has taught him.
  • May list his 300 hours of community service on his resume only if he specifies that said community service was court-ordered.
If I were 20 years old and forced to adhere to these conditions for 3 years, I suspect that the thought of spending 6 or 12 months in a minimum-security facility might seem like a reasonable alternative . . . .

Of the 31 documents that Mr. Scott stole, 30 have been recovered. The missing item is the two-sided second page of a letter that Charles Wesley wrote in 1755. United Methodist Archives Center staff scanned the Wesley letters in its holdings some time before Scott arrived on campus. If you ever come across an incomplete, double-sided document bearing Charles Wesley's autograph (stranger things have happened), you can compare it to the digital images of Wesley family letters that the repository contributed to the American Theological Library Association's Cooperative Digital Resources Initiative.

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