Bernard Kerik, the former New York Police Commissioner who spent three years in jail on federal tax evasions charges, recently spoke out against mandatory minimum sentences, saying the disproportionate sentences do nothing to help reform the perpetrator.
Kerik shared his opinions with Matt Lauer in an interview shortly after he was released from prison. He said he believes the judicial system needs to be re-evaluated, because it is setting inmates up for failure.
“The system is supposed to help them, not destroy them,” said Kerik. “If the American people and members of Congress saw what I saw, there would be anger, there would be outrage, and there would be change, because nobody would stand for it.”
Fall From Grace
Kerik’s story attracted national headlines after he worked his way up from cop to a spot on former mayor Rudy Giuliani’s security detail. He was later named commissioner of New York’s Department of Correction and was instrumental in curbing the widespread violence on Rikers Island. He eventually led the NYPD during the September 11 terrorist attacks, and was on the short list for a promotion to the Department of Homeland Security when it all came crashing down.
After withdrawing his name for consideration because he had once hired an illegal alien as a nanny, rumors swirled about multiple affairs leading up to and after his marriage. His name also surfaced in connection with a powerful New York City mob family, and it was later uncovered that illegally accepted gifts and failed to correctly file his taxes. He eventually pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts, including tax evasion and lying to the White House.
Kerik spent his three years in a federal minimum-security prison with many non-violent, first-time offenders. He said his insights into prison life gave him a unique perspective.
“No one in the history of our country has ever been in the system with my background, no one…You have to be on the other side of the bars. You have to see what it’s like to be a victim of the system, so to speak. There’s no way to do that from the other side,” he said.
During the interview with Lauer, Kerik pulled a nickel out of his pocket to symbolize the amount of cocaine that can lock someone up for years.
“I was with men sentenced to ten years in prison for five grams of cocaine. That’s insane. That’s insane,” he said.
He concluded by saying that disproportionate sentences keep inmates locked up for too long, and they struggle to adjust to their old life once they are eventually released.
“Anybody that thinks that you can take these young black men out of Baltimore and D.C., give them a ten-year sentence for five grams of cocaine, and then believe that they’re going to return to society a better person ten years from now, when you give them no life improvement skills, when you give them no real rehabilitation?” he said. “That is not benefiting society.”
Sean Sullivan comments
As a practicing defense attorney I agree wholeheartedly with the observations of Mr. Kerik. Prison sentences have grown to be wholly disproportionate punishment for the crimes committed.
Drug offenses in particular receive harsh prison sentences for relatively minor cases. More efforts need to be made on rehabilitating offenders than punishing them. I think we need to focus on sentencing certain criminals to alternative programs like substance abuse treatment or community service. I think criminal sentencing as a whole needs to be overhauled. Perhaps a high-profile inmate such as Kerik will help draw attention to that.’
Related source: Today News