Former NYC Police Commissioner Stands Up To Senator On Prison Sentencing Reform

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Casey Harper Contributor
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Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik had a few choice words for Republican Arkansas Sen. [crscore]Tom Cotton[/crscore] Tuesday.

Kerik wrote and sent a letter to the senator in response to Cotton’s recent comments opposing the Sentencing Reform And Corrections Act, a bill that would reduce some mandatory sentences and reform prison practices. That letter has been obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The bill has been the focus of a bipartisan criminal justice reform effort, but has hit some roadblocks, including Cotton’s opposition. The senator told Politico that mandatory minimum reductions would apply retroactively to some, and thus let thousands of violent criminals back out on the streets. But supporters of the bill point out that convicts would only be released if a judge reviews the case and approves the release.

Kerik, who headed up the NYPD as well as the New York City Department of Correction, attributed the violent crime rate decline in recent years to the use COMPSTAT (COMPuters and policing STATistics) not tough mandatory minimums. The data allowed police to determine the high crime areas that needed more officers on patrol. That technology spread to departments around the country.

“The reality is that the federal mandatory minimum sentences established in the early 1980s, had and has, little if anything to do with the various state and city violent crime and murder statistics in America,” the letter reads. “In fact, New York has seen the most substantial crime reductions in the entire nation, and at the same time, it’s state prison population has been reduced by approximately 22 percent since 2000, and the current population at Rikers Island and New York City’s jail system is close to 10,000, down from about 22,000 while under my command from 1995 until August 21, 2000.”

Cotton called the bill a “massive social experiment in criminal leniency” Tuesday. Kerik also took issue with the term in a stinging sentence.

“Before I give you a few ideas on how I believe you and Congress could better the system, I must respond to one other thing: your description of the Senate bill as ‘a criminal leniency bill’ instead of a criminal justice reform bill,” Kerik says. “I must admit it makes for a catchy sound bite, and it’s a perfect line to instill fear in your constituents and those colleagues who fear that they may appear like they’re being soft on crime.”

Kerik acknowledged the high recidivism rate, but attributed it to how prisoners are treated, saying reforms need to create more training and programs for inmates. He said it is actually the longer sentences imposed by mandatory minimums that make things worse.

“It is because we send these people to prison demanding that they act like men and women, but treat them like children and animals,” Kerik wrote. “They are demeaned, demoralized, and degraded, and we replace whatever societal values they had with institutional ones.

“The longer anyone sits in prison, their chances for a successful transition back into society diminishes with each passing day,” he added.

Kerik urged Cotton to visit a prison where nonviolent offenders are held for lengthy sentences, “I’m confident you’ll meet men that fall into that category of those that could be released under the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, but you will also notice something else,” Kerik wrote. “There is no fence around the compound, or no locks on the doors. There’s no violence… just a bunch of guys sitting around doing nothing, but just wasting away.”

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