The controversial 1994 crime law that Joe Biden helped write, explainedBreaking News
tags: Race, Joe Biden, criminal justice, Crime Bill
One of the most controversial criminal justice issues in the 2020 Democratic primary is a “tough on crime” law passed 25 years ago — and authored by current poll frontrunner Joe Biden.
If you ask some criminal justice reform activists, the 1994 crime law passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton, which was meant to reverse decades of rising crime, was one of the key contributors to mass incarceration in the 1990s. They say it led to more prison sentences, more prison cells, and more aggressive policing.
If you ask Biden, that’s not true at all. The law, he argued at a recent campaign stop, had little impact on incarceration, which largely happens at the state level. As recently as 2016, Biden defended the law, arguing it “restored American cities” following an era of high crime and violence.
The truth, it turns out, is somewhere in the middle.
The 1994 crime law was certainly meant to increase incarceration in an attempt to crack down on crime, but its implementation doesn’t appear to have done much in that area. And while the law had many provisions that are now considered highly controversial, some portions, including the Violence Against Women Act and the assault weapons ban, are fairly popular among Democrats.
That’s how politicians like Biden, as well as fellow presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), can now justify their votes for the law — by pointing to the provisions that weren’t “tough on crime.”
But with Biden’s criminal justice record coming under scrutiny as he runs for president, it’s the mass incarceration provisions that are drawing particular attention as a key example of how Biden helped fuel the exact same policies that criminal justice reformers are trying to reverse. For some Democrats, the 1994 law is exhibit A for why Biden can’t be trusted to do the right thing on criminal justice issues should he become president.
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