Yep, time to repeal three-strikes and a bunch of related legislation:
Former US president Bill Clinton has called for an end to mass incarceration, admitting that changes in penal policy that happened largely under his watch put “too many people in prison and for too long” and “overshot the mark”.
As tension remains high in Baltimore and other cities across the country over police brutality, Clinton on Tuesday highlighted the related blight that has struck many urban communities as a result of America’s unparalleled rate of imprisonment. More than 2 million people are still held in captivity in prisons and jails, giving the country 25% of the world’s prison numbers despite having only 5% of its overall population.
During Clinton’s eight years in the White House the incarceration figures saw some of their steepest rises in modern times. Though the numbers had already begun to shoot up under Ronald Reagan’s vaunted war on drugs in the 1980s, Clinton further inflated them.
When he won his first presidential election in 1992 there were 847,000 people in prison. By the time he ended his second term in 2000 that population had grown to 1,334,000.
In 1994 Clinton championed a crime bill that laid down several of the foundations of the country’s current mass incarceration malaise. Vowing to be “tough on crime” – a quality that had previously been more closely associated with the Republicans and which Clinton adopted under his “triangulation” ploy – he created incentives to individual states to build more prisons, to put more people behind bars and to keep them there for longer. His also presided over the introduction of a federal three-strikes law that brought in long sentences for habitual offenders.
Under “truth in sentencing”, states which sentenced people to long terms in prison with no chance of parole were rewarded with increased federal funds. The crime bill also enshrined a Clinton program known as COPS – Community Oriented Policing Services – in which federal money was provided to states to allow them vastly to increase the number of police officers on the streets – in turn generating more arrests and more convictions.
In a foreword to a new book of essays compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice, Clinton stops short of giving a full mea culpa for the vast increase in prison numbers. He writes that by 1994 crime had become a major problem across the country and that “we acted to address a genuine national crisis”.
But he goes on to say that “it’s time to take a clear-eyed look at what worked, what didn’t, and what produced unintended, long-lasting consequences … Too many laws were overly broad instead of appropriately tailored. Some are in prison who shouldn’t be, others are in for too long, and without a plan to educate, train, and reintegrate them into our communities, we all suffer.”