Dear Senator Tom Cotton,
I’ve recently read of your opposition to the First Step Act, the most meaningful piece of evidence-based federal criminal justice reform that our country has seen in at least a decade. It would be an understatement to say that I am disappointed.
You claim that you are concerned about safety, but it is evident that you are misleading the American public and intentionally misrepresenting the facts. In many states, including the most conservative ones, reforms like the First Step Act have led to reduced rates of recidivism and lower crime rates overall.
Unlike the federal system, of which roughly half of the prison population is incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes, state systems are the ones that process violent criminals at higher rates. By alleviating the pressure on the federal criminal justice system to pursue, convict, and incarcerate non-violent criminals, federal law enforcement can instead focus on dangerous cartels and violent criminals.
Instead of learning how positive this reform can be for your stated goal, you have instead engaged in dishonest tactics meant to demonize a bill you must know nothing about. I have seen you trying to frighten the public by only half explaining the First Step Act and pointing out the various crimes in the U.S. criminal code for which an individual may be considered for a halfway house or home confinement. You can rattle off as many federal crimes you want and single them out for added punishment, but the fact remains that the legislation is built to protect the public from future crimes.
The use of earned time credits to transfer prisoners from a prison cell to a halfway house or home confinement can only occur if the individual is no longer at high risk of committing a crime. This would mean that the individual is getting better from prison programming, not just sitting around turning into a monstrous thug, as you would rather them do.
The reality is, for an inmate to be granted an incentivized good time recommendation, that inmate would have to successfully apply, be accepted and complete a recidivism reducing program, which could then result in a recommendation for halfway house, and/or home confinement, which would allow that offender to obtain successful employment upon release, giving him or her a real second chance at life.
However, there is another reason why that incentivized good time program is so important that no one has mentioned. Incentivized good time, tied to programing and good behavior, will have a substantial impact on reducing inmate on inmate, and inmate on staff, violence, as well as minor institutional infractions, thus creating safer, cleaner and more efficient facilities. This means safer prisons for inmates and staff alike.
Having run the largest police department in the United States — the NYPD, and one of the largest jail systems — New York City Correction, including Rikers Island, with 133,000 annual inmate admissions, I’ve been credited with historic and unparalleled successes and achievements in jail and prison management, by many. I created a performance based measurement and accountability system that was a finalist in Harvard University’s Innovations in American Government award program.
I know what works, and what doesn’t: The First Step Act, implemented properly, will reduce violence and minor infractions in the prison system; it will reduce recidivism, reduce prison overcrowding; and make communities safer, by having offenders leave prison for real jobs, instead of having to revert to crime.
As you know, I have also seen the inner workings of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for three years and eleven days. I have witnessed its flaws and failures, first hand, so I have a unique and one-of-a-kind perspective. This perspective invites me to raise serious questions as to how and why so many U.S. legislators like yourself have intentionally ignored the glaring flaws within our criminal justice system, and the lack of management and accountability within the BOP.
In reading your misleading and outright false comments and Twitter messages, I can only guess at your reasoning and true intent, but your answer to prison reform is to do absolutely nothing, and that is no longer acceptable.
It is not acceptable to President Donald J. Trump, who called for this action upon getting elected and has publicly supported the bill; not by those of us that know better; not by the black communities that the First Step Act could benefit greatly; and not by the American people whose hard-earned taxpayer dollars have been wasted on mass incarceration, and has embarrassingly earned us the label of being #1 in the world in imprisoning our own citizens.
BERNARD B. KERIK
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.
The writer is author of the following: "The Grave Above the Grave," "From Jailer to Jailed," and "The Lost Son, A Life in Pursuit of Justice."
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