LBN’s Bob Donley reports that America witnessed a rare event recently: a president of the United States admitting he made a mistake. In this case, the president was Bill Clinton.
Clinton says he had the best of intentions when he signed into law the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994. But now, Donley says, Clinton openly admits that he was wrong in signing the act. Clinton was aware when he spoke that President Obama has expressed concern about lengthy mandatory sentences that have produced overcrowded prisons. Says Clinton, “I signed a bill that made the problem worse.”
The effect of the bill was to “buy off” state and local governments by providing them with billions of dollars in federal grants in return for the passage of truth in sentencing laws. These laws imposed lengthy mandatory sentences for a number of crimes. The “three strikes and you’re out” laws are examples of harsh sentencing provisions.
The tough laws were intended to reduce crime. The unintended consequence of these laws has been a massive increase in America’s prison population. The number of people behind bars in the U.S. is estimated at 2.2 million (see this earlier LBN report on America’s prison population). Clinton says that the Violent Crime Act produced the biggest drop in crime in America’s history, and, Donley says, that did happen. The bad news was that people who committed minor crimes were given long sentences.
But, Donley notes, concerns about our prison population are shared by members of both political parties, but perhaps for different reasons. It costs about $30,000 per year to keep someone in prison. With continued budget shortages, there is a growing demand to save money by reducing the number of inmates in our prisons. There is especially pressure to release those who are in prison for non-violent crimes.
However it all ends, Donley concludes, it is good to hear someone who was once the most powerful man on earth admit that he, too, can make mistakes.
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