By Jim Meyers
As New York City police commissioner, Bernard Kerik was ultimately responsible for the incarceration of many criminals.
Now that he has seen the prison system from the inside, having served three years behind bars, he has a new appraisal of the U.S. penal system: “insane.”
In his first interview since his release from prison, where he served time for tax evasion and lying to federal authorities, Kerik told NBC’s Matt Lauer on the Today show Friday: “No one in the history of our country has ever been in the system with my background.
“You have to be on the other side of the bars. You have to see what it’s like to be a victim of the system. There’s no way to do that from the other side.
“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.”
Kerik’s main beef is with mandatory minimum sentences. He served his time with non-violent inmates, many of them first-time offenders who received disproportionate sentences for their crimes.
Kerik handed Lauer a nickel during his interview to demonstrate the amount of cocaine that sends an offender to jail.
“I was with men sentenced to 10 years in prison for five grams of cocaine,” he said. “That’s insane. That’s insane.”
He went on to say: “Anybody that thinks you can take these young black men out of Baltimore and D.C., give them a 10-year sentence for five grams of cocaine, and then believe that they’re going to return to society a better person 10 years from now, when you give them no life improvement skills, when you give them no real rehabilitation? That is not benefitting society.”
Mandatory sentences do not discourage criminal behavior, but rather sets up inmates for failure, Kerik maintained.
“The system is supposed to help them, not destroy them,” he said.
Commissioner Kerik rose to national prominence following the 9/11 attacks in New York, and in 2004, President George W. Bush nominated him to head the Department of Homeland Security.
Kerik soon withdrew his name from consideration, citing the past employment of an illegal immigrant as a nanny. He later admitted accepting $165,000 worth of free renovations to his apartment from a construction company. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to eight counts, including tax evasion and lying to the White House, and was sentenced to four years in jail.
Kerik was released after three years at a federal prison in Cumberland, Md., and served the remainder of his term under home confinement, which ended last month.
He will continue his interview with Lauer on Monday’s Today show.