Former New York City police chief calls for changes to incarceration


Standing along with Travis County deputies and Texas NAACP leaders Monday, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik called for changes to the criminal justice system, pointing to what he described as flawed policies like mandatory minimum sentences and the lack of transitional programs available for inmates while serving time.

“We live in a country today where a felony is a lifetime conviction with collateral consequences that last until the day you die. That’s got to stop,” Kerik said. “If you do your time, you should be given your civil and constitutional rights back. We are creating permanent underclass American citizens by not doing that.”

Kerik, who is also the founder of the nonprofit American Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform, developed many of his views on criminal justice policies during both his time working as a commissioner and as a prisoner, when he served three years of a four-year sentence in federal prison for charges including criminal conspiracy and tax fraud.

While in prison, he met young men who were serving decades for first-time offenses and saw criminal justice problems firsthand, he said.

“I came to realize very quickly that our sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimums are draconian to say the least,” he said.

Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, standing with Kerik at a press conference Monday at the Travis County Correctional Complex, said the United States imprisons too many people for too long and at too great a cost.

“The American criminal justice system is not functioning as it should,” he said. “It is not in the interest of public safety.”

Kerik applauded Hamilton’s work in improving programs for inmates and said Texas lawmakers and NAACP leaders’ ability to work together to change policies gives him hope for the rest of the nation.

“If they can do that, then every state in the country should be doing it,” Kerik said. “I think every state and every prison administration in this country should be looking at what Sheriff Hamilton is doing here.”

Despite the strides Texas has made, Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder said counties across the state need to do more work, particularly investing more money into programs for inmates.

“Public safety is not all about having more officers,” Linder said. “It’s also about investing in the inmate population.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

What are you most curious about: Drug cartels, traffic lights or weirdos?
What are you most curious about: Drug cartels, traffic lights or weirdos?

It’s time to vote! We’ve sifted through hundreds of reader questions submitted to our Austin Answered project to pick the finalists for this voting round, and now we want to know which question you’d like for one of our reporters to answer. What are you most curious about? Got your own question? Hit us up at statesman.com/austinanswered...
Residents sue Central Health over funding of UT Dell Medical School
Residents sue Central Health over funding of UT Dell Medical School

After five years of arguing that the Travis County health district’s voter-approved contributions of taxpayer money to the University of Texas’ Dell Medical School are unlawful, activists have finally put the issue into the hands of a Travis County state judge. Travis County voters agreed in 2012 to raise Central Health’s property...
Judge: Stop blocking abortion for teen immigrant in Texas
Judge: Stop blocking abortion for teen immigrant in Texas

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered Trump administration officials to stop blocking a pregnant 17-year-old immigrant from having an abortion while she’s being detained in Texas after crossing the Mexican border without authorization. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan of Washington, D.C., ordered administration officials to allow the teenager...
Court: Examine if Austin crime lab botched death penalty evidence
Court: Examine if Austin crime lab botched death penalty evidence

The state’s highest criminal court on Wednesday ordered a closer examination of death row inmate Areli Escobar’s claims that shoddy work by the Austin police crime lab compromised evidence in his case. Escobar is seeking to have his conviction overturned, and a new trial ordered, after a Travis County jury sentenced him to death in the...
Houston school district apologizes for altering homecoming queen's photo
Houston school district apologizes for altering homecoming queen's photo

When Ebony Smith was awarded the homecoming queen honors last week at a Houston-area school, she posed for the photo in a purple-jeweled crown nestled on her purple-dyed hair. The brightly colored hair is a dress code violation at North Shore Senior High School in Galena Park, just east of Houston, but how the school handled it caught everyone off...
More Stories