CONGRESSWOMAN SHEILA JACKSON LEE INTRODUCES MAJOR BIPARTISAN SENTENCING REFORM LEGISLATION
Washington, DC – Today Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, held a press conference with Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Ranking Member John Conyers, and other members of the House Judiciary Committee to unveil the “Sentencing Reform Act of 2015.” This bipartisan sentencing reform legislation is the first of several bills that will be introduced as a result of the Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan criminal justice reform initiative. The Congresswoman released the following statement:
“Today is an important day in Washington, DC. I, along with Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member John Conyers and other Judiciary Members, unveiled the ‘Sentencing Reform Act of 2015.’ I want to extend my thanks to my Colleagues on the Judiciary Committee for their hard work and collaboration in introducing this meaningful bipartisan reform legislation. I look forward to continuing the work with my Colleagues on additional criminal justice reform legislation in other critical areas that we will be unveiling over the next few weeks.
“We come together today armed not only with the knowledge that our criminal justice system is deeply flawed, but with the commitment to fix these flaws. The cost of this system is incredibly high, not just in dollars spent, but also in dollars lost. Every person taken out of a community and placed into a prison is a person who cannot contribute to a family, a community, and our society. Worse, this system takes an incredible human toll, with the cycle of incarceration in a constant state of destruction.
“Today, with this legislation, we unify to reject a system that is often more effective at creating criminals and collateral damage than actual justice. We have come together for change. I am sure that my Chairman and Ranking Member would agree that, when we began this process a few months ago, we were not particularly optimistic about reaching an agreement on sentencing reform. In fact, the reason we dug into it first is because we knew how hard it would be.
“Along the way, however, we were inspired by the ideas of many of our House colleagues during this and in past Congresses, and by our colleagues in the Senate who undertook a similar effort months before. In fact, our negotiations in the House largely mirrored those in the Senate – we wanted to decrease mandatory minimums, expand the safety valve, and apply the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively.
“This is not surprising. The injustices of our system are very well known and the solutions are rather common sense and straight forward. Our legislation lowers the many mandatory minimum recidivist penalties, expands the safety valve, and adds a second safety valve to provide greater relief to the individuals most deserving. In doing this, we recognize that locking people up for decades and decades does not work.
“This legislation also applies the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively and, in doing so, makes very clear that those who only received a partial benefit of the FSA under the Sentencing Guidelines changes can now come back and get the full benefit. On its own, this reform will help over 6,000 inmates – about 85% of whom are black – and bring us one step closer to rectifying the fundamental injustice of the crack-powder disparity. Notably, this bill does not contain the new mandatory minimums that are in the recently released Senate bill.
“Such meaningful reforms would not be possible without the leadership of those who stood with me today and to those in the Senate—colleagues on the right and left—and the many individuals and advocates who laid the foundation for us. Let me conclude by saying, in my service as Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Crime Subcommittee, I have been truly humbled to take on this task, one of the most important tasks of my lifetime. This task—OUR TASK—is monumental, and it is certainly not easy, but with the introduction of this legislation today, we are stating not only that we are up for the challenge, but that we pledge to see it through.
“In the coming days, as we continue building support for this legislation, I ask that we not lose sight of our ultimate goal: to get a sentencing reform bill to the President’s desk. I implore us not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We cannot tell those languishing in prison that we failed to help them because we couldn’t get everything that we want or we had to make some tough compromises. The reality is that we must work together, all sides, in order to get something to the President. By working with my Colleagues on both sides of the aisle I feel that we are putting forth the effort that has the best possible chance of success. Because, at the end of the day, for the thousands of individuals in prison now or who may face a prison sentence later, getting a bill to the President’s desk is the only thing that matters. Today I truly optimistic that we can make that a reality.”