Herbert J. Hoelter
Disrupting destructive federal sentencing cycles and providing new opportunities for people involved in the criminal justice system
Herbert J. Hoelter is the CEO of the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA). Founded in 1977, NCIA is a private nonprofit organization dedicated to human service and correctional justice reform. The organization provides sentencing advocacy, works to lower the rates of suicide for those in custody, and assists adults and youth with career development opportunities and job skills training. Recognized for his his leadership at NCIA, Herb is a nationally renowned professional federal sentencing consultant who has been featured by The Boston Globe, The New York Post The Associated Press, and Fox News.
Herbert J. Hoelter spoke with citybizlist publisher Edwin Warfield for this interview.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Could you tell us about how NCIA got its start?
HERBERT J. HOELTER: I worked with a great reformer and a great mind, a fellow named Dr. Jerry Miller, when we first started the NCIA in 1977. We had closed some prisons for juveniles in Pennsylvania, and done a lot work in reforming the juvenile justice system. When we founded the organization, we were looking for ways to earn some money so that we can build a nonprofit.
We got a call unexpectedly from a doctor in early 1978 who was facing a federal tax charge and said, “Could you do an alternative sentence for me?” His lawyer called and then we said, “Sure.” So, we put together an alternative sentence where he would help an AIDS clinic for free for 500 hours rather than go do laundry at a Federal Prison and the judge liked it. That sprang into doing more cases like that.
Then, in the early 80s, we got a huge break where we were asked to help represent six defendants from the Church of Scientology. Mary Sue Hubbard was the wife of L. Ron Hubbard, who founded Scientology, and she and five of her chief officers were charged with bugging the IRS when they were going through their non-profit status review with the IRS. They placed officials within the Internal Revenue Service, and they got caught, and they were all facing sentencing. They hired the best and the brightest white-collar attorneys in Washington, DC, and New York. We ended working for them and doing very well on that case, and then many of those ended up representing a lot of the financiers in the 1980s.
It started with Dennis Levine, who was the first million dollar bonus baby on Wall Street. Then there was Ivan Boesky, who [Dennis] Levine turned in. Then there was Mike Milken: Boesky said that he had worked with him, which he didn’t—Milken was the innocent of the three, but he ended up having to face federal charges anyway.
From that, we built into a nationally recognized practice in doing consultation for defense attorneys, primarily in federal court, although we also had a branch for a long time where we did death penalty litigation. I had a couple of social workers who were into that area, so we got appointed by courts to do that. We brought a lot of unique aspects to the field. We now do a lot of videos for sentencing, so that the judge can really look at the individual and then just read character letters. We have a very sophisticated database of what other sentences imposed have been for other cases. It’s blossomed into a major practice in the federal sentencing field.
Q. NCIA really expanded during the 1980s. What was the impetus for growth and how has the organization changed since that decade?
A. Well, what happened was that tn the early 1980s, there was a foundation in New York called the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation. It was Avon money. The founder of Avon set up this foundation to do criminal justice reform. Once we started seeing that we had success in doing these alternative sentences, we went to the foundation and they gave us seed money to start other offices. During the 1980s, I had sentencing officers in State and Federal Court, from Florida to California. I had 15 small offices—about five to six people in each office—but we did thousands of cases and we had a training program to train sentencing litigation specialists. We went from there, and then in the late 80s, after a decade of travel, a lot of the other organizations wanted to do other aspects of criminal justice reform, so we split them off and kept a few offices, which we still have today.
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