After a long career of putting folks behind bars, Bernard Kerik got to see the prison system from the other side of the bars after being convicted of eight felony charges, including lying to White House officials and tax fraud. While spending over three years in a Maryland prison, Kerik had a lot of time to think about the state of America’s criminal justice system, which by 2012 had put one out of every 108 Americans behind bars. “The only thing you’ve done for them is institutionalize them,” Kerik says of first-time offenders, “the only thing you’ve taught them in reality is how to steal, cheat, lie, con, manipulate, gamble and fight.”
Kerik feels that the three most important areas for reform are mandatory minimum sentencing, ending life sentences for non-violent crimes, and creating opportunities for felons to clear their record. “There are probably 50,000 collateral consequences of your felony,” Kerik notes, including losing one’s voting rights, ineligibility for public housing or food stamps, and discrimination by employers and landlords. Kerik claims that many political leaders have told him that he’s “absolutely right,” but that they are “scared to death” to back his ideas, for fear of being seen as soft on crime. Kerik has a new book in the works, which he hopes will “create the debate they need to make the change” to America’s broken prison system.