If you had told me that the 1994 Crime Bill was going to play a huge role in the 2016 election, I would have been a little surprised. And yet here we are, with a lot of accusations being tossed around about the crime bill, and me not knowing much about it, beyond what's been thrown around by my Facebook friends.
So here you go, a primer on the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. To paraphrase John Mulaney, I know it's kind of stupid to write a blog post about a bill that was passed 22 years ago, but I wasn't a political blogger back then.
The gigantic 1994 bill included things that today we see as incredibly important and necessary, like the Violence Against Women Act and an assault weapons ban. It provided more money for community policing, and increased the number of police officers.
The bill also did things that I, and many others, see as problems like the three strikes law, which ensured mandatory life in prison without parole, for people who had committed three violent Federal crimes. The bill also expanded the Federal death penalty, eliminated inmate education, and created new Federal offenses, all of which has lead to an increase in the United States prison population.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the 1994 Crime Bill was a good thing, or even explain the context of its passage, because I think "there was lots of crime" is a bad reason to expand the death penalty and cut inmate education. Neither of those actions will do anything to reduce crime, now or in 1994. And I'm not even going to say that the crime bill reduced violent crime, because numerous studies have shown that it didn't.
The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was not a well-written, sustainable bill. It has ended up causing more problems than it solved, and some of the more progressive measures of the bill never actually materialized.
If you've been following the election, you'll know that Hillary Clinton has been taking a lot of heat for her husband's crime bill. You may also have noticed that Bernie Sanders is taking far less heat for his support for the bill. Sanders voted for the 1994 when he was in the House. Furthermore, you may have noticed that people rarely bring up Joe Biden when they talk about the bill, and no one has forced him to apologize, even though he was the primary Senate sponsor of the bill.
We should be questioning the past actions of our politicians, and they shouldn't get a pass for the bad decisions that they made in the past. We need to interrogate the language that they used, we need to hold them accountable for their opinions, and we need to demand to know how they're going to fix those mistakes. It's our duty as citizens to question our elected officials.
At the same time, is it a little weird that people seem to have focused all their energy on the woman who supported a bill (that her President husband thought was very important) rather than the men who wrote, shaped, and voted for the bill? I think so, but that's also the nature of politics in 2016.