Former President Bill Clinton said his criminal justice policies aimed at reducing violence "made the problem worse" for the nation's black youth, who face high rates of incarceration. Clinton's mea culpa came during the NAACP's annual national convention in Philadelphia on Wednesday, a day after President Barack Obama called for an overhaul of the nation's law enforcement policies that disproportionately hurt black men.
Clinton, the last Democrat in the White House before Obama, has taken steps to distance himself from his administration's three-strikes criminal-justice policy as his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, campaigns for the Democratic nomination for president. "I signed a bill that made the problem worse. And I want to admit it," he told the NAACP on Wednesday, according to media reports.
Bill Clinton on criminal justice reform: "I signed a bill that made the problem worse. And I want to admit it." Says country was in crisis.
— Darren Sands (@darrensands) July 15, 2015
Under Clinton’s administration, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 requested 100,000 new officers and billions more in funding prisons and prevention programs. In May, Clinton said the federal law should be changed, Politico reported.
“The problem is the way it was written and implemented, we have too wide a net,” Clinton said in an interview with CNN at the time. “We have too many people in prison. And we wound up spending -- 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 that they could live productive lives.”
Obama told approximately 4,000 people gathered at the Philadelphia Convention Center on Tuesday night that lawmakers needed to reform a decadeslong war on drugs to help communities of color. “We’ve locked up nonviolent drug offenders more than ever before, for longer than ever before,” Obama said during the NAACP event. “Our criminal justice system isn’t as smart, isn’t as safe, and isn’t as fair as it should be. We need to do something about it.”
Prior to Clinton's remarks Wednesday, the NAACP praised his leadership in Washington. “We are thrilled President Bill Clinton will be addressing our final plenary session at this year’s NAACP National Convention,” NAACP Chairwoman Roslyn Brock said before his speech. “President Clinton demonstrated his pragmatic leadership while in the White House. Today, he continues his work as a change-making leader through the Clinton Foundation. As the country is faced with challenges, we look forward to hearing the former president lend his perspective on some of the most important civil rights challenges of our time."
Clinton's 1994 law imposed tougher prison sentences and provided money for extra prisons. But critics said the law was excessively punitive and has not reduced violent crime.
"Gangs and drugs have taken over our streets and undermined our schools," Clinton said in 1994 after the legislation became law. "Every day, we read about somebody else who has literally gotten away with murder."