Clinton's Criminal Justice Conundrum

- May 1, 2016

Hillary Clinton Will Have Another Opportunity To Take Responsibility For The 1994 Crime Bill And Acknowledge She Has Tried To Have It Both Ways On Criminal Justice Reform.


  • Today, Clinton will keynote Detroit's NAACP chapter's annual dinner, giving her the opportunity to address criminal justice reform.
  • Clinton has made criminal justice reform a top issue in her bid for the White House and has called for the end of "the era of mass incarceration."
  • But Clinton's proposals serve as a direct reversal of the policies she previously supported when her husband, President Bill Clinton signed the 1994 crime bill.
  • Now, as a presidential candidate, Clinton is trying to distance herself from the crime bill as its effects have been criticized as creating a large prison population.
  • The Clintons' efforts to have it both ways on the 1994 Crime Bill have not gone unnoticed and are continuously called into question by Black Lives Matter protesters.
  • Last month at the National Action Network conference, Clinton received "a lukewarm response" as she missed an opportunity to cut through the clutter that now surrounds her stance on criminal justice reform.

Today, Hillary Clinton Is The Keynote Speaker At The NAACP Detroit Chapter's Annual Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner. "Former Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will give the keynote at the Detroit NAACP Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner. The Detroit chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Monday announced Clinton as the main speaker at the May 1 event." ("Hillary Clinton To Give Keynote At Detroit NAACP Dinner," The Associated Press, 4/11/16)


Clinton Has Called For "Urgent Reforms" To Our Criminal Justice System. "Hillary Clinton says a wave of unrest in Baltimore shows that our criminal justice system is 'out of balance' and is in 'urgent need' of reform. 'I hope that the tragedies of the last year give us the opportunity to come together as a nation to find our balance again,' she said in an essay for the Brennan Center for Justice." (Francesca Chambers, "Hillary Says The Nation Is In 'Urgent Need' Of Criminal Justice Reform And Calls For Body Cameras For All Police Officers," Daily Mail, 4/29/15)

Days After Announcing Her Candidacy, Clinton Delivered A Speech Highlighting The Changes She'd Like To Make To The Criminal Justice System, Including Ending "The Era Of Mass Incarceration." "Hillary Clinton on Wednesday will lay out a set of ideas for overhauling the criminal justice system, calling for an end to 'mass incarceration' and for the use of body cameras in every police department." ("Clinton To Propose Changes To Criminal Justice System," The Wall Street Journal , 4/29/15)

Clinton Said That We Need To Chart A New Course On "How We Approach Punishment And Prison" Because The United States Has Almost 25 Percent Of The World's Prison Population At A Time When Crime Is At A Historic Low. CLINTON: "The second area where we need to chart a new course is how we approach punishment and prison. It's a stark fact that the United States has less than 5 percent of the world's population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world's total prison population. The numbers today are much higher than they were 30, 40 years ago, despite the fact that crime is at historic lows." (Hillary Clinton, Remarks At The David Dinkins Leadership And Public Policy Forum, New York, NY, 4/29/15)

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Clinton's Criminal Justice Reform Speech Failed To Mention The Role She Played In Passing The 1994 Crime Bill. "Hillary Clinton declared Wednesday in New York that there's "something wrong" with criminal justice in America. But a lot of what Clinton finds wrong can be traced to her husband's presidency…'It's time to end the era of mass incarceration,' said the former secretary of state in Wednesday's speech at Columbia University. What she didn't say: She lobbied liberal lawmakers to support her husband's 1994 crime bill, which included $9.7billion in prison funding and tougher sentencing provisions." (Ben Schreckinger and Annie Karni, "Hillary's Criminal Justice Plan: Reverse Bill's Policies," Politico, 4/29/15)

But Clinton's Criminal Justice Reform Plan Is A Call To Unravel Many Of The Very Policies She Previously Supported As She Neglects To Address Her Role In Getting Those Policies Into Law

As First Lady, Clinton Lobbied For The 1994 Crime Bill, Which Included Harsher Sentences And Expanded Use Of The Death Penalty. "As First Lady, Clinton lobbied for her husband's crime bill, which (among other things) encouraged states to enact harsher sentencing statutes and expanded the list of crimes subject to the federal death penalty." (Elizabeth Nolan Brown, "Now Hillary Clinton Cares About Criminal Justice Reform," Reason 's Hit & Run Blog , 12/5/14)

The Crime Bill Created Tougher Penalties For Drug Offenders And Appropriated Over $30 Billion For Cities To Hire More Police Officers And Build More Prisons. "Mrs. Clinton faces a similar burden - in her case, by association. Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, signed the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the most significant crime legislation ever passed and a measure that critics say contributed to a climate of police abuse. The 1994 law included $30.2 billion to bolster cities' law enforcement rosters and build dozens of new prisons. It also created tougher penalties for drug offenders and expanded the number of crimes that could be punished by the federal death penalty." (Michael Barbara, "Baltimore Forces Presidential Hopefuls To Confront A Jarring Crisis," The New York Times , 4/29/15)

Clinton Championed "Three Strikes And You're Out" Policies And Called For Tougher Prison Sentences For Repeat Offenders. "As recently noted by, Hillary actively lobbied for the aforementioned criminal justice reforms as First Lady and, as a New York senator, voted to expand grants that dramatically scaled up police involvement in anti-terror and homeland security efforts. She also said things like this, in support of a crime bill that would impose draconian new sentencing provisions: 'We need more police, we need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders. The three strikes and you're out for violent offenders has to be part of the plan. We need more prisons to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets.'" (Jeff Stein, "The Clinton Dynasty's Horrific Legacy: How 'Tough-On-Crime' Politics Built The World's Largest Prison System," Salon , 4/13/15)

In 1994, Hillary Clinton Said "I Really Think We Should Have Much Harsher, Longer Sentences For Violent Offenders, Keep Them Put Away Longer." "Hillary Rodham Clinton joined her husband in talking tough about crime. 'I really think we should have much harsher, longer sentences for violent offenders, keep them put away longer,' the first lady said.'" ("Clintons Bring Crime Message 'Home' On TV," Orlando Sentinel, 12/11/93)

At A January 1996 Campaign Speech, Clinton Criticized Troubled Youth As "The Kinds Of Kids That Are Called 'Super-Predators'" And Said "We Can Talk About Why They Ended Up That Way But First We Have To Bring Them To Heel." CLINTON: "They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called 'super-predators' - no conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way but first we have to bring them to heel." (Hillary Clinton, Remarks At Keene State College, Keene, NH, 1/25/96)

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During Bill Clinton's Presidency The Prison Population Skyrocketed

Federal And State Prison Populations Rose More Under President Bill Clinton Than Any Other President. "The federal and state prison populations rose more under former President Bill Clinton than under any other president, according to a report from a criminal justice institute to be released today." (Greg Krikorian, "Federal And State Prison Populations Soared Under Clinton, Report Finds," Los Angeles Times, 2/19/01)

Specifically, The Black Prison Population Increased Over 50 Percent. "Under former President Bill Clinton, the black prison population grew over 50 percent as violent crime rates peaked. In response, Clinton signed an omnibus crime bill in 1994 that established mandatory minimum sentences, even for minor offenses, and a federal "three strikes" provision that imposed life sentences for anyone convicted of a violent felony after two or more prior convictions." (Samantha Lachman, "Hillary Clinton Continues To Distance Herself From Her Husband's Crime Policies," The Huffington Post , 8/19/15)

The President Of The NAACP's Legal Defense And Educational Fund Said The 1994 Crime Bill Exacerbated Racial Bias In Policing

In April 2015, Sherrilyn Ifill, President Of The NAACP's Legal Defense And Educational Fund, Said The 1994 Crime Bill Exacerbated Racial Bias In Policing And Law Enforcement Because It Created A Hyper-Punitive Criminal Justice System. PRESIDENT OF NAACP'S LEGAL DEFENSE AND EDUCATION FUND SHERRILYN IFILL: "Mass incarceration, of course, is a huge problem and we've got to reverse it. But you know, Andrea, I worry about the fact we're trying to pick out one or two things that are the cause of the situation that we're in. You know, forty years ago when Clifford Glover, a ten-year old, was shot and killed by police officers in New York in the community I grew up when I was ten-years old, there was no 1994 crime bill. When Eleanor Bumpers, a grandmother, was killed by the NYPD in the 1980s, there was no crime bill. When Michael Stewart was killed in a subway station in New York in the early 1980s there was no crime bill. We still have the issue of racial bias in policing and in law enforcement, and we have to be prepared to confront that. Things like the crime bill make it worse because they up the ante, and they create this hyper-punitive system without ever addressing the reality of racial bias which we all know exists - not only in the criminal justice system, but everywhere and so it exacerbates the problem." (MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," 4/29/15)

Illinois Representative Bobby Rush Said He Was Ashamed Of His Vote For The Crime Bill And Called It The Worst Vote He Has Ever Cast

Rep. Bobby Rush: "I Am Ashamed Of My Vote For The 1994 Crime Bill…It Was My Worst Vote In Congress." ILLINOIS REPRESENTATIVE BOBBY RUSH: "Tamron, let me start off with this. I am ashamed of my vote. I am sincerely apologizing to my god, apologized to my community, to my family, that was the worst vote, as I look back over the years that I have taken since I have been in congress. It was a vote that was accompanied with a lot of hope that we were finally going to be able to deal with not only the issue of crime in our community, devastating crime, but that we would also be able to do those things and have those programs and policies to deal with the other kinds of issues the other problems in our community." (MSNBC's MSNBC Live, 4/13/16)


Now Running For President, Clinton Has Tried To Distance Herself From The Bill

Huffington Post Headline: "Hillary Clinton Continues To Distance Herself From Her Husband's Crime Policies" (Samantha Lachman, "Hillary Clinton Continues To Distance Herself From Her Husband's Crime Policies," Huffington Post , 8/19/15)

The Clinton Campaign "Has Distanced Itself From The 1994 Crime Bill." "But his focus on his own accomplishments has intensified as Bill Clinton faces growing criticism on the trail from Black Lives Matter protesters and Bernie Sanders over his record on criminal justice issues - and his wife's campaign, which has distanced itself from the 1994 crime bill, is not eager to help in his defense." (Annie Karni, "Bill Clinton Can't Stop Talking About Himself," Politico, 4/12/16)

Despite Efforts To Quietly Sidestep Her Support For the 1994 Crime Bill, Clinton And Her Biggest Surrogate, Her Husband Bill Clinton Continue To Defend Its Legacy

When Confronted By Black Lives Matter Protesters Regarding The Crime Bill, Bill Clinton Defended The Legislation. "Bill Clinton pushed back against the criticism by pivoting away from his typical stump speech and launching into a series of arguments about ways the crime bill did help the black community and times when Hillary Clinton worked on civil rights reform. 'I talked to a bunch of African-American groups [in 1994], they think black lives matter. [The groups said] to take this bill because people are being shot in the street by gangs. We had 13-year-old kids planning their own funerals,' Bill Clinton said at the Philadelphia rally." (Ben Kamisar, "Bill Clinton Clashes With Protesters Over His Crime Bill,"The Hill , 4/7/16)

Bill Clinton's Defense Of The Bill "Launched A Thousand Reprises Of The Debate Over Whether The Clintons Were Truly Contrite About The Unintended Consequences Of The Crime Bill." "Fast-forward about 20 years, and Hillary Clinton has expressed regret for using the term, but Bill Clinton last week defended the crime bill and objected to protesters criticizing his wife for using a term that at the time targeted drug dealers and killers. The episode launched a thousand reprises of the debate over whether the Clintons were truly contrite about the unintended consequences of the crime bill, which some blame for codifying a culture of mass incarceration that has decimated African American families." (Abby Phillip, "After Black Lives Matter Dust-Up, Bill And Hillary Clinton Shore Up Support With Black Voters," The Washington Post , 4/10/16)

The Next Day, While Stumping For His Wife, Bill Clinton Again Defended His Crime Bill. BILL CLINTON: "You're living in a country where young African Americans think their number one threat now is from police officers. When I signed that crime bill they knew what their number one threat was from gangs making money out of cocaine, taking teenage kids, hopping them up, giving them guns and telling them to go kill other teenagers to prove their (inaudible). It's different." (Bill Clinton, Remarks At Penn State Behrend In Erie, Pennsylvania, 4/8/16)

Hillary Clinton, Herself Claimed There Were "So Many Positive Features To The Crime Bill." CLINTON: "I think that's a very good point. I mean there were so many positive features to the crime bill, but, it did, I think, catalyze a kind of much more wrongly defined mentality about cracking down on crime, and people took it too far." (Hillary Clinton, Newsday Editorial Board Interview, 4/11/16)

The Bill Continues To Dog Clinton's Campaign As Protesters Challenge Clinton On Her Ties To The Bill And Its Effects

The Clintons' Support For The Crime Bill Has "Dogged…This Campaign." "It was a reminder that perhaps seemed necessary after last week, when a group of Black Lives Matter protesters once again raised an old and thorny issue that has dogged the Clintons in this campaign: their support for a 1994 crime bill." (Abby Philip, "After Black Lives Matter Dust-Up, Bill And Hillary Clinton Shore Up Support With Black Voters," The Washington Post , 4/10/16)

At An Event In August 2015, Clinton Was Forced To Meet With Black Lives Matter Activists Who Wanted To Question Clinton's "Involvement" In The "Violence That Has Been Perpetuated" Against Black Communities. "Hillary Clinton met with five Black Lives Matter activists behind closed doors following her campaign event here Tuesday evening after the group tried to disrupt the forum but arrived too late to get past security. The group - affiliated with Black Lives Matter organizations in the Boston area - asked Clinton about 'her and her family's history with the war on drugs both at home and abroad, and how she felt about her involvement in that violence that has been perpetuated, especially against communities of color and against black folks,' member Daunasia Yancey said afterward. 'We wanted to know her reflections on her involvement as first lady, as senator, and as secretary of state.'" (Gabriel Debenedetti, "Clinton Meets With Black Lives Matter Protestors," Politico, 8/11/15)

At A Campaign Stop In October 2015, Black Lives Matter Protestors Interrupted A Clinton Event To Call On Her To Produce A Criminal Justice Platform, "Particularly In Regard To Policing." "Friday evening, #AUCShutItDown, an Atlanta-based group affiliated with Black Lives Matter, said in a statement that they protested Clinton's event so they could press her to directly address issues facing the African-American community, particularly in regard to policing. 'Unfortunately, rhetoric DOES NOT save us, nor does it give confidence to black voters that we can trust Hillary to prioritize the necessity of ensuring our safety,' the group said. 'We've been waiting for weeks to see the platform that addresses these issues from Hillary Clinton's campaign. We will wait no more.'" (Dan Merica, "Hillary Clinton Protested By Black Lives Matter," CNN, 10/31/15)

In April, Bill Clinton Was Interrupted By Black Lives Matter Protesters Heckling Him For His Support The 1994 Crime Bill. "Former President Bill Clinton repeatedly defended himself from criticism about his support of his controversial crime bill from a series of protestors during a rally for his wife's presidential campaign. The protestors interrupted the president's stump speech, shouting criticism of his support of the 1994 crime bill that raised mandatory minimum sentences, with one holding up a sign that said 'Clinton crime bill destroyed our communities.'" (Ben Kamisar, "Bill Clinton Clashes With Protesters Over His Crime Bill,"The Hill , 4/7/16)

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The Clintons Have Been Called Out For Their "Super Complicated" Two Step On The Legacy Of The Crime Bill

Mark Halperin: The Clintons Defending Bill's Record Is "Super Complicated." NBC'S WILLIE GEIST: "We have a great group here. Let's bring in NBC news political analyst Nicolle Wallace and Mark Halperin. managing editor of Bloomberg politics. Bill Clinton said he probably didn't handle the protester the right way. A presidential candidate is campaigning with a husband who is the president of the United States and has a legacy of his own that he has to defend on the trail. How complicated is this for Hillary?" MARK HALPERIN: "Super complicated. We saw it eight years ago when he campaigned for his wife and she lost. The next days in New York are going to be incredibly important for the nomination. Not just a question of who wins. Hillary Clinton is heavily favored. But how the Clintons navigate the trail. There is no greater testing ground than New York City and New York State. We'll see how president and Hillary Clinton deal with it. See if sanders can narrow the gap in a state that's critically important to his chances." (NBC's Today Show, 4/11/16)

MSNBC's Tamron Hall: Clintons Are Trying To Have It Both Ways On The Crime Bill. MSNBC'S TAMRON HALL: "So congressman, I have to ask you, as you have mothers and fathers, I cover crime and reported in Chicago for ten years. Having the former president hearing what you say now with this apology, is it enough, though? We were looking at a law that allowed for the prosecution of children 13 or older for certain crimes to prosecute them as an adult. There's no one who would doubt the sincerity of the apology you just presented, but on the campaign trail, you seem to hear the Clintons having it both ways. Apologizing for the crime bill, but then pointing to some of the good, if that is even the word to use, that may have come out of it." (MSNBC's MSNBC Live, 4/13/16)

The New York Times Editorial: "It's Puzzling Mrs. Clinton Hasn't Addressed In Detail The Trade-Offs And Consequences, Good And Bad Of That Legislation." "It's puzzling that Mrs. Clinton hasn't addressed in detail the trade-offs and the consequences, good and bad, of that legislation. That's a problem, because even though Bernie Sanders voted for the crime bill (it contained certain provisions he supported), some of his supporters view the bill as the type of compromise that they reject." (Editorial, "Why Mrs. Clinton Needs To Say More About The Crime Bill," The New York Times , 4/12/16)

Given The Opportunity To Acknowledge Her Support For The Crime Bill And Its Consequences At Last Month's National Action Network Conference, Clinton Avoided The Subject

Clinton's Speech At The National Action Network Conference "Received A Lukewarm Response." " A week after her husband had a tense encounter with black protesters, Hillary Clinton on Wednesday received a lukewarm response from a gathering of black leaders and voters in New York." (Amy Chozick, "Hillary Clinton Gets Tepid Response At Black Activist Conference," The New York Times , 4/13/16)

Clinton Notably Did Not Discuss The Crime Bill. "So when Clinton appeared before Sharpton's National Action Network, there was a bit more drama surrounding her speech than there otherwise might have been. Would she take the opportunity to revisit the crime bill or again voice regret-as she did in February-for the use in 1996 of the term "super-predator"? Would she mention the ill-received joke with de Blasio? The answer, on both accounts, was nope. Clinton delivered the kind of speech that has become her hallmark: substantive and detailed, if not exactly stirring, and one that hit political and policy notes as if she were checking them off a list. She heaped plenty of praise on President Obama but made no mention of either her husband or de Blasio." (Russell Berman, Hillary Clinton's Agenda For Black America," The Atlantic , 4/13/16)

"Instead, Clinton Repeated Lines She Often Uses About The Need To Overhaul The Criminal Justice System." "Instead, Mrs. Clinton repeated lines she often uses about the need to overhaul the criminal justice system. 'We have to rebuild the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the community they serve,' she said. 'And stop the tragedy of black men and women being killed by police or dying in custody.'" (Amy Chozick, "Hillary Clinton Gets Tepid Response At Black Activist Conference," The New York Times , 4/13/16)

A Reporter At The Event Called Clintons Discussion Of Dismantling Mass Incarceration Without Noting Her Support For The 1994 Crime Bill "Kind Of Hypocritical." "But, of course, when she talked about dismantling mass incarceration, she conveniently left out her support for the 1994 crime bill and how she lobbied for private prisons, which causes a white reporter to whisper to me, 'Kind of hypocritical.' Indeed." (Bene Rivera, "Hillary Clinton's NAN Speech Sounds Good, But Does Anybody Really Believe Her?" The Root, 4/13/16)

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