Sen. Kamala Harris is not feeling Joe Biden’s claim that the infamous 1994 crime bill—which he was instrumental in creating in order to thwart “predators in our streets” who were “beyond the pale”—did not lead to mass incarceration in the U.S.
Per NBC News, his exact quote on Tuesday was:
“Folks, let’s get something straight, 92 out of every 100 prisoners [who] end up behind bars are in a state prison, not a federal prison. This idea that the crime bill generated mass incarceration, it did not generate mass incarceration.”
But in basing his defense of the “Biden Bill”—his words, not mine—on the word “generate” he’s purposely circumventing blame by arguing against a point that no one has made. So while it didn’t generate mass incarceration, it irrefutably contributed to it. Which Harris was kind enough to call out.
“I have a great deal of respect for Vice President Joe Biden, but I disagree,” the former California Attorney General said. “That crime bill, that 1994 crime bill, it did contribute to mass incarceration in this country.”
Biden likes to point the finger at states for building more prisons—the number of prisons rose 43 percent from 1990 to 2005—and passing harsher laws, but guess what incentivized states to revamp those laws, to hire more police officers and to build more prisons?
(No seriously: the bill set aside $8.7 billion over six years to reward states with funds to build more prisons if they forced violent crime offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.)
Which is something that Bill Clinton—who signed it into law—has acknowledged repeatedly.
“I signed a bill that made the problem worse. And I want to admit it,” Clinton said in 2015.
There was also that whole “three strikes” thing that handed out life sentences for a third felony offense (if the previous two were related to violence or drug trafficking), longer sentences and expanding the death penalty to include a mindblowing 60 additional crimes—something Clinton pointed out as well.
“In that bill, there were longer sentences. And most of these people are in prison under state law, but the federal law set a trend,” Clinton told the NAACP in 2015. “And that was overdone. We were wrong about that. That percentage of it, we were wrong about.”
So yeah. Biden is buggin’.
“The federal government gives funding to states to get them moving in a certain direction [...] Biden is correct that the crime bill did not cause mass incarceration,” Inimai M. Chettiar, director of the Justice Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, told the Washington Post. “But he is wrong that it was not a contributing factor. The way Bill Clinton framed it is more accurate than the way Joe Biden is framing it.”
But this wouldn’t be the first time Harris has had to set our former vice president straight. On Wednesday, the presidential hopeful dropped the mic when asked to address the Congressional Black Caucus’s notion that she’d be a stellar VP instead.
She said “I think that Joe Biden would be a great running mate. That as vice president he’s proven he knows how to do the job.”