Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik on Thursday called on the House of Representatives to change laws that punish convicted felons after their prisons sentences are served — and whose consequences, Kerik says, "will last until the day I die."
Kerik, a decorated U.S. Army veteran and 35-year law enforcement professional, spoke to a forum at the House Judiciary Committee in Washington. His remarks and those of three other former felons followed a session of the Overcriminalization Task Force of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.
As a result of a guilty plea in 2010 on charges largely related to nonpayment of payroll taxes for a nanny, Kerik served three years and eleven days in a federal minimum-security prison camp and another five months of home incarceration.
But the former lawman added that once his sentence was served, he learned that "a felony conviction carries lifelong consequences, no matter how long one's prison stay actually is."
Kerik went on to spell out the "collateral consequences" of being found guilty of a first-time felony offense involving no gun play or sexual offense.
"Would it bother you to be told by your children's school that you could not chaperone them on a class trip or school event because you are a convicted felon?" he asked. "I know good and decent men and great fathers that it has happened to. They've also been denied the right to coach their child's sports team — soccer, baseball, and football.
"Imagine opening your mail to find a notification from your insurance carrier that your homeowner's policy was being canceled due to your conviction. And also receiving written notice from the U.S. Government's Contracting Office that you are no longer eligible for government work, can never again get a security clearance, and can't even consult with the government through a [Department of Defense] contractor, for example."
Kerik cited other consequences for felons upon release, including denial of another life insurance policy if the existing one lapses ("a policy you, like me, may have had for more than 10 years"), denial of permission to head a nonprofit (Kerik had previously been a Trustee of the Twin Towers Fund, which distributed more than $216 million to families of services workers killed on 9/11), the near-impossibility of renting an apartment, and the inability to obtain Small Business Administration loans.
"In many states, you can forget about obtaining a real estate license, barber's license, EMT certification, law license, or CPA certification," he added. "In fact, in just about any job regulated by the federal government, a convicted felon should not apply. Surprisingly, do you know if you are convicted of a felony, you cannot be a garbage collector in many cities around the country?"
In terms of the cost of his three-year incarceration, Kerik said it involves not just the official cost of maintaining a federal prisoner, but also his inability to find work upon release.
"The cost to the American taxpayer was in the millions because I was not working, paying taxes, supporting my family, putting money into the economy, and there are thousands of others like me," he said.
In calling on Congress to change the laws that work against freed nonviolent felons "unjustly punished by this system," Kerik was joined by others with similar experiences.
Piper Kerman, author of the best-selling memoir "Orange is the New Black
" — which was the basis of the hit Netflix series of the same name — told Newsmax how her home state of New York does permit former felons to vote and has overturned many of the barriers they face upon release.
"But there is a significant disconnect between [New York] and the federal level in terms of this," said Kerman, who spent 13 months in the federal prison in Danbury, Conn., following a felony conviction, "The only people who seem to make a successful re-entry from prison are politicians."
Lamont Carey, who spent time in federal, state, and District of Columbia prisons for attempted murder and drug-related crime, told Newsmax how he has since rebuilt his life with religious faith and launched his own limited partnership.
"But the laws affected me," he said, citing his denial of permission to accompany his son on a school field trip and being forced to stay with his mother after being denied a rental property.
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