Former Vice President Joe Biden struggled to answer a question from a voter in New Hampshire about his role in passing tough anti-crime legislation in the nineties.
“Folks, there were mistakes that were made,” Biden admitted. “The biggest mistake in that bill in my view was making crack cocaine and powdered cocaine a different sentence, they should not be mandatory sentences.”
Biden spoke about the crime bill during a campaign stop in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Critics of Biden’s role in the process argue that the tough sentencing rules for drug crimes helped increase the number of people of color sent to prison for non-violent drug offences.
Biden argued that most of the blame fell on the states for enacting mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes.
“Folks lets get something straight, 92 out of every 100 prisoners end up being behind bars or in a state prison, not a federal prison,” he said. “This idea that the crime bill generated mass incarceration, it did not generate mass incarceration.”
Many of the mandatory minimums passed by states were part of a federal incentive passed in the crime bill to encourage such laws.
Biden said that he did not support certain elements of the crime bill but was forced to accept the “three strikes and you’re out” measure demanded by then-President Bill Clinton.
He blamed deceased Sen. Pat Moynihan for demanding tough penalties for crack cocaine that hit the black community, calling it a “big mistake.”
“It was crack and you can never come back,” Biden said, recalling the feeling of the nineties after studies showed at the time that crack was more destructive to the human brain.
He said he had tried to get the drug sentencing aspects of the bill repealed, since the bill passed, especially in the Obama administration.
“Nobody should be in jail, in my view, for a crime that’s not a crime of violence,” Biden said. “And even then it makes a difference, nobody should be in jail for smoking marijuana.”
He blamed Republicans for letting certain aspects of the crime bill expire and said that he had completely changed his mind on mandatory sentencing.
“Folks, we don’t need any more mandatory sentences period,” he said.