May 22, 2017
Floor Statements

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to H.R. 1862.

   While I support the underlying goal of punishing sex offenders, the existing Federal statutes already severely punish these offenses. This legislation, unfortunately, will impose a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.

   This expansion of mandatory minimum sentences of life without parole comes on the heels of Attorney General Sessions' memorandum of May 12, 2017, which has been roundly criticized for rescinding the Holder memo. The Sessions memo directs all Federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges and the maximum sentence to include mandatory minimum sentences. This directive takes away from Federal prosecutors and judges the ability to individually assess unique circumstances of each case, including any factors that may mitigate against imposing a life sentence in every case.

   A life sentence is a most severe form of punishment, second only to the death penalty. Careful consideration should be given when our society imposes a life sentence, and judges should have the discretion in determining when this severe punishment should be imposed.

   Now, I point out that this punishment would be imposed not only on the ringleader, but on anyone involved in a conspiracy. We have seen how that works in drug conspiracies where a girlfriend who takes a phone message or drives her boyfriend to a deal would be included in the boyfriend's conspiracy and subject to the

   same draconian mandatory minimum the boyfriend is subjected to.

   In this case, the defendant would have to have a prior conviction. But life without parole would be the penalty upon a conviction, with no consideration being given to how long ago the conviction occurred or how serious a conviction was or what role the defendant played in the instant case.

   For decades now, extensive research and evidence has demonstrated that mandatory minimums fail to reduce crime, they waste the taxpayers' money, they discriminate against minorities, and often require a judge to impose a sentence so bizarre as to violate common sense. Unfortunately, there are already too many mandatory minimums in the Federal code. If we ever expect to do anything about that problem and address this major driver of mass incarceration, the first step we have to take is to stop passing new mandatory minimums or bills that expand mandatory minimums.

   Mandatory minimums did not get in the Federal code all at once--they got there one at a time, each one part of a larger bill, which, on balance, might have been a good idea. The only way to stop passing new mandatory minimums is to stop passing bills that contain mandatory minimums.

   Giving lip service to a suggestion that you would have preferred that the mandatory minimum not have been in the bill and then voting for it anyway, just creates another mandatory minimum, and guarantees that those who support mandatory minimums will include them in the next bill. That is how we became number one in the world on incarceration.

   Recent studies have shown that we lock up so many people that our incarceration rate is actually counterproductive. There are so many people in jail, so many people being raised with parents in prison, so many people with felony records, and so much of the Justice Department budget being used on prisons that aren't doing any good, that could have been used for constructive activities. We lock up so many people that the incarceration rate is actually counterproductive.

   Mr. Speaker, I support the underlying goals of H.R. 1862 to punish sex offenders against children, but I do not support expanding mandatory minimums, in this case, life without parole.