President Bill Clinton on Wednesday conceded that over-incarceration in the United States stems in part from policies passed under his administration.But a shift on this issue by both Clintons has been in the works. As I mentioned in a previous post, The New York Times told us that on April 27:
Clinton signed into law an omnibus crime bill in 1994 that included the federal "three strikes" provision, mandating life sentences for criminals convicted of a violent felony after two or more prior convictions, including drug crimes. On Wednesday, Clinton acknowledged that policy's role in over-incarceration in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
"The problem is the way it was written and implemented is we cast too wide a net and we had too many people in prison," Clinton said Wednesday. "And we wound up...putting so many people in prison that there wasn't enough money left to educate them, train them for new jobs and increase the chances when they came out so they could live productive lives."
Clinton's comments come on the heels of protests in Baltimore over policing and the death of a young black man there and a week after Hillary Clinton delivered one of the first policy addressees of her presidential campaign on criminal justice reform, saying that the system focuses too much on incarceration.
... declared and presumed candidates for president are competing over how to reverse what they see as the policy excesses of the 1990s and the mass incarceration that has followed.You can read Bill Clinton's foreword here.
... The extent of that change is made evident in a new book [Michael] Waldman’s [Brennan Center for Justice] has compiled featuring essays by many of the major presidential candidates laying out ideas for tackling the criminal justice system.
... For Mrs. Clinton, it was time to avoid another “incarceration generation,” as she put it. “We need a true national debate about how to reduce our current prison population while keeping our communities safe,” she wrote.
Significantly, her husband added a foreword in which he implicitly agreed that some of the policies he himself embraced two decades ago were too extreme. “The drop in violence and crime in America has been an extraordinary national achievement,” Bill Clinton wrote. “But plainly, our nation has too many people in prison and for too long -- we have overshot the mark.”
The book has contributions from both Clintons, Joe Biden, Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb -- and also Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and even Rick Perry. It's obviously been in the works for a while. I don't know how we got to a (vague semi-)consensus on the need for criminal justice reform, but we're there, and the Clintons have clearly been laying groundwork for a shift on their part. This doesn't appear to be an opportunistic reaction to Baltimore.