Now, the NY Times is reporting that the 1994 crime bill that is often blamed for massively increasing incarceration rates in the United States, signed into law by Bill Clinton, was simply a measure that piled-on to the draconian legislative provisions that criminalized drug abuse beginning in the Nixon and Reagan administrations. Adding to this morass is data that shows that violent crime was already dropping, and rapidly, at the time the crime bill was signed in 1994 and despite notable drops in violent crime, law enforcement continued to lock up American citizens at record rates. Why? Consider the chart below:
As reported by the New York Times: “'The trend of increased incarceration had already started two decades before 1994,' said Jeremy Travis, the president of the John Jay College of Justice in New York. . . .
'To lay mass incarceration and the damages to black communities on the doorstep of the 1994 crime act is historically inaccurate,' Mr. Travis said, although elements of the law added to the problem in a modest way.
What the historical record does show is that many federal and state changes in criminal justice policy led to a fourfold rise in the incarceration rate from the early 1970s until it declined modestly in the last few years.
The rise in incarceration was driven by state laws like the 1973 Rockefeller drug laws in New York. And it was stoked by a major 1986 federal drug act, which expanded mandatory sentences and set the now-notorious 100-to-one ratio in the quantities of powdered versus crack cocaine that could trigger severe penalties."