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 …


Not Sorry for Sandusky

Main entrance of Old Main, at Penn State Unive...
Main entrance of Old Main, at Penn State University, University Park, Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jerry Sandusky is on suicide watch, and I find that I am just not feeling sorry for him.

In fact, I am angry at him, and I find that I am angry at Penn State, for apparently being quiet about Sandusky’s alleged sexual activities with young boys. I find that I am as angry at Penn State as I have been at the Roman Catholic Church‘s hierarchy for protecting priests accused of sexually violating children, primarily young boys.

I suppose Penn State’s hierarchy kept quiet because they wanted to protect their beloved football program. I love football; I love Penn State’s team, and I loved Joe Paterno…but football should never have been more important than protecting children.

The whole issue of sexual crimes, and what institutions do when such charges come to the surface, is a critical one. Institutions, it seems, are more interested in protecting their institutions than they are in protecting victims of sex crimes, and because of that, are prone to keep silent when the possibility of such a crime has occurred within their walls.

Talking with a friend of mine this weekend, I learned that sex crimes, or sexual impropriety are really common in churches. The tendency, my friend said, is for churches to keep silent. It is the worse thing a church could do.

“What happens is when it comes out that there’s been a problem with a sexual predator and one child, there usually are more children involved,” she said. “It blows up. Churches have destroyed by instances of sexual violations of children.”

What bothers me most in the Sandusky case is that Sandusky didn’t “look” like a bad guy, certainly not a guy who could or would violate children. He looked like he could be anyone’s grandfather…and he had an organization he founded to help kids at risk!  To have violated their trust makes me sad and sick, but Penn State’s “looking the other way” bothers me, too.

In the conversation I had with the same friend this weekend, I wondered out loud if people who commit sexual crimes are sick, or are they evil? Or…are some sicknesses in fact evil?

Neither one of us had an answer for that question, but I asked because maybe there needs to be research, if sexual impropriety is a sickness, on how to treat it early on so that people will not grow into sexual predators. Sick children grow into sick adults …

I don’t know that there is a treatment for evil. I am not even sure if I am clear on what evil is. So many behaviors could fit into that category.

If Sandusky is sick, I am sorry nobody ever pegged it, but I just cannot feel sorry for him. No, I don’t want him to commit suicide, but the fact that he is despondent is not moving me. I keep thinking of all those boys whose lives were forever altered by what he is accused of doing…

And as far as Penn State goes, if they knew and were silent about it, they should have to answer for it in such a way that nobody ever does anything like Sandusky supposedly did and think he or she will get away with it. If their silence was driven by a desire to protect their football program, maybe they ought to be made to sit out a couple of seasons, and get a good policy in place on what the university will do should such a situation ever develop again.

I read that the investigation against Sandusky is not yet complete, that there could be other charges against him. I’m not surprised. After all, he doesn’t look like a bad guy; he looks like he could be anybody’s grandfather.

That’s part of what makes him and other predators so dangerous. They fit in…they don’t stand out.

A candid observation