President Obama yesterday signed a bill reauthorizing the U.S. Parole Commission (USPC) for five years, ensuring continuation of the agency with jurisdiction over D.C. Code felons on parole or supervised release. The five-year reauthorization is a significant breakthrough. Congress had previously insisted on only two- or three-year reauthorizations. Norton pressed for a minimum five-year reauthorization, but she wants the USPC to be permanently authorized, the usual case for federal law enforcement agencies, considering that the USPC has continuing responsibilities for D.C. Code felons as well as a smaller number of federal offenders.
"I am relieved that we were able to get a somewhat longer reauthorization, but the fact that the bill is not a priority for a busy Congress and was passed only in time for the President to sign it on the last day before the expiration of the Commission shows that permanent authorization is needed," said Norton. "Serious legal issues involving felons on parole have been raised by federal courts, including due process and ex post facto issues, during these close calls for reauthorization. Congress gave the Commission new jurisdiction with more than 17,800 D.C. Code felons. Our next step must be for Congress to stabilize this public safety agency with the same permanent authorization as other federal law enforcement agencies."
Because the District was the only local jurisdiction carrying the cost of incarcerating and supervising felons upon release, the federal government, in 1997, assumed the cost of these state functions. Norton worked closely with the House and Senate Judiciary committees on the reauthorization bill because of the USPC's responsibility for D.C. Code felons. The USPC also has jurisdiction over federal offenders and is chaired by Isaac Fulwood, former D.C. Chief of Police, who Norton recommended for the Commission in 2004.
Norton said she was very grateful for the work of Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in getting the bill through the Senate. She also thanked House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), as well as Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Chair Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA), for their work on getting the bill passed in the House earlier this month.