CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS SPECIAL ORDER ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE & POLICING REFORM

November 2, 2015
Floor Statements

 Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. I thank the gentlewoman for organizing this Special Order so that we can talk about many aspects of the criminal justice system.

   You have asked us to talk about the militarization of communities, also what we can do to improve policing and the problem of mass incarceration. On the term of militarizing the communities, there was an amendment offered a few months ago that would have prevented the Department of Defense from giving local police departments certain military equipment.

   I think it is important to read what was actually in the legislation because some thought that handguns and ammunition was what we were talking about. Actually, the amendment goes into great length specifically about what would be prohibited if that amendment passed to help reduce the militarization of our communities.

   The Department of Defense has a program where they will give surplus equipment to local communities, and the limitation was that none of these transfers could include aircraft, including drones; armored vehicles; grenade launchers; silencers; toxicological agents, including chemical agents and biological agents; launch vehicles; guided missiles; ballistic missiles; rockets; torpedoes; bombs; mines; or nuclear weapons.

   Those are the only things that would be barred if this amendment had passed, not handguns and ammunition or other things that local police departments could actually use. But what local police department needs nuclear weapons or torpedoes?

   We are not talking about the large, sophisticated police forces. This is the kind of stuff that was being given to police departments that you might think of when you think of Andy Griffith and Barney Fife. What do they need with a tank?

   In one of the local incidents when they had a tank come out, it was pointed out that the people trying to drive the tank hadn't been trained on the tank. Can you just imagine hearing from inside, ``Where are the brakes? Where are the brakes?''

   If you need a military response, the appropriate thing to do would be to call in the National Guard. Then you have the military performing the military functions. I think there is a lot that we can do to restrict this kind of equipment going to our local police departments.

   A lot has been said about policing. We can discuss the problem of policing. We all know that the vast, overwhelming majority of police officers risk their lives on our behalf and do an excellent job.

   But whenever you get to describe what the problem is, we know what the solution is going to be, and that is to make sure that there is a consensus growing that we need body cameras so we can know exactly what happened and police training so that police can be properly trained on things like how to avoid profiling, how to avoid discrimination, and treating one group different from the other. Implicit bias is what it is called. There is a lot you can do in training, and we need to make sure we have funding for that training.

   But in terms of mass incarceration, that is where we really need a lot of work. As the chairman mentioned, we have 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's prisoners. In most countries, for every 100,000 population, they lock up 50 to 200 people per 100,000. The United States locks up over 700 per 100,000. We are well into the first place. There is nobody close.

   That number is particularly egregious because there have been recent studies that have suggested that anything over 500 per 100,000 is actually counterproductive.

   You have got so many people in jail. You have so many families being raised with their parents in prison. Young people are being raised without their parents. You have so many people with felony records having trouble finding jobs.

   You are wasting so much money that anything over about 500 per 100,000 is counterproductive. We are at 700 and some per 100,000. The African American incarceration rate is in the thousands. That is just wasted money.

   That is what Texas found when they were looking a few years ago at an appropriations request of $2 billion needed to keep up with all the slogans and sound bites that they had codified in terms of keeping up with the mass incarceration in Texas, $2 billion in construction.

   And somebody said, ``Well, if you actually make a better choice, if you invested some of that money in prevention, early intervention, and rehabilitation, you might not have to spend all $2 billion.''

   That is what they did. They intelligently invested in evidence-based programs, programs studied and known to reduce crime, not just sound like they reduce crime, but actually known to reduce crime, evidence-based policies of prevention, early intervention, and rehabilitation, and they found that they didn't need to build any new prisons.

   In fact, they were able to close some of the prisons that they had. Over 30 States have figured out that they can reduce crime and save money by reducing mass incarceration. On the other hand, Mr. Speaker, there are people that think slogans and sound bites are good, and that is how we got in the mess we are in now.

   The chairman mentioned the school-to-prison pipeline. I like to refer to it as the Children's Defense Fund does, as the cradle-to-prison pipeline, because that suggests that there are things all the way along the line that we are not doing that help construct this pipeline that ends up with--at present estimates, one out of three African American boys born today will end up in prison.

   We can do better than that if we make the appropriate investments all the way through from early childhood education to after-school programs, a continuum of services, to make sure that they create the cradle-to-college-and-career pipeline and not the cradle-to-prison pipeline. That includes investments that have been studied, evidence based, and we know they work.

   There is a lot you can do in terms of criminal justice reform, but if you do it right, it has to be comprehensive. That means you start with prevention and early intervention, make sure you are making those investments so fewer young people are getting in trouble. Then you have to do police training. We know that good police training can improve policing and, also, reduce crime. Body cameras can eliminate a lot of problems.

   Last year we passed the Death in Custody Reporting Act, which requires reporting from local police of anybody that dies in their custody in prison, in jail, or in the process of arrest, so we know what is going on around the country. As you have the debate, you can debate from a point of view of facts, not just in allegations when people don't know exactly what the facts are.

   We can make sure that the police training is there. You can have diversion to make sure that people who are arrested might not have to spend--the only people you need pretrial in jail are those that need to be in jail. You don't want to have unnecessary people serving time and losing their jobs in the process.

   You need a continuum of services, drug courts which can address the underlying problem rather than just convict them, lock them up, they come back, same thing, come back, back and forth.

   If you deal with the underlying problem in a drug court, you can have a situation where they are diverted from prison and, also, much less likely to commit a crime in the future.

   One of the major factors in over-incarceration are the mandatory minimums. We need to have significant reductions in mandatory minimum sentencing to make sure they only apply to a small portion of real, legitimate kingpins, not to girlfriends and people on the periphery that may have gotten caught up in a conspiracy.

   Once you get into prison, make sure that it is for rehabilitation, not for just warehousing, so you are much less likely to commit a crime when you come out. You have to fund the second chance programs.

   All of this is part of the SAFE Justice Act, which has the added benefit that, because of the significant reductions in mandatory minimums, there will be savings. The Department of Justice is able to redirect the savings into the prevention, early intervention programs, the drug courts, the body cameras and everything else. So everything in the program is paid for by reducing incarceration.

   This legislation has the support of a lot of different organizations, liberal and conservative, because everybody knows that, if it is enacted, we will reduce crime and save money.

   So we know what to do. It is just a matter of making sure we have the political will to do the right thing, to deal with mass incarceration by making the right choice, not the slogans and sound bites, but the evidence-based approach that will actually reduce crime and save money.

   We can do it. There is legislation pending. There are a lot of different bills, but we need to make sure that the comprehensive approach is reflected in whatever comes to the floor.

   So I want to thank the gentlewoman from Illinois for bringing us together so we can discuss the militarization of our communities, the solutions for policing, which would include training and body cameras and how we can effectively reduce mass incarceration. We know what to do, and the solutions save more money than they cost.

   So thank you very much for the opportunity to present that.