Reps. Nadler, Richmond, and Jeffries Ask U.S. Sentencing Commission to Conduct Analysis of Sentencing Reform Act Provisions to Reform Criminal Justice System

Jan 28, 2016 Issues: Civil Liberties, Civil Rights

Washington, D.C. -- Yesterday, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), along with Congressman Cedric Richmond (LA-2) and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8), sent a letter to Patti Saris, Chair of the United States Sentencing Commission, requesting a complete analysis of all provisions in the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015.  The letter asks for the Sentencing Commission to undertake this review in order to better assess how any changes will affect the overall prison population and contribute to the needed reform of America’s criminal justice system.

“As the bill moves forward in the process, we want more information so that we can make sure that we do not unintentionally incarcerate more people, rather than fewer, in our reform effort,” said Representatives Nadler, Richmond, and Jeffries in a joint statement.  “Mistaken policies of the past have led to mass incarceration, which has disproportionately affected communities of color.  We want to make sure we get it right this time, and we are asking for more detailed information to ensure that we do.” 

The full text of the letter is below:

January 27, 2016

The Honorable Patti Saris
United States Sentencing Commission
One Columbus Circle NE, Suite 2-500
Washington, DC 20002-8002

Dear Chair Saris:

As you know, Congress is currently considering significant reforms to the criminal justice system.  We supported H.R. 3713, the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015, in the House Judiciary Committee, because it takes important steps toward reversing the mistaken policies that have led to mass incarceration, and which have disproportionately affected minorities.  However, many of us expressed concern that we did not know the full impact of the bill’s many provisions at the time we were required to vote.  As this bill continues to move through the legislative process, we request that you perform additional analysis on the provisions of H.R. 3713 to help us ensure that it moves us in the right direction.

The Commission has a long history of offering unbiased, data-driven analysis of legislation impacting our nation’s sentencing policies.  For example, the written and oral testimony you provided last year at the Overcriminalization Task Force hearing on Agency Perspectives on July 11, 2014 was forthright, comprehensive, and thoughtful.  While some of the Task Force members may have disagreed with the policy recommendations you advanced, no one could dispute your objective and conscientious analysis and presentation of the data.

That is why we are writing to request data on provisions of H.R. 3713 that do not appear to have been included in the Commission’s written estimates submitted to the House Judiciary Committee on November 18, 2015.  While the Commission’s written testimony provided estimates of the savings generated by the bill, it is critical for reform-minded lawmakers to have adequate information on the effects of provisions that expand the definitions of qualifying predicate offenses for existing mandatory minimums, exclude offenders from prospective or retroactive relief, or, in the case of fentanyl, add a new sentencing enhancement.

Given the Commission’s prior entreaties to address federal drug and firearm mandatory minimum sentences due to the disproportionate impact they have on Black and Latino offenders, we are requesting the numerical and demographic impact of each provision of H.R. 3713, particularly with regard to any individual who would be excluded from safety valve or retroactive relief or would be subject to new penalties.  We must ensure that we do not unintentionally incarcerate more people, particularly those of color, rather than fewer, in our reform effort.

As your written testimony recognizes, the terms of art “violent felony” and “crimes of violence” are complicated, heavily litigated, and subject to expansive and differing interpretations by district and circuit courts throughout the country.  Thus, we are asking for the Commission’s data analysis on these points to ensure that our expectations of the impact of this legislation will comport with reality during implementation.

We request that the Commission provide a complete analysis of all of H.R. 3713’s provisions as soon as possible and issue a press release in the interim alerting Members of Congress, the respective Judiciary Committees, and advocates that this complete analysis is in progress.

We thank you for your leadership and commitment to ensuring that Congress has unbiased and complete analysis of pending legislation that impacts federal sentencing policy.  We appreciate your commendable record of ensuring that the Sentencing Commission continues its commitment to independence and equal justice under the law.


Jerrold Nadler                Cedric L. Richmond       Hakeem Jeffries

Member of Congress     Member of Congress     Member of Congress

cc:        Vice Chair Charles R. Breyer

            Commissioner Dabney Friedrich

            Commissioner Rachel Barkow

            Commissioner William H. Pryor, Jr.