• Vera Institute of Justice -
    Vera Institute of Justice

rom the launch of the War on Drugs in 1971 to the more than 700% growth in the prison population four decades later, trace the major legislation, events, and statistics related to the genesis and implementation of the 1994 Crime Bill.

1971 – President Nixon launches the War on Drugs, declaring drug abuse to be “public enemy number one.”

1973 – New York’s “Rockefeller Drug Laws” signed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, establishing mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.

October 12, 1984 – Comprehensive Crime Control Act establishes a federal sentencing commission and eliminates parole for the federal prison system.

1984 – The state of Washington enacts the first truth-in-sentencing law, requiring violent offenders to serve most of their sentences in prison.

October 27, 1986 – The Anti-Drug Abuse Act establishes mandatory minimums for federal drug offenses and institutes the 100:1 crack-to-powder cocaine sentencing ratio.

1991 – U.S. Sentencing Commission releases study documenting the racial disparities caused by mandatory minimum sentencing. The overall crime rate in the U.S. reaches its peak.

1993 – First “three strikes and you’re out” law passed in the state of Washington. Television coverage of crime more than doubles from 1992 to 1993.

October 26, 1993 – The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (“Crime Bill”) is first introduced by Representative Jack Brooks (D-Texas).

January 25, 1994 – President Clinton’s second State of the Union address devotes nearly all of its 14 final paragraphs (15 percent of the total speech) to crime, and promotes the passage of the Crime Bill itself.

August 11, 1994 – U.S. House of Representatives rejects the Crime Bill due to Republican and Democrat opposition to various parts of it, most notably the expansion of death penalty provisions and the assault weapon ban. Eleven out of 38 members of the Congressional Black Caucus voted against the bill because a provision to allow prisoners to challenge their death sentences by using statistics (the Racial Justice Act) was removed in committee, and in protest against the expansion of death penalty-eligible offenses.

August 21, 1994 – The House passes a new version of the Crime Bill with $3.3 billion cut from original package—two-thirds of it from prevention programs. A provision was added that made accusations of past sexual offenses admissible in court testimony, and a provision was removed that would have made 16,000 low-level drug offenders eligible for early release.

Clinton Speech
Courtesy of the Clinton Library

November 8, 1994 – California passes Proposition 184, a three-strikes law that doubled the penalty for a second felony conviction if the first conviction was serious or violent, and imposed a sentence of 25 years to life for any third felony. The law passed with nearly 72 percent of the vote.

1994 – The total U.S. prison population increases by 9.1 percent between 1993 and 1994, reaching 1,016,760.

1995 – The total COPS Office appropriation for fiscal year 1995 is $1.3 billion, up from $148.4 million in fiscal year 1994. A total of 25,000 new officers are funded. In the past two years, almost half of states have passed some form of a three-strikes law.

Courtesy Of The Office Of Senator Joe Biden
Courtesy of the Office of Senator Joe Biden

1997 – Twenty-seven states have passed truth-in-sentencing laws and, as a result, received a total of $234.9 million in federal truth-in-sentencing grants.

1998 – Percentage of victims reporting intimate partner violence has grown to 59 percent from 48 percent in 1993.

May 1999 – COPS funds its 100,000th community policing professional.

October 28, 2000 – The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is reauthorized for the first time. It included additional related crimes of dating violence and stalking, created legal assistance program for victims, promoted supervised visitation program for families experiencing violence, and protected victims of trafficking by establishing U and T-visas.

2000 – Sixteen states have now abolished release from prison by discretionary parole. Since 1985, state and federal governments have opened one new prison per week.

2001 – The Violent Offender Incarceration and Truth-in-Sentencing (VOI/TIS) grant program, created by the Crime Bill, expires after more than $2.7 billion is spent out of the more than $3 billion that was originally appropriated for the program. All 50 states eventually participated in the program and received some amount of grant money.

2002 – Michigan eliminates mandatory sentences for most drug offenses.

2004 – Federal assault weapon ban expires due to sunset provision and is not renewed.

2005 – VAWA is reauthorized for the second time; this version includes provisions to create the Sexual Assault Services Program—the first federal funding stream to direct services for victims of sexual assault.

2006 – More than half the number of prisons currently in use were built in the previous 20 years.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance launches the Justice Reinvestment Initiative(JRI), a project that works with states to cut spending on incarceration and reinvest savings in practices that improve safety and hold offenders accountable.

2007 – A projection in Texas indicates that 17,000 more prison beds are needed at a cost of $2 billion. Lawmakers instead opt to spend an eighth of that cost, $241 million, on treatment-oriented programs for nonviolent offenders and in-prison treatment programs.

2008 – U.S. reaches peak prison population at 2,307,500 federal and state inmates. A total of 770,000 people work in the corrections sector—by comparison, 880,000 workers are in the U.S. auto industry.

2009 – New York State modifies the Rockefeller Drug Laws by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences and significantly restoring judges’ ability to order treatment and rehabilitation instead of incarceration.

2010 – The rate of intimate partner violence has declined 67 percent since 1993.

Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) reduces sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1.

Right on Crime, an organization serving as a source for conservative-led criminal justice reform, is founded.

Us State And Federal Prison Population 1925 2012

2011 – U.S. Sentencing Commission votes to retroactively apply new FSA sentencing guidelines to individuals sentenced before the law was enacted.

2012 – California revises its three-strikes law, limiting the imposition of a life sentence to cases in which the third felony conviction is for a serious or violent crime. At least 17 states and the federal government have partially repealed or lessened the severity of mandatory sentences.

The number of admissions to federal and state prisons—609,800—is the lowest number since 1999.

2013 – Since 2000, 29 states have taken steps to roll back mandatory sentences. And since 2009, more than 30 states have reformed their drug laws. In the past 20 years, the overall rate of violent crime in the U.S. has declined more than 70 percent.

March 7, 2013 – VAWA reauthorized for a third time. New provisions include the recognition of tribes’ power to prosecute both Native American and non-Native Americans who assault Native American spouses.

Admissions And Releases

January 17, 2014 – The 2014 federal fiscal budget includes $28 million, up from $6 million in 2013, to support new states participating in JRI and to enhance implementation efforts in states that are already participating.

April 30, 2014 – The National Academy of Sciences releases a comprehensive reporttitled “The Growth of Incarceration in the United States,” which argues that the United States has gone past the point where the level of incarceration can be justified by social benefits and in fact now constitutes a source of injustice and social harm. The report also recommends changes in sentencing, prison, social policies to reduce the nation's over-reliance on incarceration.

2014 – Total COPS Office appropriation for fiscal year 2014 is down to $214 million, from a high of $1.633 billion in 1998.

Source White House Blog

Twenty-two states have joined the Justice Reinvestment Initiative to reduce their spending on incarceration.

Texas’ incarceration rate has fallen 20 percent since 2007, when it opted out of constructing new prisons in favor of treatment programs, and its crime rate is at its lowest since 1968.

July 18, 2014 – U.S. Sentencing commission votes unanimously to apply a recent reduction in the sentencing guideline levels retroactively, making 42,290 offenders eligible for their cases to be reviewed by a judge beginning in 2015.

September 13, 2014 – Twentieth anniversary of the 1994 Crime Bill. Congress is currently considering the following criminal-justice related legislation: theSmarter Sentencing Act, the Justice Safety Value Act, the reauthorization of theSecond Chance Act, and the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act.

September 16, 2014 – The Bureau of Justice Statistics releases a report showing that in 2013, the state prison population rose for the first time since 2008, and the federal prison population declined for the first time since 1980. For the first time since 2009, the total number of admissions to prisons was larger than releases. The result was an overall increase in prison population in the United States after three consecutive years of decline.

Source Bureau Of Justice Statistics National Prisoner Statistics Program 1978 2013
Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Prisoner Statistics Program, 1978–2013.