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Pat Nolan in the Washington Examiner: Looking Back at the Many Costs of the ’94 Crime Bill

| September 23, 2014

This week, the Washington Examiner published a piece by Pat Nolan, Director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation and Right on Crime fellow. It was a look back on the 1994 Crime Bill– a massive omnibus package written by then-Senator Joe Biden and passed with overwhelming Democrat support. Now, twenty years on, Nolan looks at the effects of this law and calls it a “bait-and-switch”; after dramatically increasing the number of prisons and inmates, it became obvious that the new facilities are “not packed with violent predators. Instead, they are filled with nonviolent offenders.”

Twenty years ago this month, President Clinton signed into law the Omnibus Crime Bill, amid much self-congratulation by politicians.

Today, however, most observers on the Left and Right are critical of many parts of the bill, and have concluded that the public didn’t get as much public safety as $33 billion should have bought.

The bill offered $9.7 billion to the states for prison construction, setting off a frenzy of prison-building. This was a fool’s bargain. The feds provided one-time money for bricks and mortar, but they attached strings to the funding, requiring the states to severely increase sentences, even for those inmates who could be safely released.

This caused the number of state prisoners to soar, increasing by more than 45 percent, and the number in federal prisons more than doubled. The number of inmates in American prisons and jails grew from 1.01 million in 1994 to 2.3 million today. Roughly one out of every 100 adults in the U.S. is behind bars as you read this.

Continue reading at the Washington Examiner.


RIGHT ON CRIME is a national campaign to promote successful, conservative solutions on American criminal justice policy—reforming the system to ensure public safety, shrink government, and save taxpayers money. By sharing research and policy ideas and mobilizing strong conservative voices, we work to raise awareness of the growing support for effective reforms within the conservative movement. We are transforming the debate on criminal justice in America.