Politicians who insist on mandatory sentencing laws that send low-level offenders to long prison terms are making inmates’ lives worse and “not thinking of the big picture,” says Bernard Kerik, former New York City police and correction commissioner, who served a prison sentence himself recently. Kerik, a self-described law and order Republican, says he has been lobbying members of Congress to support pending bills that would lower the growing federal prison population. The proposals have considerable bipartisan support in the Senate, but they are opposed by members described by Kerik as “scared to death to do their jobs because they fear being looked at as soft on crime.”
Kerik spoke yesterday in Washington, D.C., at the release of a report by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers on the “collateral damage” caused by arrests and convictions, making it more difficult for offenders to get jobs, housing and other benefits. He said he had changed his views on criminal-justice issues since his service in the law enforcement and corrections field, after seeing for himself what kinds of people end up in prison and how the experience affects them. He says he tells legislators and their aides that the longer inmates serve behind bars, “the worse they’re going to be,” with the exception of a few offenders who take the initiative to improve themselves. Kerik, 58, was nominated by President George W. Bush to head the U.S. Department of Homeland Security but later was indicted on various federal white-collar-crime charges and served more than three years in a federal prison in Cumberland, Md., starting in 2010.