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Cherie R. Dillon, a hygienist from Idaho, is going to prison for five years for practicing beyond her license (e.g. fillings, extractions, etc.), illegally billing Medicaid and other insurances, and using the identity of a disabled, non-practicing dentist to make it happen. She also has to pay over $500k in restitution and has to forfeit over $800k in illegally gained proceeds. You can read more details about the story at the links below, but that’s basically the gist of it. There are a lot issues about this case that bother me, but I’m going to focus on just two.
Why is she going to prison?
Before answering the question let’s first focus on the word prison. In our society the word prison has ceased to capture the barbaric nature of what it really is. Prison is a human cage. That’s the brutal reality of what we are doing. We are literally throwing human beings into metal cages and locking them in. Ok, with that in mind, let’s get back to the question. Why is Cherie going to prison? I’m not asking this from a technical or legal perspective. I’m asking this from a moral perspective. Putting someone in a human cage is a very extreme act that should be limited to very extreme crimes. Cherie’s “crimes” do not qualify, not even close. No one is benefiting from putting Cherie in a cage (unless you work in the current “justice” system), but it’s worse than that. We are also punishing many innocent people. Her innocent family is punished. Her innocent friends are punished. The innocent tax payers are punished with a $150,000 bill to cage her. And most of all, the innocent dentist she victimized is now less likely to receive any restitution from her (I wouldn’t be surprised if the government was the only entity receiving “restitution” in this case anyway). Putting Cherie in a human cage for what she did is an immoral act and our society should be ashamed.
Who did she victimize?
Let’s first identify the actual victims. Is the disabled dentist a victim? Yes. She at least put his identity/reputation at risk and may have caused actual damage. Are the patients victims? The primary question here is, did she regularly perform subpar work, or even worse, did she hurt the patients? If the answer is no, then the patients were not victims. But what if she claimed to be a dentist, or let patients assume she was, wouldn’t that be considered fraud? Yes, but the actual damage is very little if she performed treatment that was on par. And I would be willing to bet that many of her patients knew she was not a dentist and didn’t care. Are the tax payers victims? Again, did she perform subpar work? If not, then there are no victims here. What if her work was subpar? If the moral response to performing subpar dental work is to put clinicians in a cage, then I have a long list of licensed dentists and hygienists that need to be sent to the same government cage facility.
What does she owe her victims?
She owes the disabled dentist some compensation for putting his identity and reputation at risk. And additional compensation if she caused actual damage to his reputation. What dollar figure that should be, I don’t know, but it should be something. Unless she performed subpar work, she owes both the patients and taxpayers nothing. And most importantly, she owes no one, especially society, time in a human cage.
The house building analogy
Let’s look at this situation from the perspective of a different profession. Let’s say you hire a general contractor to build a new home. The contract you sign with this general contractor states that all tradesman (e.g. plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc.) involved in this project must be licensed. You pay the contractor $200,000 and your new home is built without a hitch. The home passed all inspections. Two years later you still love the house, but you find out that none of the tradesmen were licensed. From a moral perspective, does the contractor owe you $200,000 for violating the contract? No. Should the contractor and the unlicensed tradesmen be thrown in a cage? No. What if this project happened to be funded by a charity or a government? Would either of those organizations be entitled to $200,000? No. Would you be owed any compensation from the contractor who clearly violated at least part of the contract? Maybe, but not much.
What kind of criminal justice system do you want?
I want a criminal justice system that is primarily focused on restitution. Who is the victim and what is that victim owed? That’s it. A criminal justice system that is focused on hurting or punishing people to “teach them a lesson” or “pay their debt to society” is antiquated and barbaric. That philosophy needs to die. Let’s save the human cages for real criminals like, I don’t know, serial killers.
Shout out to Cherie
If you are reading this Cherie I would love to hear from you. My thoughts are with you. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Frias, RDH