Kerik Now Sees Issues with American Prison System

In an interview with Today Show host Matt Lauer, ex-New York Police Chief Bernard Kerik said that America‘s prison system is broken.

“It’s okay  to punish individuals for doing wrong,” he said, “but it’s not okay destroy them for doing something wrong,” he said. As he talked, he gave Matt Lauer a nickel to hold.  Asking Matt to take note of the weight of the nickel, Kerik said that young men are being locked up for having five grams of cocaine”…an amount of cocaine that has the weight of a nickel.  ( “That’s insane.”

I n his first interview since his release from prison where he served time for tax evasion and lying to federal authorities, Kerik spoke with TODAY’s Matt Lauer about lessons learned. He said the plunge from police chief to prisoner allowed him to see numerous examples of why imposing mandatory minimum sentences doesn’t work. Instead of discouraging criminal behavior, it sets up inmates for failure, he said.

“The system is supposed to help them, not destroy them,” he said.

What Kerik is saying isn’t new, but I wonder if because a white man, a former law enforcement officer who admits he “threw people in jail and threw away the key,” more people will listen.

The issue of mass incarceration was brilliantly brought to light in Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, and the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, Inc, conducted a series of hearings in several states recently to hear about the problem and its collateral consequences, but due to the criminalization and objectification of  those who are incarcerated, which tend to disproportionately be young black men, few people, especially those in positions to help do something about it, listen.

Mandatory minimum sentencing, the “war on drugs,” and the “southern strategy” have all contributed to the huge numbers of people incarcerated today.  The privatization of prisons is also a huge factor in the vast numbers of people being thrown into jail. The object or purpose of the justice system, it seems, is not to “correct” but to control people and make a profit while doing it. In that respect, modern day prisons are little different than old-style plantations.  It is a new form of slavery, inmates and their families say.

Kerik was adamant in his new perspective gained from having been locked up. “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,” he said in the interview.

Prison and the need for prison reform is not a favorite subject for Americans.  The “tough on crime”  and “law and order” mantras that are a part of American political  discourse are responsible for the willingness of people to look away from the serious problems that have come with mass incarceration.  The fact that one in three African-American males are in prison is no issue for Americans who have been infected and affected by the criminalization of black males. The prevalent feeling seems to be that those who commit crimes lose their rights, including the right to be treated with respect and dignity.

Nobody really seems to care or be concerned about the fact that America imprisons more people than any of the other modern nations in the world. The conditions inside prisons is leading the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference to call the issue one of human rights violations, citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as justification and citing violations of the same.

Kerik said that it is impossible for a young man to be in a prison for 10 years for having five grams of cocaine and come out, ready to be integrated into society. Prison doesn’t prepare inmates for re-entry and society makes it difficult if not impossible for them to survive once they are released.

Had he not been thrown into prison, Kerik said, his perspective would never have changed.

It’s not a new thing in America that, until an issue affects white people is really isn’t an issue.  The “war on drugs” was okay and needed as long as everyone knew that it was “those people” who did drugs and therefore needed to be locked up. With the explosion, however, of prescription drug abuse, and the large numbers of white people being adversely affected by it, the conversation began to shift. Drug addiction began to be talked of as an “illness.”

With Kerik’s interview, coupled with Alexander’s book and the findings of the testimonies gathered by the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference, Inc., perhaps more people will look at the issue of mass incarceration, and work to change not only it, but the collateral consequences it has caused and continues to cause.

America cannot run all over the world trying to address human rights violations without addressing its own shortcomings.  America’s justice system has wreaked havoc on society, not improved it. Destroying the lives of people who make mistakes is not a good thing, not on any level. Black people have been saying that for a while; maybe now that Kerik is saying it, someone will begin to listen.

A candid observation …


3 thoughts on “Kerik Now Sees Issues with American Prison System

  1. i worked with kerik as a nyc police officer in manhattan’s 14th pct. aka midtown south.while we weren’t partners or ever worked a detail together, He quickly rose the ranks because of his army background and was also a warden in new jersey, (some county jail). He was well liked, as was I, the only difference being he isnt latino as I am. Therefore he had a huge advantage when it came to getting the best hours and details (jobs) within the precinct higher ups. I was a sergeant in the U.S. MARINES and had a great arrest record as well as activity. Just like Kerik.We did a few things that maybe weren’t done by the book, but we got alot of arrests (quality). He went on to many positions which finally got him scrutinized and Off to prison he went. I lost vacation time for making a robbery in progress arrest 200 feet away from my post. 4 days vacation lost. Eventually I was let go from the nypd for an off duty incident. Eventually I also went to prison, and was actually at riker’s while he was corrections commisioner. I do not think I can make a difference for those in prison for antiquated ,if not stupid and insensible minimum sentences. Hopefully, after 3 years in fed. prison, Bernie will become a voice for what I just mentioned. Hopefully he can start with Weldon Angelos, Convicted and sentenced to 55 yrs. for selling a small amount of marijuana while having weapons in his home. Never used or showed the weapons. They were found during a house search he consented to.

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