Kerik: End Our Infatuation With Incarceration

Thursday, 22 May 2014 07:00 PM

By Jason Devaney

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Former New York Police Department commissioner Bernard Kerik is calling for changes to the nation's criminal justice system in an op-ed published Thursday.

Kerik, who led the NYPD from 2000-2001 before a brief stint leading the provisional government in Iraq to reconstitute the Iraqi Interior Ministry in 2003, writes in The Hill  that the system needs to be overhauled to allow for more prisoners' rights.

"On both the federal and the state levels of government, legislative action is needed to end the country’s infatuation with incarceration," Kerik writes in the story, which was co-authored by National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers executive director Norman L. Reimer.

"We should eliminate mandatory minimums because they unnecessarily restrict judicial discretion, apply a cookie cutter approach to a process that should focus on the unique circumstances of the individual offender, and then imbue prosecutors with a bludgeon to extract guilty pleas from the accused, even those who are innocent.

"Additionally, we should provide significant credit for good time and should couple eligibility for good time with vocational and educational training for inmates so that they can leave prison with the skills necessary to become productive members of society."

Kerik had his own legal troubles in the last decade, stemming from tax violations and also making false statements to the government during the background investigation for his appointment to be the Secretary of Homeland Security in 2004 — an appointment from which he withdrew after he admitted failing to pay payroll taxes for his children's nanny. He eventually served more than three years in federal prison and was released in May 2013.

Kerik's op-ed was in response to recent efforts by the government and private organizations  to help qualified federal prisoners be granted clemency. The Clemency Project 2014 provides new criteria for judges to consider when they are tasked with ruling on a clemency petition.

But Kerik said more is needed to change the system.

"We must also take steps to ensure that those who have paid their debt have a meaningful opportunity to become productive members of society," Kerik writes. "We must tear down the barriers that confront those with a criminal record, often making it impossible for individuals with criminal records to obtain housing, jobs and access to opportunity.

"It is time to devote resources to rehabilitating instead of handcuffing, and to building communities instead of prisons. Along with the clemency petitions, the Justice Department must work with advocacy groups to help reintegrate those who are released back into society. They will need jobs and opportunity. And to achieve that, those who have emerged from the criminal justice system need to have fundamental civil rights restored. Clemency Project 2014 offers the hope of early release for some. But we must match that initiative with an equal commitment to restore rights and status to those who have paid their debt to society."

Kerik is also the founder and CEO of The Kerik Group, a private organization that specializes in threat assessment, training, and other security services to governments and corporations.

“This new clemency program is only a token acknowledgement that a problem exists, Kerik writes. "Even if the president grants a significant number of commutations, it will remain an incomplete and inadequate solution."

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