Skip to main content

Too Little Too Late: President Clinton's Prison Legacy

Preserving law and order has historically been a Republican issue. Barry Goldwater, Lyndon Johnson’s losing opponent in the 1964 presidential race, was the first to campaign on crime control in an attempt to counter the prevailing “liberal” mood of the 1960’s. Following Goldwater’s lead, Richard Nixon called for an increase in punitive crime control measures and a “war on drugs” that led to an increase in incarceration for low-level drug offenders. The Republican National Committee’s unleashing of the now famous “Willie Horton” advertisement during the race between Vice President George Bush and Massachusetts Governor  Michael Dukakis solidified the rhetorical advantage held by Republicans in the law and order arena.

When William Jefferson Clinton took office in 1993, he was embraced by some as a moderate change from the previous twelve years of tough on crime Republican administrations. Now, eight years later, the latest criminal justice statistics show that it was actually Democratic President Bill Clinton who implemented arguably the most punitive platform on crime in the last two decades. In fact, “tough on crime” policies passed during the Clinton Administration’s tenure resulted in the largest increases in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history.

Download

Policy Brief

Keywords: Criminal Justice, Incarceration, Prison Population, Report

Posted in Criminal Justice (Adult)

JPI's work

Through a combination of groundbreaking research, communications strategies and technical assistance, we inform advocates, policymakers and the media about fair and effective approaches to justice and community well-being.

Learn more »

Contribute

We envision a society with safe, equitable and healthy communities; just and effective solutions to social problems; and the use of incarceration only as a last resort. Please help us end the #IncarcerationGeneration with a generous contribution.

Contribute »

Sign up for our newsletter