TODAY

TODAY   |  November 04, 2013

Ex-top cop Bernard Kerik: The prison system is flawed

In an exclusive interview with Matt Lauer, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik reflects on his three years in prison for ethics violations, saying his experiences have brought him to believe that the prison system is flawed.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> with a today exclusive with bernard kerik . the former new york city police commissioner is speaking about what he sees as the failure of the prison system and he joins us exclusively live this morning. good morning. it's nice to see you.

>> good morning.

>> you spoke out on friday after being out of the public eye for three or three and a half years and you talked about your time behind bars and that it opened your eyes. were you nervous about the response you would get to speaking out?

>> in a way. people look at me as one of the nation's top law enforcement officers or looked at me that way. for me to come out and say there's things wrong within the system there's people skeptical and they're concerned about that.

>> you have been hearing that over the weekend, haven't you?

>> the response has been crazy. major, major response.

>> let's listen to some of the things people are saying on twitter. respect for bernie kerik speaking against mandatory minimu minimums. you were raising the issue of our time. but there were other opinions. this one came from samantha zylks. kerik, really? a victim of the system . they're victims of their own personal choices. #consequences. how do you feel about that?

>> i don't consider myself a victim of the system . i think the system is flawed. it's not -- it's not about me being a victim of the system . i think the system is flawed. i think we -- the system is supposed to punish. it's not supposed to ruin personally, professional, financially. it's not supposed to detroy families and the punishment must fit the crime. i was in prison with commercial fishermen that caught too many fish that spent three years in prison and they're not going to be able to work in that industry for the rest of their lives. that's a life sentence . it's not about me being a victim. it's about a system that's broken.

>> the very thing that makes you perfectly qualified to talk about this, the fact that you've got this resume in law enforcement . you were nominated to run the department of homeland security and then three years in federal prison , the very thing that gives you this perspective, don't you think it might be what says he lost his right to speak out. i don't want to listen to him.

>> you don have to listen to me. congress has to act. the american people have to be educated. and that's one of the major problems. the american people don't see -- if you don't have personal discourse, if you haven't been a witness to it, you don't get it. you don't understand it.

>> how do we get here? i remember 9/11 and the imagines of you walking down at the world trade center and the president coming to down the next couple of days. you were the top cop in this city and a few years later you're serving time in a federal prison . how did it happen?

>> it happens and i think one of the things i'll speak out on in due time is how public officials, especially those in politics, those in law enforcement , there wiare things that you have to be aware of, that you have to do and sometimes things you have to keep track of that you don't realize.

>> does people in those positions, yourself included, feel above the law ?

>> i don't think you feel above the law -- i think you wind up in these positions. you don't focus on the right things. you don't pay attention to the ethical issues that you should. and it's a big problem. particularly when you are scrutinized at that time or later in a way that nobody really gets scrutinized.

>> you say these sentences become life sentences because they stick with you for the rest of your life. do you think you'll ever be able to make this a footnote in your life in the opinion of other people?

>> it may happen. they are life sentences . and forget me. it's not about me. you cannot sentence people and take their constitutional rights and their civil rights for eternity for a mistake they made at some point in their life. a 21-year-old united states marine , a sniper in the marine corps sells a pair of night vision goggles on ebay and gets 3 years in prison but for the rest of his life he is a convicted felon and can't do anything else. publicly, for the country, it's just horrible.

>> bernard kerik , former new york city police commissioner. good to have you here.

>> thank you.