Press Releases

Conyers Statement at Hearing to Conduct Oversight on the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service

Washington, DC, April 26, 2017

Mr. Chairman, I welcome this hearing as the Crime Subcommittee continues its oversight of the components of the Department of Justice that advance the Department’s law enforcement mission. 

The Bureau of Prisons and the Marshals Service both play important roles in this regard.

It is particularly important that we closely examine the administration of the Bureau of Prisons at this time.           

The federal prison population increased by almost 800 percent between 1980 and 2013, before a modest decline to approximately 190,000 over the past two years.  BOP’s budget accounts for approximately 25 percent of the Justice Department’s total spending.  Clearly, we must re-examine the policies that have led to this explosion.

The greatest contributor to this growth, which constitutes a crisis of overincarceration, is the proliferation of mandatory minimum sentences.  Mandatory minimums unjustly impose sentences without regard to the facts of each case, and – as we have seen with the BOP budget – waste taxpayer dollars.

I am heartened that there is a bipartisan recognition of the need to re-examine these policies and I hope we will continue that effort in the Judiciary Committee.

Of course, we must also continue our effort to enact prison reforms at the federal level, with the goal of expanding the availability and types of programs that prisoners participate in and that will reduce the possibility of recidivism.

With regard to BOP’s operation, I fully recognize the challenges in appropriately housing such a large prison population, but we must do better in several regards.          

Over the years, the Inspector General has pointed out deficiencies with respect to the provision of health care in federal prisons, at one time noting that these problems were so serious that we could consider them Constitutional violations.           

Such problems are particularly troubling at private prisons.  Last year, The Nation magazine published an article detailing serious and disturbing instances of poor health care at private prisons contracted by the BOP.  We must not allow these problems to continue.           

With respect to private prisons generally, the Inspector General has noted how poorly they compare to BOP-run facilities across an array of factors.  Clearly, we must end our reliance on these for-profit, contract prisons.          

It is also important that today we examine the role of the U.S. Marshals Service and its administration.

That agency has a broad mission, ranging from protecting our federal courts and judges, holding post-arrest detainees, administering the Witness Security Program, and apprehending fugitives.

In recent years, there have been questions about the use of the Witness Security Program’s inclusion and handling of individuals who had been involved in terrorism.  We need to evaluate how the agency has responded to such concerns raised by the Inspector General.           

And, with regard to the apprehension of fugitives, we need to examine the Marshals Service’s use of cell site simulators, also known as “Stingray” devices, in light of the Department’s guidelines on these devices.  Advancements in such technology have the potential of making law enforcement more effective, but we must still abide by the requirements of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution.

I thank the Acting Directors of both agencies for testifying before us today, and I look forward to our discussion of these issues.