Monday, March 12, 2012


The Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) recently circulated a $250 million proposal to prison officials in 48 states, offering to buy state prison facilities in exchange for various considerations, including a controversial guarantee that the state governments would then have to maintain a 90% occupancy rate for at least 20 years.

As someone who once ran two of the largest law enforcement organizations in the United States - the NYPD and the New York City Department of Correction, including Rikers Island -and is now incarcerated in the federal prison system, I can tell you that this proposal is not only dangerous, but raises serious questions about the integrity and credibility of any company that would propose such a ridiculous idea.

For more than two decades, constitutional scholars, former Attorneys General, federal and state judges, and criminal defense bars have been calling for alternatives to incarceration, revised sentencing guidelines, and a repeal of mandatory minimums. State and federal prison systems could save billions by aggressively addressing these issues, but, at the risk of appearing soft on crime, many government leaders instead choose to skirt the issue.

Now, along comes a private company that says, in essence, "I'll buy your prisons to put some cash in your pocket, for which you will pay me an annual fee per inmate, but you must also guarantee that you will keep those prisons filled to 90% of capacity for the next 20 years."

Any logical person must ask, What happens if you drop below 90% capacity? How much does it then cost the state, and what are the penalties for doing so?

A more important question is this: To what extent will a state go to avoid those penalties?

Will state prosecutors be urged to maximize sentences and use their prosecutorial discretion in unfair ways? Will this mean the elimination of alternatives to incarceration, such as probationary sentences, community service and other life improvement programs that may help reduce recidivism? Will probation and parole officers be forced to violate the rights of former offenders, returning them to prison simply to ensure maximum prison capacity? Will prison officials be forced to overly punish inmates in order to reduce their good time incentives, thereby keeping them in the facilities longer? These are just a few of the many questions that come to mind and show how ludicrous this proposal from CCA actually is.

As a former prison adminstrator, I can say this without reservation: No one in his right mind would agree to guarantee a 90% rate of capacity in a prison facility over a 20 year period, unless he intended to do everything in his power to keep that facility full, which could only be done by violating the Constitution in some way. That threatens the very foundation of our democracy.

If state prison administrators need to cut costs, I suggest they follow the advice of Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, former Attorneys General Richard Thornburgh and Edwin Meese III, and others, by addressing the sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimums.

First time, non-violent offenders should be considered for alternatives to incarceration, where they receive community service, probationary sentences, and home confinement, which would give them the ability to work, pay taxes and take care of their families. This approach allows them to be punished while still being able to give back to society and saves American taxpayers billions of dollars.

The enhancement of good time incentives for inmates displaying good behavior could be another enormous cost savings, and would be a blessing for prison administrators, by reducing inmate-on-inmate violence and giving facility commanders much more control over inmates in their custody. Inmates who follow the rules get to return to their families sooner, and inmates who misbehave, don't. The cost savings from simply enhancing good time incentives could also be in the billions.

There are endless ways to reduce prison budgets, while still administering punishment, deterring those who need it, and protecting society from dangerous individuals. State legislators must get smart on crime and realize that there is an extremely high number of inmates in state prison systems who are not low life miscreants and could be better held accountable for their misdeeds by alternatives to incarceration.

With creative management, accountability, and reforms, we can reduce criminal justice spending in prisons, without trampling on the Constitution of the United States or putting Americans at greater risk.

Promising to keep prisons loaded to 90% capacity over 20 years for a quick buck is irresponsible, dangerous, and un-American.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012


For the past several weeks, politicians, members of the media, and community activists have made Raymond Kelly, New York City's Police Commissioner, the target of scathing criticism over the NYPD's intelligence and surveillance operations that have principally focused on publicly accessed information relating to Muslims and Muslim communities. He's been accused of racial profiling and infringing on the privacy rights of the general public, and in a strange way, he has been made out to be some sort of monster for doing his job.

Based on all reports, like it or not, Kelly is operating within the law and doing so for good reason. No one knows the ramifications of failed intelligence--or not enough intelligence--better than the men and women of the NYPD. They do not have to be reminded that New York City continues to be a primary target for members of Al-Qaeda and radical Islamic extremists.

The FBI, CIA and Department of Homeland Security are working around the clock to protect our country and our borders. But let's not forget, New York City is in a league of its own. Ray Kelly may get some help from the federal government, but at the end of the day, the safety and security of New York City is his responsibility. The buck stops with him. If, God forbid, things go bad, those same critics today would be calling for his head. This is wrong...dead wrong!

Let Ray Kelly do his job and protect the people of New York. For those who have difficulty letting him do so, take a walk down Memory Lane dating back to September 11, 2001. Reflect on every close call that we've had since, every thwarted attack on our city. Intelligence and surveillance often saves day. Unless or until Ray Kelly does something outside the law, let him do his job to protect the people of New York.

We will all be a lot better off for it.
Bernard B. Kerik