Bernie Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner turned convicted felon, gave his first interview last week since being released from federal prison earlier this year, and now he's launching a campaign against what he calls "flawed" sentencing guidelines.
Kerik, a former nominee for Homeland Security secretary who helped New York City navigate through 9/11, pleaded guilty in 2009 to eight counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and lying to the Internal Revenue Service. He was sentenced to four years in federal prison, but was released in May after serving more than three.
Now Kerik, 58, is speaking out about the minimum sentencing guidelines for nonviolent offenders, saying that the harsh punishments often ruin people's lives.
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"I think the system is flawed. I think the system is supposed to punish. It’s not supposed to annihilate personally, professionally, financially," Kerik told Matt Lauer Friday in the first of a two-part interview with "Today."
The second segment aired Monday.
"It's not supposed to destroy families. The punishment must fit the crime. I was in prison with commercial fisherman that caught too many fish that spent three years in prison. Their licenses were removed. They're not going to be able to work in that industry for the rest of their lives. That’s a life sentence."
At one point, Kerik handed Lauer a nickel to demonstrate the amount of cocaine that sends an offender to prison.
"I was with men sentenced to 10 years in prison for five grams of cocaine. That's insane. That's insane," he said.
Lauer then challenged Kerik, telling him that people listening are probably thinking, "Yeah, it's tough. But Bernie Kerik and others broke the law. That's what you get."
"Let me say this clearly," Kerik responded, "bad people who do bad things belong in prison. Some for long periods of time; some forever. However, good people who make mistakes can be punished with alternative sentences — fines, home detention, probation, and community service. People who, for example, catch too many fish or sell a whale’s tooth on eBay or exaggerate their income on a mortgage application can be punished without prison."
Many people agreed with Kerik's views on the minimum sentencing guidelines, and spoke out in support of him on Twitter.
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