Biden on Thursday both defended aspects of the 1994 crime bill, which he authored, and called it a “mistake,” though he blamed some of its most destructive effects on state governments.
“Yes, it was mistake,” Biden said when pressed. “But the mistake came in terms of what the states did locally.”
From the beginning of the Democratic primary, Biden has sought a middle ground on a law that is now broadly viewed as a root cause of mass incarceration in America.
“The crime bill itself did not have mandatory sentences, except for two things. It had three strikes and you’re out, which I voted against in the crime bill, but it had a lot of things in it that turned out to be both bad and good,” he said, before noting his work on the Violence Against Women Act and an assault weapons ban.
He also pledged again to decriminalize marijuana – a step short of many other Democrats, who want to legalize it on the federal level – and said he wanted to wipe clear the records of anyone who’s been arrested for possession.
When the follow-up questions turned to Biden’s relationship with the police, the former vice president said he still believed – as he did back in 1994 – that more officers on the streets mean less crime. But he qualified that argument, saying it was true only “if, in fact, they’re involved in community policing.”
Biden then said he would convene a “national study group” – including police, social workers and minority communities – to sit down in the White House and work together to sketch out “significant reforms.”