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House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations Ranking Member Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) released the following joint statement after the White House announced President Obama granted commutations to 61 individuals:

“I am encouraged by President Obama’s commutation of sentences of 61 individuals today, including five from Texas. All of these men and women were the victims of unjust sentencing. Had they been convicted under today’s laws or reform proposals, they would have already been released and contributing back to society.

“I welcome and applaud the commutations of the sentences of these individuals. Incarcerating people for unwarranted lengths of time serves no constructive purpose. The President has recognized this, as has Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and it is my hope that the Administration’s Clemency Project will continue to address the multitude of cases in which sentence reductions are appropriate.

“Thousands of individuals are still awaiting review of their application for commutation or pardon. With the President’s commitment and the continued efforts to ensure just review of all those deserving of a second chance, I remain optimistic that the Administration will make every effort to meet the challenge and goal of giving a voice to all those in need of justice. The task may be daunting but American lives depend upon this critical mission.

“Of course, the need to engage in such a broad review of sentences exists largely because our sentencing laws and policies, particularly for drug offenses, urgently need to be changed. We need to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing and let judges impose appropriate sentences based on the facts and circumstances of each case, and we should eliminate the higher penalties for crack cocaine relative to powder cocaine offenses. I am inspired by growing, bipartisan recognition of the problem of over incarceration and I determined to see sentencing reform legislation advance this Congress.

“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, such as Sharanda Jones, by the draconian sentencing laws passed by Congress and state legislatures beginning in the late 1980s in the ‘War on Drugs.’ Increased use of executive clemency power by the President highlights the need to reform federal sentencing policy for all Americans and reduce spending taxpayer dollars on our overcrowded prison system. It is essential that the Administration’s Clemency Project continue to push forward and address the multitude of cases for which sentence reductions are appropriate.

“It is past time for us to get our fiscal and penal houses in order. Along with my colleagues on the Judiciary Committee I have introduced and cosponsored H.R. 3713, the “Sentencing Reform Act”, and H.R. 759, the “Corrections and Recidivism Reduction Act,” two critical pieces of legislation that aim to reform our sentencing laws, our prison system, and reentry services. The devastating and costly effects of mass incarceration can no longer be ignored. Working together to overhaul our criminal justice system is the only way to truly address our nation’s shameful sentencing practices and culture of incarceration. I am proud of the work we accomplished but we still have much work to do.”