Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was pressed on her record on mass incarceration as First Lady at the CNN presidential debate Sunday night, ultimately saying she agreed it was a mistake.
Clinton has been hammered by Black Lives Matter protesters and African American writers over her advocacy for the 1994 crime bill, which is widely considered to have exacerbated mass incarceration by creating harsh sentences. In pushing the legislation, she invoked the racially-charged myth of “superpredators,” or the idea that young black people needed to be locked up because they were irrevocably violent and immoral.
On Sunday night, Clinton said she agreed with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who admitted last year that he had a role in worsening mass incarceration.
“I signed a bill that made the problem worse,” the former president said at the previous NAACP meeting in Philadelphia. “And I want to admit it.”
“Your husband said the bill was a mistake. Do you?” CNN’s Don Lemon asked Sunday.
“There were some aspects of it that worked well, the Violence Against Women provisions have worked well, for example,” Clinton said. “But other aspects of it were a mistake and I agree.”
“That’s why I am focused and have a very comprehensive approach towards fixing the criminal justice system, going after systemic racism that stalks the justice system, ending private prisons and ending the incarceration of low level offenders and i am committed to doing that,” she continued.
The 1994 crime bill created the federal “three strikes” rule that mandated life in prison for anyone convicted three times for violent felonies, including drug crimes. Congress is currently considering bipartisan legislation that would scale back that rule.
A Black Lives Matter protester recently interrupted a private fundraiser for Clinton to confront her on her “superpredator” comments. The protester was quickly escorted out, but she later wrote in the Huffington Post that “Hillary Clinton has a pattern of throwing the Black community under the bus when it serves her politically.”
Despite her record on the crime bill, Clinton has been immensely popular with black voters. Several family members of police victims, including the mothers of Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, and Dontre Hamilton, have hit the campaign trail with her, arguing that she should not be held responsible for her husband’s policies in the 1990s.