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May 19, 2022

Pressley Testifies on FIX Clemency Act Before House Judiciary Committee

“With more than 17,000 clemency applications pending for years before the DOJ, we must pass the FIX Clemency Act. That’s over 17,000 people, and their lives hang in the balance.” 

Video (YouTube) 

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) testified before the House Judiciary Committee in support of the Fair and Independent Experts in Clemency (FIX Clemency) Act, HR 6234, her historic legislation to transform our nation’s broken clemency process and confront the mass incarceration crisis. 

Her testimony in support of the bill, which Rep. Pressley introduced in December alongside Representatives Cori Bush (MO-01) and Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), took place during the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security’s oversight hearing on clemency and the Office of the Pardon Attorney. 

A full transcript of the Congresswoman’s testimony is available here and full video is available here

Transcript: Pressley Testifies on FIX Clemency Act Before House Judiciary Committee
House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security
May 19, 2022

Good morning Chairwoman Jackson Lee, Ranking Member Biggs, and Chairman Nadler, and Members of the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. Thank you for the invitation to testify on my legislation, the Fair and Independent Experts in Clemency Act, also known as the FIX Clemency Act.

In the U.S., there are approximately 2 million people incarcerated in the criminal legal system, and over two hundred thousand in federal custody, disproportionately Black, Latino, Indigenous, disabled, and LGBTQ+. 

Our nation has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. This should ring alarm bells for every lawmaker because it impacts, mass incarceration, each and every one of our districts.

And it should stoke moral outrage in everyone who calls this nation home, as this is a shameful legacy. 

The people locked in cages throughout this nation are real people. Their families and friends are serving their sentences alongside them. 

I know this all too well. Growing up with an incarcerated parent, I can only imagine how different my own childhood would have been if my father was able to get the medical help he desperately needed and deserved. 

Instead, his opioid addiction, which today would be treated as a public health issue, was criminalized. And his addiction robbed me of his physical presence during my most formative years. 

Today, my father, Martin Terrell, like millions of Black men and women, is a survivor of mass incarceration. He has attained multiple degrees, gone on to be a college professor, and published author. 

Nonetheless, my having been robbed of his presence during my formative years, it has been an ongoing healing process for myself and our family. 

My story is hardly an anomaly. Across the country, more than 5 million children have experienced the incarceration of a parent. 

As policymakers, we must reject this unjust status quo, and disrupt the cycle and legacy in this country of treating trauma with more trauma.

We need to end the crisis of mass incarceration and fixing our clemency process is a central part of the solution. 

That is why I am proud to have introduced the FIX Clemency Act with two distinguished Members of the Judiciary Committee: Representatives Bush and Jeffries. 

My legislation would transform how clemency works by replacing the redundant and biased Department of Justice process with a new and independent U.S. Clemency Board. 

The Board would be composed of experts in fields like behavioral health and rehabilitation, appointed by the President. There would also be a seat at the table for a person who is formerly incarcerated, because I believe the people closest to the pain should be the closest to the power, driving and informing the policymaking. 

Currently, applications for clemency are under the full control of staff in the Department of Justice and must undergo repeated scrutiny with duplicative layers of bureaucratic review. 

Experts have warned that this structure creates a prosecutorial bias against each applicant, and at any point in this process, one lone staffer can unilaterally prevent an application from moving forward.

The FIX Clemency Act makes clear that prosecutors and people who run prisons should not have outsized influence when it comes to evaluating clemency applicants. With my bill, the newly created board would be transparent and independent. All recommendations by the Board would be transmitted directly to the President and included in an annual report to Congress.

With more than 17,000 clemency applications pending for years before the DOJ, we must pass the FIX Clemency Act. That’s over 17,000 people, and their lives hang in the balance. 

I am proud that my bill was drafted in close partnership with lawyers, constitutional scholars, advocates from across the political spectrum, and those who understand clemency best: people who are formerly incarcerated. 

People like Danielle Metz who is a recipient of clemency herself. She was punished with three consecutive life sentences and an additional 20 years in federal prison for non-violent drug offenses. She served more than two decades in prison away from family and her children before her sentence was finally commuted. 

I am grateful for her partnership in this legislation. 

Congress has the power to legislate a just and equitable clemency process by passing my legislation to create an independent board. I applaud President Biden for granting 78 commutations and pardons last month. It establishes a historic precedent and will help set the individuals, their families, and communities on a pathway to healing. 

We must continue this historic momentum. To truly confront the backlog of over 17,000 applications and prevent it from ever occurring again, there must be structural change. 

More than 150 years ago, Congress created the current clemency process, and now it is time for Congress to fix it.

Thank you.

The FIX Clemency Act would create an independent U.S. Clemency Board that is made up of nine individuals appointed by the President, including a person who is formerly incarcerated. The Board would be responsible for reviewing applications requesting a pardon, commutation, or relief from collateral consequences of convictions. All recommendations by the Board will be transmitted directly to the President and included in an annual report to Congress. A full summary of the bill is available here

This week, Rep. Pressley, along with Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon (PA-05), David Joyce (OH-14), and Kelly Armstrong (ND-AL), wrote to Pardon Attorney Elizabeth Oyer urging her to release disaggregated demographic data on the more than 17,000 pending clemency applications to better understand the current clemency backlog and address its impacts on constituents and communities.