Fact Check: Donald Trump Claimed Joe Biden Incarcerated Black People

AP Photo/Stephen Morton
AP Photo/Stephen Morton

CLAIM: President Donald Trump claimed at the second presidential debate in Nashville, Tennessee, Thursday night that Democrat Joe Biden incarcerated black people.

VERDICT: Mostly true.

Trump claimed that Biden’s 1994 crime bill, which he pushed through when he was a senator, incarcerated “tens of thousands of black men.”

“Not since Abraham Lincoln has anybody done what I’ve done for the black community,” Trump said. “Now, you have done nothing, except for the crime bill that put tens of thousands of black men in jail.”

During the 1980s and 1990s, Biden helped shepherd a series of bills that overhauled the crime laws in the U.S., yet experts say those laws disproportionally hurt black men.

The most significant ones included the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, which introduced mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses; the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which imposed tougher sentences for crack possession than powder cocaine; and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which was an across-the-board tough-on-crime bill.

Biden also worked with segregationist senators, such as former Sen. James O. Eastland (D-MS), to push for mandatory minimum sentencing that would limit judges’ decision-making in sentencing.

An October 1995 report from the Sentencing Project, a group that advocates for criminal justice reform, discovered that between 1989 and 1995, the percentage of young black men who were incarcerated or on probation soared from 23 percent to 32 percent.

In the first five years of the Obama administration when Biden was vice president, the number of federal prisoners also increased.

Yet despite his history of being tough on crime in the past, Biden called the drug bill he and other senators passed in the 1980s “a mistake.”

“We should not send anybody to jail for a pure drug offense,” Biden said at the debate on Thursday. “They should be going into treatment.”


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