It would seem that after decades of progressives trying to point out the fact that the prison system isn’t set up to actually rehabilitate people, someone who once supported it has now seen the light. Bernard Kerik was once the Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, but was sentenced to four years in prison for various forms of corruption, including tax evasion and lying to federal officials. After spending three years behind bars and one year under house arrest, he is now speaking out against the system that he once vehemently defended.
During a recent interview on The Today Show he briefly discussed his experiences while in prison and illustrated the absurdity of mandatory minimum drug sentences by producing a nickel and explaining that he met people in the prison who had only an amount of cocaine on them equal to the weight of that nickel when they were arrested, yet they were automatically sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Some are incredulous, preferring to believe that Kerik has selfish motives, but the light he is shining on the broken justice system far outweighs whatever personal gain he may get from becoming an advocate.
Opposing Views gets to the meat of the matter when they quote Kerik as saying:
“Anybody that thinks that you can take these young black men out of Baltimore and D.C., give them a ten-year sentence for five grams of cocaine, and then believe that they’re going to return to society a better person ten years from now, when you give them no life improvement skills, when you give them no real rehabilitation. That is not benefiting society.”
Conservatives continue to falsely believe that harshly punishing criminals will somehow reduce crime, but they are wrong for two reasons.
The first reason is that crimes are committed from emotion, and no amount of punishment will stop all crimes from occurring.
The second reason they’re wrong is because the system is designed to hold people down, not lift them up. When a man or woman leaves prison they are left with very few options. Many employers will not hire them, and unless they have a supportive family to live with, many others end up without a home. Add to this the trauma and stress caused by being in prison and the scars they leave, and it isn’t surprising that more than half of all men released from prison end up back in jail. Though considering how much the private jail taskmasters love all those bodies filling their overcrowded prisons, it isn’t surprising that Republicans continue to support the system as it is.
Progress is not smooth, it is a slow and jerking path towards a better world, and hopefully Kerik’s revelation that, “If the American people and members of Congress saw what I saw, there would be anger, there would be outrage, and there would be change, because nobody would stand for it,” can push the cause forward. As someone once connected to the very people whose opinions need to change, perhaps he can get through to enough of them to create another large step forward.
Watch the Today Show interview with Kerik here: