Meet the Press   |  November 03, 2013

U.S. incarceration policy: What lies ahead

Matt Lauer interviews former NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik about his change of heart on mandatory minimum prison sentences and other reforms to the prison system.

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

>>> has 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prisoners. according to a recent poll, a majority of americans believe too many people are in prison in the u.s., spending too much money to lock them up. this week there was something introduced to the house of representatives , cutting down on non- drug crimes . we conducted an exclusive interview with bob kerry , nominated by president bush to run the department of homeland security . in 2009 he pled guilty to lying to white house officials and to tax fraud. carrick served two years in jail. he explains now why he is an e evangelist of sorts on minimum sentencing.

>> talk to us about how your perspective of federal prison changed.

>> matt, i've been in law enforcement my entire career. i stood in a courtroom with no compassion and sent people to prison for 10 years, 20 years, 30 years and life. i think what stunned me the most about walking into cumberland was that i was then housed with men that were doing those same sentences that were there for first-time, non-violent drug offenses.

>> at the core of your argument here is that these minimum mandatory federal sentences have not doing what they intended to do.

>> no. you know what? when i came into the system, i didn't realize -- it's a nickel. hold it. feel the weight of it? feel it?

>> yeah.

>> i had no idea that for 5 grams of cocaine, which is what that nickel weighs, 5 grams, you could be sentenced to 10 years in prison. i was with men sentenced to 10 years in prison for 5 grams of cocaine. that's insane. that's insane.

>> so what do we do? do you want to throw out the minimum mandatories?

>> i think the minimum mandatories have to be addressed. i think we have to have real life improvement programs. you have to mandate discipline, education, life improvement skills, mandate it. and you know what, matt? if they do what you want them to do, get rid of the felony conviction.

>> take it off their record.

>> get it off their record. because they're doomed to failure if you don't.

>> put yourself in the position of a member of congress who is facing reelection, though. how does that person go out and not get painted as soft on crime by wanting to do away with some of these things?

>> you know what, i say they have to grow. they have to get the courage --

>> you can say what you want to say.

>> they just have to get the courage to do their job. that's what they have to do. don't be afraid of looking soft on crime. their answer to looking soft on crime is to do nothing. that is not the answer. that's stupid on crime.

>> but do you think, as people start to have this debate about what to go forward, people can put the fact that you are now a convicted felon aside and look at that unique experience you bring?

>> you know what, you don't want to listen to me, don't listen to me. go look at it yourself. if the american people and members of congress saw what i saw, there would be anger, there would be outrage, and there would be change. because nobody would stand for it.

>> he may be a flawed messenger, david axelrod . is there political will to take on something this fundamental?

>> i think there is growing interest. you see rand paul, the republican party , the president and others talking about this issue. our prisons are overcrowded, they're busted at the seams and we're sending people, as he said, to prison when we should send them to programs where they can heal themselves instead of them becoming hardened criminals.

>> it makes no sense for america economically and for those people coming out of prison. what stunned me about that interview is that he didn't know this. here's someone in charge of enforcement, new york city 's top cop, and he