Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden admitted fault during a town hall discussion on ABC News on Thursday for racist outcomes from the 1994 crime reform bill he steered through the Senate but blamed individual state enforcement policies for the disproportionate number of black people jailed under it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Want to get another question in here from Angelica Politarhos.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry.
STEPHANOPOULOS: No, not at all. Garnet Valley, Pennsylvania.
ANGELICA POLITARHOS: Hi.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Republican who voted for President Trump last time.
POLITARHOS: Thank you. Thank you, George. Thank you, Vice President Biden. Nice to meet you.
What's your view on the crime bill that you wrote in 1994 which showed prejudice against minorities? Where do you stand today on that?
BIDEN: Well, first of all, things have changed drastically. That crime bill, when it voted, the Black Caucus voted for it, every Black mayor supported it across the board.
And it didn't -- 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 other things in it that turned out to be both bad and good.
I wrote the Violence Against Women Act, that was part of it. The Assault Weapons Ban and other things that were good.
What I was against was giving states more money for prison systems that they could build, state prison systems.
And you have 93 out of every 100 people is in a state prison not in a federal prison because they built more prisons.
I also wrote into that bill a thing called drug courts.
I don't believe anybody should be going to jail for drug use, they should be going into mandatory rehabilitation. We should be building rehab centers to have these people housed.
We should wipe out -- we should decriminalize marijuana, wipe out the record so you can actually say in honesty have you ever arrested for anything, you can say no.
Because we're going to pass a law saying there is no background that you have to reveal relative to the use of marijuana.
And so there's a lot of things. But in addition to that, we've got to change the system.
I joined with a group of people in the house to provide for changing the system from punishment to rehabilitation Along with a guy named Arlen Specter, who you may remember --
BIDEN: -- I wrote the Second Chance Act.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But in the meantime, an awful lot of people were jailed for minor drug crimes after the (inaudible).
BIDEN: Exactly right.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Was it a mistake to support it?
BIDEN: Yes, it was. But here's where the mistake came. The mistake came in terms of what the states did locally.
What we did federally, we said -- you remember, George, it was all about the same time for the same crime.
What I had done as chairman of the judiciary committee, I took the ten circuit courts of appeals, took some really brilliant lawyers working for me in judiciary, we did a study.
And we determined what happens if for the first, second, third offense for any crime in the criminal justice system at the federal level. If you're a Black man, it's the first time you commit a robbery, how long would you go to jail on average, if you're a white man, how long?
Black man would go to jail on average 13 years, white man, two years. I go down the list of every single crime.
So we set up a sentencing commission, we didn't set the time. Every single solitary maximum was reduced in there.
But what happened was it became the same time for the same crime. So it said you had to serve between one and three years. It ended up becoming much lower. Black folks went to jail a lot less than they would have before. But it was a mistake.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask another follow up on the crime bill. It also funded 100,000 police --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Back in 1994. You've often said that more cops clearly mean less crime. Do you still believe that?
BIDEN: Yes. If, in fact, they're involved in community policing not jump squads. For example, when we had community policing from the mid-90s on till Bush got elected, what happened? Violent crime actually went down precipitous.
Remember the significant rise in violent crime that was occurring the late 80s into the 90s. It went down and fewer African Americans were arrested because you had the requirement - the cops didn't like it, they didn't like the community policing, because you had to have two people in a vehicle, they had to get out of their cars, they had to introduce themselves to -- who owned the local liquor store, who owned the local grocery store, who was the woman on the corner.
And what they would do, George, that they'd actually go and give people their phone numbers. The cop would give the phone number.
So, if Nelly Smith was on the second floor where drug deals took place and things happened below her, she -- I mean, her apartment, she could call and say, it's Nelly and there's something going on here and they'd never reveal it was her, because they know if she knew that, in fact, they reported, they would never report. She -- they never report.
So, it actually started to come down. What happened? They eliminated the funding for community policing.
Community policing doesn't mean more people coming in in up-armored Humvees and swarming like that.
When they did, it turned out by the time we got to the late '90s, the crime had come down so much, and the mayors and everybody asked the question, where do you want me to spend the money? They say, well, only 1 percent thought violent crime was a problem. It was as high as 22 percent.