Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik spent three years behind bars, and that experience as a convicted felon highlighted problems with the U.S. criminal justice system that he’s hoping to change.
It also taught him how little he really knew about a system where he spent his career.
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“The unfortunate thing is you take these young men and women, you lock them up for years under these Draconian sentencing guidelines, and then you let them back into society," Kerik told PolicyMic
. "Do you absolutely think that they're going to be better people? Because ... if these are first-time offenders, and they've never been in the system, the only thing you've done for them is institutionalize them. The only thing you've taught them in reality is how to steal, cheat, lie, con, manipulate, gamble, and fight."
Kerik opened up about the “collateral damage” done when someone gets a felony conviction, including the impact on children and other family members. For him, it means that he’ll never work again in the only profession he’s ever pursued.
The high number of felony convictions — Kerik noted that even lying on a credit card application can be a felony — has shifted the criminal justice system.
“We have lost sight of criminal intent,” he told PolicyMic. “You have to have intended to commit a crime. In the federal system, criminal intent rarely exists.”
While saying he didn’t regret any arrests he made as a law enforcement officer, Kerik told PolicyMic that the system needs to change and he recommended three places to start: examining mandatory minimum sentencing; allowing the opportunity to clear one’s record, which would help minimize collateral damage; and getting rid of life sentences for white-collar crimes.
Kerik is starting by writing a book that will push for criminal justice reform. He wants to “at least create the debate they need to make the change,” he told PolicyMic. “You can’t fix something that you don’t know is broken.”
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