10.30.13

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On the United States Parole Commission Extension Act of 2013, H.R. 3190

The United States Parole Commission is scheduled to expire tomorrow.  After significant bicameral negotiations, two weeks ago, the House of Representatives passed by unanimous consent a bipartisan bill, H.R. 3190, to reauthorize the Commission for five years.  Public safety demands that we pass this legislation swiftly and I urge the Senate to support its immediate enactment. We should have passed this bill weeks ago, but a single Republican hold has placed us in the precarious position of seeking passage on the eve of expiration. This is not the way to protect public safety.

The Parole Commission is responsible for granting or denying parole for Federal and District of Columbia prisoners who were sentenced before the Federal and D.C. governments abolished parole. The Commission was created to consider the requests of these “old law” Federal and D.C. inmates, but it also has jurisdiction over more recent D.C. offenders who are on supervised release from prison.  In addition, the Commission supervises some military law offenders, state offenders in the witness protection program, and foreign-law offenders serving sentences in the United States.

The consequences of failing to reauthorize the Commission would be dire. “Old law” Federal and D.C. inmates are required by law to receive periodic parole hearings.  If the Commission were unavailable to hold these hearings and declare that certain inmates should not be paroled, around 3,500 inmates would be released.  Potentially dangerous individuals would be allowed to simply walk free without any assessment of the risk to public safety if this reauthorization does not pass the Senate immediately.

Failure to reauthorize the Commission would have particularly harsh consequences for the District of Columbia.  The Commission currently sets the conditions of supervision or D.C. offenders and determines when those conditions have been violated.  If the Commission were to cease operations, around 9,000 offenders would no longer receive adequate supervision. These include extremely dangerous criminals, such as murders and rapists.   

Congress has consistently recognized the importance of the Commission, reauthorizing it on six prior occasions.  We last reauthorized the Commission two years ago.  At that time, the Republican-led House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill to extend the Commission for three years, but a single Senator blocked the bill and insisted on only a two-year extension.

So we are here now, two years later, and the House has appropriately passed a bipartisan five-year extension.  I have been working with the House since July on this straight-forward reauthorization.  As the House recognizes, the need for the Commission will not cease within the next five years.  In fact, it is estimated that Federal “old-law” offenders will require parole decisions for the next 35 years.

I hope we can agree to this five-year extension, which includes extensive annual reporting requirements that will allow Congress to conduct oversight of the Commission.  All of the reporting requirements from the last reauthorization are included, along with new requirements related specifically to the District of Columbia.  There is nothing objectionable in this bill, and there is no substantive reason for anyone to block it. 

The events of the past few weeks have shown deep divisions in the House Republican caucus.  But one thing on which all 232 House Republicans agree is that the Parole Commission should be reauthorized for another five years.  They all agreed that releasing potentially dangerous prisoners was a bad idea.  This bill is not controversial.

As I have mentioned before, Senator Paul and I and others are working in a bipartisan manner on sentencing reform.  We believe that judges should have more discretion in sentencing when a mandatory minimum sentence is unnecessary and counterproductive.  The extension of the Parole Commission is quite a different matter, however.  If the Commission is not reauthorized, there will be no one to decide whether thousands of offenders are ready for parole.  These inmates will simply be released.

I want to commend the sponsor of the House bill, Congressman Steve Chabot, along with co-sponsors Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Ranking Member John Conyers of the House Judiciary Committee, and Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner and Ranking Member Bobby Scott of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.  They understood the urgency and eminent consequences of inaction. Unfortunately, some in the Senate did not share that position and now we are up against the final deadline.  It is time to end these petty games and to let Congress do its job. We must pass this bill now. 

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