This article by former New York City Police Commissioner and Right on Crime Signatory, Bernard Kerik, originally appeared in Newsmax February 14th, 2018.
Until about four years ago, criminal justice and prison reform was an issue that was primarily talked about in Washington, D.C., by the Democratic Party and those on the left.
As America began filling its prisons around the country, state after state began realizing that over-criminalization and mass incarceration was unsustainable financially, and that it is devastating to the American workforce and to families, especially young children.
To address the financial problems first, state governments began looking at alternatives to incarceration, recidivism-reducing programs and training, and reentry assistance and programs to help former offenders transition from prison to work, and back into their communities. The results in many states were surprising, with law and order states like Texas leading the way for change — reducing their prison population enough to close eight state prisons, reducing recidivism by rates not seen around the country, while also reducing their overall crime rates.
With the help of advocacy groups like Right on Crime, The Texas Public Policy Foundation, and the Koch Institute, other states are now reaping the same rewards as Texas, and today they have a new and unlikely champion in their corner, President Donald Trump.
During his recent State of the Union address, President Trump spoke of the urgency of prison reform, and just a few days ago talked about the high recidivism rates of the 650,000 Americans that are released from prison every year.
Although he was clear that he is all about law and order, he realizes for our country’s sake, these men and women returning to their communities need to do so with life skills and training that can get them back into the American workforce or they are doomed for failure.
As someone that has run two of the largest law enforcement organizations in this country with unparalleled successes and achievements, and also witnessed the flaws and failures of the U.S. criminal justice and prison system, for the first time in many years I honestly believe that with President Trump leading the charge through his son-in-law Jared Kushner, there is definitely a chance for real change.
Prison is for bad people that do bad things, and to protect society from the worst of the worst, but we have to stop using prison to hold our mentally ill, and those with addiction problems. They need real treatment, not prison. We need to stop criminalizing regulatory, civil, and administrative violations and turning people into convicted felons, which comes with severely negative collateral consequences until the day they die.
Without real criminal justice and prison reforms, and reentry programs, we are turning tens of millions of Americans into a permanent underclass of American citizens whose civil and constitutional rights are eternally diminished. In other words, for as long as they live they will never again be a fully empowered citizen because of their status, “convicted felon.”
Back in October, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley reintroduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 to recalibrate prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, target violent and career criminals, and save taxpayer dollars. It’s a great start, but there’s plenty more that must be done if we’re talking legislation, and there is also plenty that can be done without legislation, especially in the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons, with the right direction, leadership, management, and accountability.
For the first time in close to five years, I feel there is a good chance that progress can be made in ways that people in Washington have talked about for years.
Whether you like President Trump or not, this is an issue where his “get stuff done” attitude could really pay off in ways no one ever expected.