The hotly debated 1994 crime reforms that former president Bill Clinton signed during his presidency have been both criticised and defended for all the wrong reasons, one criminal justice expert says.
The policies neither caused mass incarceration — which began far earlier, in the 1970s — nor did they have any meaningful impact on crime rate reduction, according to Fordham University professor John Pfaff.
“There’s not any real evidence that prison populations got any bigger because of these laws,” he told Business Insider. “We were well, well into mass incarceration by that point.”
4B. To the defenders: no change in federal law affects street crime that much, and the grants all underperformed.
— John Pfaff (@JohnFPfaff) April 7, 2016
The 1994 crime bill is back under public scrutiny after a heated exchange between Bill Clinton and Black Lives Matter protesters at a Philadelphia rally for Hillary Clinton drew media attention and intense backlash Thursday. Clinton spent more than 10 minutes defending both his policy and his wife’s 1996 use of the term “super-predators” to describe young people accused of committing crime.
“I don’t know how you would characterise gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent them out on the street to murder other African-American children,” he said. “You are defending the people who killed the lives you say matter. Tell the truth.”
The comments enraged the protestors. One demonstrator held up a sign that read, “Clinton crime bill destroyed our communities.”
In reality, Pfaff said, Clinton’s reforms targeted federal crimes rather than state ones, which are not prosecuted at nearly as high a rate. Pfaff said the media and the public too often focus on federal legislation, when states and counties hold the real power in prosecuting criminals, running prisons and lowering street crime rates.
“There’s very little the feds can do to the states. They can’t tell states what to do, they can’t change state law,” he said.
While Clinton’s reforms did offer “truth-in-sentencing” incentives that offered billions of dollars to states to adopt harsh parole provisions for violent offenders, only four states said the TIS grant was a key factor in their decision to enact tougher sentencing laws, according to a report from the US General Accounting Office.
The billions of dollars that were allocated for the grants went largely unclaimed, Pfaff said.
On the other side of the debate, those who defend the 1994 bill for its crime reduction effect are equally mistaken, he added. While the bill authorised funding to hire up to one million police officers, it’s unclear how many were hired. Meanwhile, he said, crime rates had already begun to drop by the time the reforms took effect.
3A. Reduced crime? No. Just no. No.
Clinton has since said he regretted his conduct during the encounter with Black Lives Matter protesters, and “almost” wanted to apologise for his remarks.
“I know those young people yesterday were just trying to get good television,” he said Friday. “But that doesn’t mean that I was most effective in answering it.”