• Vera Institute of Justice -
    Vera Institute of Justice

any years in the making, the Crime Bill passed with strong bipartisan support in an era when shocking random acts of violence dominated media coverage and fear of being the next victim gripped the nation. Its passage brought together a broad coalition of liberals and conservatives and galvanized scores of legislators, Congressional staffers, executive branch appointees, policymakers, state and local law enforcement officials, and lobbyists. Championed on the Hill by Congressman Jack Brooks of Texas and then-Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, it was implemented by a phalanx of people working at the federal, state, and local levels all across the country. Many of those involved in its crafting and implementation are now prominent criminal justice leaders.

Twenty years after the legislation—the most sweeping criminal justice legislation ever passed—much has changed. Crime, which had already begun to drop by 1994, is down significantly. Survivors of domestic violence have greater protections, and community policing practices are more broadly adopted. At the same time, the federal prison population has more than doubled while the state prison population has increased by more than 45 percent—largely because of harsher sentencing requirements and get-tough-on-crime incentives.

We asked those architects and implementers to share their insights on the mood of our country when it was passed, how it has transformed our society in ways expected and unexpected, and their vision for a path forward.

Creating the COPS office
Kristen Mahoney

"The COPS office wanted to encourage the concept of community-oriented policing, which really at its heart is trying to figure out ways to develop partnerships with the community to solve problems and to figure out where the police plug in—what do they own as part of the problem? And what can the community own as part of the problem?"

Crime Bill looked to politics, not research
Bobby Scott

"The Black Caucus was concerned because a lot of the provisions, in practice, adversely affect the black community disproportionately."

Criminal justice reform lessons learned
Ronald Weich

"It was a serpentine road to a final passage."

For more history on what lead up to the Crime Bill, read our full timeline.

The Violence Against Women Act
"My staff and I believed that the only way to change this culture was to expose it… But what gave life to what we were trying to do were the survivors who had the courage to testify."
Joe Biden
Vice President
Sign of the times
Jeremy Travis

"The important starting point in thinking of the history of the act, is that it was born at a time of crisis, and the federal government responded."

"For me, the bottom line on the Crime Bill is that it had its minuses but it also had its pluses...It led to the largest spending on criminal justice-related research in the nation's history."
Laurie Robinson
Research Funding
Bipartisanship then and now
Adam Gelb

"In the early 1990’s, crime was one of the most divisive and emotional issues in American politics. It was really tearing the two parties apart... It was amazing that in that context, they were able to come up with a bipartisan compromise… You so want for that spirit to be rekindled, and I think we are starting to see that in some ways."