25 years ago: US Senate approves Clinton crime bill


Bill Clinton, right, shaking hands with Donald Trump at Trump Tower in 1999

On August 25, 1994, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was given final approval by the US Senate after being agreed to by the House. It was officially signed into law a few weeks later on September 13 by US President Bill Clinton.

The law was one of the most right-wing and repressive pieces of legislation passed in the country in decades and represented a frontal assault on the democratic rights of the population. The law poured $30 billion into strengthening local police forces and into the state and federal prison system.

The legislation succeeded in eliminating higher education for prison inmates by overturning a section of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which allowed the Pell Grant to fund inmates’ education during incarceration. It added 50 new federal offenses and authorized the initiation of military-style boot camps for juvenile delinquents. The Federal Death Penalty Act, a provision of the bill, created 60 new death penalty offenses under 41 federal capital statutes. It also included a three-strikes provision to address repeat offenders, giving a mandatory death sentence to third-time felony convictions.

The one measure which would have placed slight restrictions on the stepped-up pace of executions, a provision to allow prisoners to challenge their sentences on the grounds of discrimination, was deleted from the bill by the House-Senate conference committee. Much of the social spending allotted in the bill proposal was cut in the House of Representatives.

While the bill contained $4.6 billion in spending towards recreation, child and youth counseling, drug treatment and other social programs, the International Workers Bulletin explained that “[s]uch is the state of capitalist politics that even these provisions, a drop in the bucket compared to the crying social needs in devastated urban areas, had to be packaged as ‘crime prevention’ measures in order to gain passage.”

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