Joe Biden’s criminal justice legacy is more than just the 1994 Crime Bill

By Kent R. Kroeger (June 3, 2020)

Photo by Billie Grace Ward (Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

Is Trump culpable in Floyd’s death? Obviously, no, but…

President Trump’s defense on the question of police violence is unnecessarily weak. Inexplicably, he has repeatedly promoted police violence against crime suspects, both as a candidate and as president. The following video (and others like it) is exhibit number one:

Any discussion on Joe Biden and crime law must start with Reagan

While political pundits and Biden critics focus on the 1994 Crime Bill, the real story behind Biden’s view on criminal justice goes back further in time.

The 1994 Crime Bill in context

President Clinton’s job approval plummeted to 37 percent within the first year of his presidency, driven down partly from a failed effort to produce a viable health care reform package he had promised during the 1992 campaign.

Did the 1994 Crime Bill work?

The precise impact of the 1994 Crime Bill is a contentious question.

The US incarceration rate under state and federal jurisdiction per 100,000 population 1925–2008 (omits local jail inmates). Graph by Smallman12q (talk)
Timeline of total number of inmates in U.S. prisons and jails. From 1920 to 2008. War on Drugs (1971). Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 (mandatory minimum sentencing). Graph by The November Coalition.

Biden’s criminal justice record is more than the 1994 Crime Bill

When judging Biden’s entire career on criminal justice reform, the analysis must include not only the 1994 Crime Bill but also the Comprehensive Control Act of 1984, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 — all criminal justice bills Biden co-authored or had significant influence over its content. All together, those four bills did the following:

  • created a significant sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine (which helped expand the current racial disparities in incarceration rates),
  • increased prison sentences for drug possession,
  • funded the building of more state prisons,
  • funded the hiring of hundred of thousands of additional police officers, and,
  • used grant programs to encourage more drug-related arrests— an significant escalation in the War on Drugs started under Nixon.
  • Eliminate mandatory minimums.
  • Our criminal justice system must be focused on redemption and rehabilitation…Create a new $20 billion competitive grant program to spur states to shift from incarceration to prevention.
  • End, once and for all, the federal crack and powder cocaine disparity.


I find this graphic distressing. It shows the incarceration rates around the world if every U.S. state were a country. For example, Hawaii has an incarceration rate similar to Cuba’s!

I am a survey and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion (You can contact me at:

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