Press Releases

Statement of Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr.: Full Committee Markup of H.R. 3713, the “Sentencing Reform Act of 2015”

Washington, DC, November 18, 2015

“H.R. 3713, the ‘Sentencing Reform Act,’ responds to the growing recognition, in our states and now in Congress, that we must make meaningful reforms to various aspects of our criminal justice system – particularly mandatory minimum sentencing.

“As with any policy, it is our responsibility in Congress to examine the facts and make adjustments from time-to-time, and the facts demand that we take action on this issue. 

“We are all too familiar with the most glaring statistics frequently recited:  the United States is home to 5% of the world’s population, but has 25% of the world’s prisoners

“Our incarceration rate is four times higher than China’s. 

“The Department of Justice spends nearly one third of its budget on the federal prisons.       

“And we know that extending incarceration beyond that which is appropriate actually increases recidivism. 

“Therefore, adjustments to our sentencing laws are long overdue and that is why we need to approve this bill.

“H.R. 3713 is an important reform measure that makes a number of improvements.

  • This bill reduces mandatory minimum sentences for prior drug felons, including reducing the 3-strikes drug penalty from life imprisonment to 25 years and reducing the 20-year mandatory minimum from 20 to 15 years.
  • It broadens the existing safety valve to allow more offenders to be sentenced below mandatory minimum drug sentences. 
  • The bill creates an additional safety valve to allow relief for some offenders who would otherwise be subject to the 10-year mandatory minimum for drug offenses.
  • In addition, H.R. 3713 reforms the way prior firearms offenses are considered with respect to application of the mandatory minimum sentence for repeat firearm offenders. 
  • And, the bill retroactively applies the reduced mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine under the Fair Sentencing Act. 

“And, notably, the bill does all of this without the addition of the new mandatory minimum sentences the Senate proposed in similar legislation.

"These changes will still allow for appropriate punishment and will make us safer.  They will also save American taxpayers money by reducing the spending associated with needlessly long incarceration – money that should be invested in education, job training, and other productive priorities.

“We have worked together, as our citizens expect of us, to find a way forward on this important issue.  This bill reflects the recognition that criminal law is a blunt instrument – and it is difficult to achieve just results in every case. 

“In my view, that is why we must allow judges –  who are in the best position to know and evaluate all of the circumstances of particular cases – to impose sentences that both hold offenders appropriately accountable and that are just according to the facts. 

“H.R. 3713 does not achieve all of what I and many of my colleagues would want.  However, today we have the opportunity – on a bipartisan basis – to address some of the injustices of these laws and to provide retroactive relief for some of those who have been subject to them. 

“As this Committee has done in the past when history has required it, it is my hope that we can and will come together today to take action on a pressing issue for our Nation – so that we will send a bipartisan message that the Judiciary Committee can adopt smart and common sense changes to the criminal sentencing laws that will help thousands of individuals and their families while also enhancing public safety.

“I urge all of my colleagues to support this bill.