What Is the 1994 Crime Bill? Donald Trump Attacks Joe Biden Over Law: 'African Americans Will Not Be Able to Vote for You'

Donald Trump Joe Biden
Left: President Donald Trump listens during a meeting on drug trafficking on the Southern Border of the U.S. in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., March 13. Right: Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the First State Democratic Dinner in Dover, Delaware, on March 16. SAUL LOEB, JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump has taken a swipe at Joe Biden over the Democrat's involvement with the 1994 Crime Bill, touting his own credentials as a criminal justice reformer in his attack on the former vice president and 2020 candidate.

Trump made reference to the "super predator" phrase popularized in the mid-1990s by John DiIulio and largely used to describe young black males who committed violent crime. It was a phrase used at the time by the then first lady Hillary Clinton.

Biden, the former Delaware Senator and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, helped the then President Bill Clinton to draft and pass the Crime Bill. The legacy of the fiercely controversial legislation hangs over Biden's bid to secure the Democratic Party's nomination for the presidency.

To its many critics, the bill—known formally as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act—deepened America's mass incarceration problem and worsened racial inequality in the justice system. To its supporters, it aided a sharp drop in crime.

"Super Predator was the term associated with the 1994 Crime Bill that Sleepy Joe Biden was so heavily involved in passing. That was a dark period in American History, but has Sleepy Joe apologized? No!" Trump tweeted on Monday.

"Anyone associated with the 1994 Crime Bill will not have a chance of being elected. In particular, African Americans will not be able to vote for you. I, on the other hand, was responsible for Criminal Justice Reform, which had tremendous support, & helped fix the bad 1994 Bill!"

Biden did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Among the 1994 Crime Bill's provisions were greater resources for existing and new prisons, harsher punishments including for drug offenses, and an expansion of the death penalty.

It offered more federal money for states that adopted the "truth-in-sentencing" laws, which ensured violent offenders serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

And the crime bill introduced the "three strikes" rule that gave mandatory life sentences without parole to people convicted of three or more serious violent felonies or drug trafficking crimes.

"It has been well-documented that these policies were failures," concluded a report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, which analyzed the Crime Bill's impact.

"Their cost to society came not only from the staggering amount of taxpayer dollars that were invested in enforcement, but also from the disproportionate incarceration of a generation of African American men in the name of public safety.

"Moreover, tough-on-crime measures—specifically longer incarceration sentences—have had at best a marginal effect on improving public safety."

In 2016, Biden said he is not ashamed of his role in writing the 1994 Crime Bill and defended its record. "The problem is institutional racism in America. That's the overarching problem that still exists and we should be talking about," Biden told CNBC.

"But having said that, if you take a look at the Crime Bill, of the money in the Crime Bill the vast majority went to reducing sentences. Diverting people from going to jail for drug offenses into what I came up with—drug courts.

"Providing for boot camps instead of sending people to prison so you didn't relearn whatever the bad thing [was] that got you there in the first place. Put 100,000 cops on the street."

Bill Clinton has acknowledged the problems with the 1994 Crime Bill. "I signed a bill that made the problem worse," Clinton told the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's 2015 annual meeting in Philadelphia, CNN reported. "And I want to admit it."

He continued: "In that bill, there were longer sentences. And most of these people are in prison under state law, but the federal law set a trend. And that was overdone. We were wrong about that...The good news is we had the biggest drop in crime in history. The bad news is we had a lot of people who were locked up, who were minor actors, for way too long."

In December, President Trump signed the First Step Act into law. The act reformed the federal prison system by allowing a greater number of inmates to earn early release through recidivism reduction programs.

However, the reform's impact on mass incarceration will likely be small. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, there are just 180,835 federal inmates, compared to the circa two million held in state prisons.

"This legislation reformed sentencing laws that have wrongly and disproportionately harmed the African-American community," Trump said in his 2019 State of the Union address.

"The First Step Act gives nonviolent offenders the chance to reenter society as productive, law-abiding citizens. Now, states across the country are following our lead. America is a nation that believes in redemption."

Writing for the Weekly Standard in 1995, John Dilulio blamed a rise in violent crime committed by young people on the "abject moral poverty" in which they grew up and the "unmerciful abuse" they suffered as children, and dubbed them "super-predators."

"On the horizon, therefore, are tens of thousands of severely morally impoverished juvenile super-predators," Dilulio wrote. "They are perfectly capable of committing the most heinous acts of physical violence for the most trivial reasons (for example, a perception of slight disrespect or the accident of being in their path).

"They fear neither the stigma of arrest nor the pain of imprisonment. They live by the meanest code of the meanest streets, a code that reinforces rather than restrains their violent, hair-trigger mentality.

"In prison or out, the things that super-predators get by their criminal behavior—sex, drugs, money—are their own immediate rewards. Nothing else matters to them. So for as long as their youthful energies hold out, they will do what comes 'naturally': murder, rape, rob, assault, burglarize, deal deadly drugs, and get high."