In an interview with CNN Wednesday at a Clinton Global Initiative meeting in Morocco, former President Bill Clinton renounced in part his approval of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the 1994 bill whose “three strikes” provision has long been maligned as the root cause of over-incarcerations (and prison overcrowding) in the U.S.
“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 told Christiane Amanpour in Marrakech 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.”
Between 1983 and 2011, the number of people in federal and state prisons sentenced to a year or longer grew from 405,000 to over 1.3 million — a jump of 225 percent during a period that the population only grew by about a third.
Clinton was careful to characterize his signing of the bill—which called for 100,000 more police officers and pumped billions into prisons—as strategic political maneuvering. Republicans fought for the “three strikes” provision, Clinton told CNN, “But I wanted to pass a bill and so I did go along with it.”
The former president’s statements Wednesday also align him with his wife Hillary, who a week ago said, in what’s been considered one of the first big speeches of her 2016 presidential campaign, that “it’s time to end the era of mass incarceration.” (In 1994, CNN notes, she described the omnibus bill as “well-thought out crime bill that is both smart and tough.”)
“I strongly support what [Hillary is] doing and I think any policy that was adopted when I was president, any federal law that contributed to it needs to be changed,” Bill Clinton said.