Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee applauds Attorney General’s smart approach to the criminal justice system
Washington, DC – Today, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, released the following statement regarding today’s decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level nonviolent drug offenders:
“Today I applaud the Attorney General’s decision to no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentences for certain low-level nonviolent drug offenders. Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it. Our reliance on mandatory minimums has been a great mistake. I am not convinced it has reduced crime, but I am convinced it has imprisoned people, particularly non-violent offenders, for far longer than is just or beneficial. It is time for us to let judges go back to acting as judges and making decisions based on the individual facts before them.
“We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and rehabilitate – not merely to convict, warehouse and forget. Clearly, these new strategies can work. They have attracted overwhelming, bipartisan support in red states as well as blue states. And it is past time for others to take notice. I have introduced H.R. 62, the “Federal Prison Bureau Nonviolent Offender Relief Act of 2013”; this is a bill that I have introduced for at least 5 congressional sessions. This legislation amends the federal criminal code to direct the Bureau of Prisons, pursuant to a good time policy, to release a prisoner who has served one half or more of his or her term of imprisonment if that prisoner: (1) has attained age 45; (2) has never been convicted of a crime of violence; and (3) has not engaged in any violation, involving violent conduct, of institutional disciplinary regulations. Many aspects of HR. 62 were included in the historic Second Chance Act. I look forward to working with the Administration to see if we can lower the age for a compassionate release also. Additionally parts of this bill were included in the Department of Justice authorization bill.
“We also have to look out for the children of those incarcerated. I was proud to work with Rep. Danny Davis on my amendment (Section 243 of the Second Chance Act) to the Second Chance Act which required that the Attorney General collect data and develop best practices of State corrections departments and child protection agencies relating to the communication and coordination between State departments and agencies to ensure the safety and support of children of incarcerated parents, including those in foster care and kinship care.
“Releasing rehabilitated, middle-aged, non-violent offenders from an already overcrowded prison population can be a win-win situation for society and the individual, who, like the prisoner Jean Valjean made famous in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, is redeemed by the grace of a second chance. The reentry of such individuals into the society will enable them to repay the community through community service and obtain or regain a sense of self-worth and accomplishment. It promises a reduction in burdens to the taxpayer, and an affirmation of the America value that no non-violent offender is beyond redemption. The Attorney General’s announcement today of new guidelines for prosecutors to help reduce incarceration of non-violent, low-level drug offenders is an important step toward achieving the Administration’s goal of identifying reforms that will ensure that federal laws are enforced more fairly and efficiently.
“Too many Americans end up losing years of their lives as a result of mandatory minimum sentences, and racial disparities continue to plague the system. Taxpayers are footing a heavy bill to house a prison population that has grown 800% since 1980 and that represents many individuals who are capable of being productive members of our society. I was proud to lead an effort in 2010 to pass the Fair Sentencing Act that reduced the disparities between sentencing for possession of crack cocaine and for powder cocaine and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. The Attorney General of the United States has offered an important challenge to improve the criminal justice system. I look forward to joining my colleagues in Congress in taking these additional steps to ensuring that our justice system is more fair, more just, more efficient, and works for all Americans.”
Congresswoman Jackson Lee is a Democrat from Texas’s 18th Congressional District. She is a senior member of the House Committees on Judiciary and Homeland Security and is Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security