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I read New York Times article (May 13) titled "ex-Senator gets 21-month prison term in tax evasion case." It says in abridgment:

The former Republican senator, Vincent L. Leibell III had faced 18 to 24 months in prison, based on sentencing guidelines.

His lawyer, David L. Lewis asked the judge to take into account Mr. Leibell’s "life of public service" and urged him to consider a "non-guideline" sentence allowing Mr. Leibell to do community service by letting him serve as a diplomat to the Middle East instead of a prison term.

"We don’t have public stocks anymore, where he can stand with his head and arms in stocks," Mr. Lewis said, trying to convince the judge that Mr. Leibell’s crime would be forgotten in jail, but that doing some sort of "social restitution" would be more humiliating for Mr. Leibell and would offer a broader, more public lesson.

More than being puzzled with the logic that servicing as a diplomat can replace prison term, and to serve as a diplomat to Middle East is a humiliating work, I am interested in knowing what the word, "non-guideline sentence" to make it possible, and the phrase, "we don’t have public stocks anymore, where he can stand with his head and arms in stocks" mean. Can anybody tell me?

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The "guideline sentence" that the judge should follow appears in the second paragraph as "18 to 24 months in prison". However the lawyer is asking the judge to ignore the usual guidelines and to allow an alternative form of punishment. Seemingly by living a difficult life abroad as a diplomat. –  crowne May 14 '11 at 22:03
    
@Crowne: This could be a full fledged answer. –  Hack Saw May 15 '11 at 7:55
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1 Answer

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Before the US was wealthy enough to pay for public buildings to house criminals (i.e. jails), minor criminals were put into "stocks". These were wooden contraptions that held the criminal's ankles. They were left in the open where people could ridicule them or perhaps entertain themselves one way or another.

A similar punishment was the "pillory". Googling this is easier as "stock" has many meanings in English. The pillory held the prisoner's head and hands, as well as ankles, and was a more dangerous punishment. The public would throw rotten food, dead animals, etc., at the prisoner and some were killed. On the other hand, if the public thought the prisoner was unfairly punished they might protect him or her. The inability of predicting the punishment contributed to the reduction in their use.

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I don't see how the wealth of the United States figures into why stocks disappeared. They weren't there because we couldn't afford anything better, they were there to serve an explicitly understood public humiliation deterrent to crime. –  Uticensis May 15 '11 at 1:47
    
Thank you very much for input. Without knowing what the public stock means, I wouldn’t be able to understand what the phrase, “We don’t have public stocks anymore, where he can stand with his head and arms in stocks" at all. –  Yoichi Oishi May 15 '11 at 9:48
    
@Billare; I do not mean to imply that the stocks were not a deterrent. At the time the US colonies were founded, the population could just barely scrape a living in which 95% of the population farmed. Imprisoned people, and their guards, cannot farm; instead they would have to be supplied by taxes. So at that time, prisons were not economically reasonable. Today one farmer feeds thousands and only a small percent of our population manufactures things. The US now keeps 2.3 million people incarcerated, about 25% of the world total of 9.8 million. Only a very very rich country can do this. –  Carl Brannen May 17 '11 at 20:29
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