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Sheila J.
Democrat TX 18

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  • Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013

    by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee

    Posted on 2013-12-12

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    JACKSON LEE. I thank the ranking member of the subcommittee, and I thank the manager and, as well, the full committee chairperson and the ranking member of the full committee.



    I think it would not be inappropriate to acknowledge that many of us gathered in the Judiciary Committee to wish Congressman Mel Watt well, so I will do so now on the floor of the House.

    I am supporting this bill and again offer my appreciation for the Crime Subcommittee's bipartisan efforts to look into our problem with criminalization at the start of the Congress. I am concerned that there are a number of issues that were not discussed, but this particular legislation is an important step, which I know that the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Scott) has worked on quite extensively.

    The bill before us today, in essence, requires States that receive certain criminal justice assistance grants to report to the Attorney General on a quarterly basis certain information regarding the death of any person who is detained, arrested, en route to incarceration, or incarcerated in State or local facilities or at boot camp. H.R. 1447 also imposes penalties on States that fail to comply with such reporting requirements. The bill also requires the head of each Federal law enforcement agency to report to the Attorney General annually certain information regarding the death of any person.

    My focus is to indicate that this is a practical initiative. I personally know that in jurisdictions in Texas, we have had incidents where people have gone into the county jail for minimal violations of the law and came out in a body bag. It happened to a mother of two sons who lost her life because an infected knee was not taken care of. Or individuals who were ill, individuals who succumbed to inappropriate behavior by those who have charge over them. It is happening in jails and prisons across America.

    This is a lifesaving initiative because many people will acknowledge that if you are incarcerated, even if you are there in our county jails before you are convicted--certainly, we recognize the criminal justice system, but it does not mean that you should lose your life.

    However, as we come to the end of this first year of the 113th Congress, I know my colleagues would recognize as well that we are coming upon the 1-year anniversary of the tragic incident that occurred at Sandy Hook. There will be those who will be mourning this afternoon, holding a memorial to acknowledge the tragedy of the lives lost.

    In this Congress, to our dismay, we have not been able to pass universal background checks, which could readily be on the floor of the House and be of value to those mourning mothers and fathers who now mourn 1 year later and ask the question: Why? In addition, we have seen over the last year in many of our jurisdictions the excessive violence that has taken our young people through gun violence, through gangs, and other actions that would welcome this Congress exercising its authority on issues dealing with antiviolence, antibullying, of course, and, again, the ceasing of gun violence.

    I look forward to establishing a commission in my community, responding to the incidents of 19 individuals being shot, two teenagers being killed, a young man from Jack Yates High School being killed, and another young man being shot in a park.

    So as I rise to support this legislation, I would simply argue, as we move forward on this legislation, that there is work to be done, and I hope we can join together in a bipartisan manner to do so. I hope my colleagues also vote to support H.R. 1447.

    Mr. Speaker, I as a long-time member of the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Crime, I was pleased to see a bipartisan effort to look into our problem with overcriminalization at the start of the Congress but I am disappointed that much of the crime which has been addressed by the Task Force has dealt with so-called regulatory crimes--as opposed to the type of crime involving violence and weapons--which has lead to prison over-crowding, trumped-up sentences for possession of marijuana, and served to further add to an underclass of Americans who are subject to the difficulty in filling out a job application because of onerous State and Federal laws which seek to punish harshly for missteps which, in the case of drug offenses, should have been managed with treatment and not incarceration.

    I believe that most of the Members on the Committee and in the House of Representatives would agree that our prisons are overcrowded and that we must address this and other issues which plague our criminal justice system forthrightly and with urgency.

    Having said that, the bill before us today does little to deal with that but it does fall under the ambit of crime and it does seek to address problems in criminal law and policy.

    The legislation before us, H.R. 1447, The Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013, sponsored by my Judiciary and CBC colleagues, Bobby Scott and Ranking Member Conyers, requires States that receive certain criminal justice assistance grants to report to the Attorney General on a quarterly basis certain information regarding the death of any person who is detained, arrested, en route to incarceration, or incarcerated in state or local facilities or a boot camp prison. H.R. 1447 also imposes penalties on States that fail to comply with such reporting requirements.

    The bill also requires the head of each Federal law enforcement agency to report to the Attorney General annually certain information regarding the death of any person who: (1) is detained or arrested by any officer of such agency (or by any State or local law enforcement officer for purposes of a Federal law enforcement operation); or (2) is en route to be incarcerated or detained, or is incarcerated or detained, at any Federal correctional facility or Federal pretrial detention facility located within the United States or any other facility pursuant to a contract with or used by such agency.

    Lastly, it requires the Attorney General to study such information and report on means by which it can be used to reduce the number of such deaths.

    While I will support this measure--I will continue to urge my Judiciary Committee and House colleagues to think carefully about the problems with over-criminalization of some offenses and why we should be diligent in taking a thoughtful, measured look at the costly problem.

    This body must consider taking a comprehensive look at criminal laws and policy which have a disproportionate impact on African Americans and other minorities in Houston, and around this great Nation.

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