As I watched Alice Marie Johnson jump for joy as she was released from a federal lock up in Alabama after her life sentence was commuted by President Donald J. Trump, I was overcome with hope that this is the beginning of a movement that should have started long ago.
Johnson was convicted in 1996 for cocaine distribution and money laundering. It was a non-violent crime and first time offense, but her sentence equaled that reserved for murderers, rapists, and pedophiles.
Luckily Johnson caught the eye of Kim Kardashian, who used her high profile celebrity to get to the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner.
He arranged a meeting with the president that resulted in Johnson’s commutation after serving 21 years.
Like most Americans, I’m sure the president thinks that prisons are full of bad people who did bad things, and that society must be protected from them.
But he would be surprised to learn that there are tens of thousands of first time, non-violent drug and white collar offenders languishing in federal cells.
Some pleaded guilty to things they never did after being threatened by prosecutors, or not having the money to pay for their defense.
Many did not need to be imprisoned to pay for, or learn from, their mistakes. They had already had their lives destroyed in the court of public opinion, lost their jobs and seen their families devasted.
To make matters worse, they were then sent to prison, where they learned how to live like animals, and their children had to live without a parent.
To be clear: I am not talking about murderers, rapists, child molesters, or drug dealers. I’m talking about U.S. citizens who pose no threat to the safety and security of our society.
I’m sure the president’s view of our criminal justice system has changed, as did mine, since he was targeted by overzealous prosecutors who thrive on their abusive power and whose belief that they are doing God’s work, blinds them from the personal, financial, and professional destruction of their targets.
Unfortunately, unless you have been through it, you may never understand that our criminal justice system is flawed in ways that are destroying America.
Prosecutors are increasingly abusing their power; Americans that violate some sort of civil, regulatory, or ethical rule are being charged criminally and turned in to convicted felons and destroyed forever because it looks better on some prosecutor’s performance evaluation and enhances his or her ability to run for public office.
As a consequence, there are people rotting away in correctional facilities who should not be there — contradicting what our Founding Fathers had in mind when that wrote that the punishment must fit the crime.
I’m hoping that Johnson’s commutation will be an eye opener for the president and also for every member of Congress which has failed to address this problem for decades.
Prior to the 2016 elections, I wrote that the next president, whoever that would be, should make criminal justice and prison reform, one of their top five domestic agenda items, because of its importance to our country.
When President Trump was elected, I was mocked, and his critics on both sides of the aisle said it would never happen.
I hope that he is about to prove them all wrong.
As New York City’s 40th Police Commissioner, Bernard Kerik was in command of the NYPD on September 11, 2001, and responsible for the city’s response, rescue, recovery, and the investigative efforts of the most substantial terror attack in world history. His 35-year career has been recognized in more than 100 awards for meritorious and heroic service, including a presidential commendation for heroism by President Ronald Reagan, two Distinguished Service Awards from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, The Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and an appointment as Honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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