HOUSE APPROVES AMENDMENT BY REP. JACKSON LEE PRESERVING ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER’S ABILITY TO REDUCE PRISON OVERCROWDING AND SAVE MILLIONS OF TAXPAYER DOLLARS BY DEVELOPING AND IMPLEMENTING LAWFUL POLICIES RELATING TO REQUESTS FOR EXECUTIVE CLEMENCY
Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee, released the following statement after the House of Representatives unanimously approved her amendment to the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2015 (H.R. 4660) affirming the authority of the Attorney General to reduce prison overcrowding by developing and implementing lawful policies relating to requests for executive clemency from deserving petitioners:
“Much of the overcrowding of our federal prison system is the direct and proximate result of the proliferation of offenses carrying mandatory-minimums and the unjust and discriminatory 100 to 1 disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences in federal law.
“I am gratified that today, by an overwhelming margin, the House adopted my amendment to the Justice Department spending bill which will help alleviate prison overcrowding by preserving the ability of the Attorney General to expand the use of executive clemency for deserving incarcerated petitioners so long as he does so in a manner consistent with law and the Constitution.
“The United States incarcerates nearly 25 percent of the world’s inmates, even though it only has 5 percent of the world’s population. Thirty years ago, there were less than 30,000 inmates in the federal system; today, there are nearly 216,000, an increase of 800 percent!
“African Americans and Hispanics comprise more than 6 in 10 federal inmates incarcerated for drug offenses. And African American offenders receive sentences that are 10 percent longer than white offenders for the same crimes and are 21 percent more likely to receive mandatory-minimum sentences than white defendants according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
“There is no shortage of stories about the damage done to the lives of thousands of individuals and their families by the draconian sentencing laws passed by Congress and state legislatures beginning in the late 1980s in the ‘War on Drugs.’ An unfortunate example is Clarence Aaron, of Mobile, Alabama who was convicted in 1992 of conspiring to process 20 kilograms of powder cocaine and distribute it as crack cocaine. He was sentenced to life in prison even though it was his first offense.
“Fortunately, in 2010, after years of working to reform our drug sentencing laws, our efforts finally bore fruit when the Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the “Fair Sentencing Act of 2010” (P.L. 111-220), which finally ended the discriminatory 100:1 sentencing ratio.
“Since the provisions of the “Fair Sentencing Act” are not retroactive there is still much work left to be done. Fortunately, Clarence Aaron will not be one of those who still must wait because after serving more than 20 years in federal prison, he was freed on April 17 because he was one of eight persons granted executive clemency, or a reduction in sentence, by President Obama on December 19, 2013. That was a welcome to development.
“So too is the announcement by the Department of Justice of a new “Smart on Crime” initiative to give expanded and expedited review to clemency petitions from deserving federal inmates.
“Executive clemency is not amnesty. These inmates have been incarcerated for many years. Applications for executive clemency that are most likely to receive favorable consideration are those submitted by non-violent, low-level drug offenders who were not leaders of, or had any significant ties to, large-scale organizations, gangs, or cartels.
“The authority to grant clemency is among the powers vested exclusively to, and committed to the sound discretion of, the President by the Pardon Clause (Art. II, § 2, Clause 1) of the U.S. Constitution. In exercising these constitutional powers, the President typically relies upon the counsel and recommendations of the Attorney General.
“The Jackson Lee Amendment ensures that Attorney General retains the latitude to develop and implement policies relating to requests for executive clemency for deserving petitioners, which will help reduce prison overcrowding and save the taxpayers millions of dollars.
“It is extremely gratifying that these objectives enjoyed the overwhelming and bipartisan support of my colleagues in the House.”
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