Bernard Kerik to CPAC: Prison System Broken, Needs Reform

Sunday, 09 Mar 2014 10:30 AM

By Greg Richter

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Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik has seen the criminal justice system from both sides. He has helped send people to prison for long stretches, but he also has served three years for tax fraud and making false statements.

"I know the system, and I know it's broken," Kerik said Friday in a panel discussion on criminal justice reform at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

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Kerik said that when he entered federal prison, he expected to meet some very bad people. Instead, he found men who had received long sentences for non-violent, first-time drug offenses. One was in prison for selling a shark's tooth on eBay, and some were commercial fisherman who had caught above their limit.

"Did they do something wrong? Maybe," Kerik said, but added, "We are turning regulatory issues into crimes."

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And a felony conviction ends up being a life sentence even it's only a year and day, he said.

Pointing to a 19-year-old ex-military man who sold night vision goggles and got three years, Kerik noted, "If that guy lives to be 110 years old, he's going to be a convicted felon, and it's going to have an impact on him by 80 percent, 70 percent of his entire financial future, of his work ability, of anything he wants to do with his family."

Kerik taught classes while in prison, and told fellow inmates the importance of getting a GED. One man responded, "I am black, I am a convicted felon, and that GED isn't going to help me ever."

Kerik said he knows men who went to prison on white collar crimes who have bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees who can't find work.

"If they can't get hired, do you think that young man, that 21-year-old kid is ever going to get hired? Never. Never," he said.

Prisoners get no education of life-improvement skills, he said. Instead, an inmate "learns how to steal, cheat, lie manipulate, gamble and fight. … That's what prison is: It's a training ground for thuggery and criminality."

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