The 1994 Crime Bill Continues to Undercut Justice Reform-Here's How to Stop It
Date:  03-31-2019

Brief spotlights four problematic tough-on-crime policies that undermine criminal justice reform
From Center for American Progress:

The legacy of the Violent Crime Control Act and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, better known as the crime bill, has re-emerged in the national debate around criminal justice reform and public safety. Many consider the crime bill—which is best known for dramatically increasing harsh penalties for drug crimes, especially mandatory minimum sentences—to be one of the cornerstone statutes that accelerated mass incarceration. But the law’s negative effects did not end there. States and localities were incentivized through a massive infusion of federal funding to build more jails and prisons and to pass so-called truth-in-sentencing laws and other punitive measures that simultaneously increased the number and length of prison sentences while reducing the possibility of early release for those incarcerated.

It has been well-documented that these policies were failures. Their cost to society came not only from the staggering amount of taxpayer dollars that were invested in enforcement, but also from the disproportionate incarceration of a generation of African American men in the name of public safety. Moreover, tough-on-crime measures—specifically longer incarceration sentences—have had at best a marginal effect on improving public safety.

Elected leaders today are attempting to unwind some of the most harmful effects of the crime bill through criminal justice reform measures. As part of that reform effort, a number of cities have pursued public health models and community-based strategies alongside innovative policing approaches. However, the effectiveness of those efforts has been and will continue to be muted because the machinery that the crime bill created and preserved has never stopped churning. The same funding streams that overwhelmingly support enforcement activities over proven preventative and restorative solutions continue to this day—albeit with tweaks around the edges. States still look to build new jails and prison facilities, even as crime rates remain near historic lows. At the same time, Congress continues to advocate for new criminal statutes and higher criminal penalties, even as it proposes to lower some mandatory minimum sentences. Before considering what additional reforms are needed to fix a severely broken criminal justice system, U.S. elected leaders must first stop supporting the very mechanisms that caused the failure in the first place. Borrowing from the field of medicine, lawmakers must embrace the notion of “first, do no harm”—or more accurately, “do no more harm.” This issue brief spotlights four problematic tough-on-crime policies exacerbated by the crime bill that remain in place and continue to undermine reform efforts. Only when these destructive policies are reversed can the rebuilding of the criminal justice system truly take root to prevent harm in the future. Continue reading >>>