How Bill Clinton’s Mass Incarceration Policies Fed Rising Higher Education Costs and Student Debt Burdens

I seldom post a extract from another site without further commentary of my own, but this is sufficiently important that it deserves to be highlighted without me getting in the way. From Ben Jealous via Medium:

Furthermore, virtually every American between 18 and 24 is paying a price for mass incarceration.

This is because state after state has cut their higher education budget to pay for higher incarceration. As a result, public university tuition and student default rates have soared. Our youngest voters find themselves most likely to either be in prison, indentured by student loan debt or afraid to even apply to college.

President Clinton was misleading when he suggested his 1994 crime bill was only responsible for 10 percent of America’s mass incarceration crisis because that bill only applied to the federal system. Since at least the 1970s, when incarceration rates began rising in America, the states have quickly replicated federal changes in sentencing laws.

Indeed, most Black Lives Matter activists have paid a steep price for President Clinton’s policies.

However, they also understand what President Clinton has often ignored: while the percentages are higher in the black community, an equal or larger number of our white sisters and brothers have been impacted by the sky-high incarceration, poverty, and student debt default rates spurred by the very policies he touted.

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  1. EndOfTheWorld

    In light of this, explain to me why B & H are so popular with black people. Because he went on vacation with Vernon Jordan? Can’t they see through that malarkey?

    1. Massinissa

      Theyre mostly just liked by older black people, who dont care so much about the incarceration rate. Younger black people are more likely to vote Bernie.

      To be honest, I still dont understand why older black people are still so likely to like the Klintons

      1. rusti

        I don’t have the link handy, but someone posted an interview with Michelle Alexander (author of The New Jim Crow) where she argued that Bill’s campaign in 1992 was maybe the first presidential campaign where a white candidate made an effort to reach out to black voters and didn’t just send the message that the black community was a problem to be managed. Playing the saxophone with black voters, attending events at black churches, etc. She says these things were received extremely well and it’s painful for a lot of people to come to terms with how thoroughly they were betrayed by the Clintons.

        It doesn’t sound too unlike the many Obama voters who claim in 2016 that his progressive agenda is simply thwarted by evil Republicans.

    2. J-Ho

      Couple reasons. Big thing to remember is when you talk about black voters, the majority of them are middle-aged black women. Also, Hillary is pinning her campaign on tying herself to Obama’s legacy while Sanders is being critical of it. Finally, it’s obvious Sanders’ original intent was to run a message campaign to ensure his economic platform got a fair hearing during the primary. He didn’t explicitly reach out to black voters until relatively late in the election cycle and although he’s done a better job of it than Hillary, he just doesn’t have the same recognition.

      I pretty much stole all these points from this excellent, though unfortunately titled, Real News Network segment:

      1. Harold

        It’s not just that they are older black women — it’s a religious thing. She and Bill have made connections to church community. Not that this is bad, but tends to be a narrow focus. It’s hard to believe, but they are quite pious.

    3. pretzelattack

      i think a lot of it is due to her being tied to obama. there is an intense need to see the first black president as being successful, and to see his policies as wise and benign. do they identify more as members of a racial group or as members of a class? in the south, and especially for older voters who can remember fire hoses and lynchings and segregated restrooms, racial identity is probably more important.

      the clintons have also contributed to and dealt with local political fixers, which means black preachers in the south, at least historically; i don’t think religion plays nearly as important a role in the north. the churches were huge in helping blacks cope with racism and jim crow, and provided many leaders in the civil rights movement, mlk being the outstanding example. sadly, like so many institutions in our society, they seem to be more apt to worship mammon today.

    4. Erwin Gordon

      Cher EOTW,

      That’s the narrative that the left leaning media has pushed for a very long time. One has to look past stage one to understand what is really going on. It’s the same with the idea the Clinton balanced the US budget rather than what really happened using smoke and mirrors (i.e. accounting tricks) to make it as though the budget was balanced. Also I would say that many blacks are too narrowly focused on the police as the problem in the whole BLM issue rather than realising it is part of a larger problem related to attempts by a very small minority to keep people preoccupied with that issue while larger trends in terms of putting in place measures to extend control over the population (irrespective of ethnic, cultural background). By that I’m talking about the systematic poisoning and dumbing down of the population via GMOs, pesticides, herbicides, mandatory vaccines, TTIP, TISA, TPP, consolidation of control over US populations (via puppets completely beholden to large corporations and banks such as Ted Cruz and Hilary Clinton) and the european population via the EU (which if you understand the structure, the European Parliament voted into office by the public is primarily an advisory body in terms of key areas such as finance and taxation and not a law making body – it’s the unelected European Council that actually holds all the power and is dictated to by the corporate lobbyists), the destruction of Ukraine (via a CIA led coup using neo nazis who have received more than $2 billion in US funding) and the “non friendly” countries in the middle east such as Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya via proxies (Al Queda and ISIS) funded (see Wesley Clarke’s speech on this where it was already planned in the early 90s) and sustained by the US and its’ allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia in order to make them easier to “control”. That’s where the real battle is and most african americans are utterly clueless as to these larger trends.

  2. Bubba_Gump

    They’re terrified of the other side. At least the Clinton machine knows how to exert power.

  3. dk

    Yes this is an important and very clear correlation, that the academic friends I am mailing this to will immediately recognize as accurate.

    Thank you, Yves.

  4. perpetualWAR

    And…we haven’t heard word one from AA “leaders” about Bill’s tantrum. Why the hell not?

    1. Chris Sturr

      Van Jones, who I believe supports Hillary, has been highly critical of Bill Clinton’s rant.

  5. cnchal

    Yesterday, many confronted President Clinton looking for accountability, leadership and the humility that underlies both. What he exhibited was something very different.

    Narcissists are never wrong about anything. It’s everybody else that is wrong about everything else.

  6. Mark John

    I am not sure Bill Clinton is not a super predator himself. He certainly empowered a system that has become super-predatory towards the working class and poor of this country.

  7. Cry Shop

    Some more interesting data and commentary upon Clinton and Crime. I always thought the bill was more about graft than reducing crime rates.

    But while Bill Clinton’s story is off base, so too are suggestions that the 1994 bill was the key driver of mass incarceration. In fact, prison populations began to rise in 1973, and reached double-digit annual percentage increases in the 1980s. This was a national phenomenon, largely taking place at the state level, where more than 85% of prisoners are housed. During these years virtually every state adopted some form of mandatory sentencing and harsher penalties for juvenile offenders, while also ramping up arrests for drug offenses.

    1. Mark John

      I don’t find your argument sound. Taking aggressive local and state incarceration policies and then putting them on steroids would seem to greatly feed the system, which I think currently having over 2 million Americans imprisoned would clearly indicate.

      1. washunate

        I’m a little curious about your comment. Where exactly do you disagree?

        It is a simple factual observation that most of the legal system activity occurs at lower levels than the federal government. It is also a simple fact that the number of people arrested and incarcerated was already rising before 1994. The Rockefeller drug laws in New York. California shifting the purpose of incarceration from rehabilitation to punishment. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.

        The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act was drafted nearly half a century ago. The drug war arose out of response to the civil rights movement as a more acceptable face of Jim Crow laws. The 1973 year Cry Shop highlights is Title II, the Controlled Substances Act, wherein the government claimed unconstitutional, tyrannical powers that leads directly to our situation today. The drug war is so extreme that back in 1969, the head of the commission that President Nixon(!) appointed recommended marijuana decriminalization, pointing out that using the legal system to punish personal possession and usage of drugs is just too severe. That liberal mind Milton Friedman also pointed out the obvious flaws of the war on drugs.

        The Clintons didn’t invent this two-tiered justice system generally and the drug war in particular. Rather, they liked what was happening and did more of it. That strikes me as an important distinction.

        That leftist intellectuals often don’t want to deal with the decades-long assault on constitutional rights, institutionalized racism, and growing tyranny of centralized authority is one of the most interesting aspects of what has gone wrong in our society and some of the solutions that get proposed to make the government even bigger and more powerful. The problem has not been one bad actor, but rather the broadly held principle amongst the political class that government should exert this kind of power over citizens.

    2. David

      I agree with Mark John

      The 1973 date is Nelson Rockefeller’s administration which set the tone for the country with his war on drugs. He also contributed to the mess at Attica with his decision. Clinton escalated dramatically on this policy base.

      The answer was always the decriminalization of drugs. No ones business, but the person making the decision to take drugs.

      1. susan the other

        If you are an insider and can control the price and market of any commodity that is in demand you and your pals are gonna be rich. And it’s just a little extra insurance to have that commodity be declared illegal because your whole operation can be scot free and blamed on those ruthless Colombians or Mexicans, etc. What a set up. And our economy was so fragile after Vietnam that this black market (no pun intended) combined with intentional anti-inflation policies promoting unemployment that it was devastated – it is why we are here today looking at a pile of rubble.

        1. susan the other

          sorry about my writing; I’m too pissed to use proper syntax – you know what I’m saying, that mismanagement and fraud destroyed our economy. I think it was even more criminal for the Klinton Adm. to fail to create jobs and do any national planning, and instead became free-marketeers, than any other mistake they made. And a close second to all that crime and malfeasance was Klinton’s reduction of the deficit.

  8. Sluggeaux

    Crime and incarceration rates are driven by the economic security and stability of families. Period.

    I’ve worked in criminal justice for over 30 years, but I’m also a student of history. Black people in America have suffered from the violence of oppression by incarceration from the time of the embarkation of their African ancestors onto slave ships. 1973 was just another year of their oppression. Ironically, Nelson Rockefeller was a funder of Dr. King’s Civil Rights Movement. The Attica riot of 1971 (and in California the San Quentin Adjustment Center takeover of that same year) created the political will to “do something” about the shameful disparity in the incarceration rate of Black Americans.

    I believe that the “War on Drugs” started out as well-intentioned — if the scourge of drugs were taken off the streets of Black communities, then one of the root causes of the incarceration of Black people could be eliminated. Of course, this simplistic view of “cause and effect” failed to take into account that the beginnings of globalization, the rise of German and Japanese manufacturing (helped by the “free” Sea-Land containers passing through Yokohama on their way back from Cam Ranh Bay), and a proto- crony-capitalist federal government addicted to Cold War military-industrial spending, would send the American economy into deep recession. Especially in the burned-out inner cities, drug-dealing became the only lucrative economic activity and drug-use became the only escape from the misery of economic insecurity. Meanwhile, the Cold Warriors in the federal government did nothing to interdict the flow of heroin and cocaine, of which none is domestically produced.

    My daughter took a college “criminology” course last semester, and one of the topics discussed was “Why do people commit crime?” I suggested that she ask a different question: “Why don’t people commit crime?” They don’t commit crime when they have economically stable lives, with meaningful work, time for family and leisure, and sufficient resources to live comfortably. If these basic human needs are unmet by an economy that allows the few to sequester nearly all resources for themselves, we will continue to see communities suffering from hopelessness and violence — and a society that must rely upon incarceration.

    As for Van Jones’ endorsement of Clinton: a terrific orator, but methinks also a practitioner of “transactional politics…”

    1. Jim Haygood

      Crime has a lot to do with economic security and family stability.

      But incarceration rates are driven by political policy. A combination of the federal sentencing guidelines of 1984, ever-escalating mandatory minimums, the prosecutorial practice of “piling on” charges, and what the hack-in-black Anthony Kennedy called a “system of pleas, not a system of trials” has produced a Gulag with 90%-plus conviction rates.

      Under this system, what formerly would have been acquittals at trial or misdemeanor convictions or probationary sentences or early paroles have morphed into plea-bargained felonies with lengthy prison sentences, at least 85% of which must be served for federal convictions.

      1. Sluggeaux

        Oh, you’re correct about the “system of pleas” but let’s not kid ourselves: the people who find themselves charged with crimes are generally guilty of them. They’re not just picking names out of a hat.

        The real issue is who is targeted for investigation and arrest. Eric Garner was doubtlessly guilty of selling “loosies” on the streets of Staten Island. However, he was in violation of an incredibly unjust tax law that was being selectively enforced against him, while the two biggest crime scenes of the 21st Century were just a few hundred yards across the East River in Lower Manhattan.

        I speak of course of the Twin Towers: the attackers targeted them precisely due to the Afghan and Israeli proxy-wars of American military-industrial complex, but they were never detected or investigated during the planning phase carried-out on U.S. soil under the noses of the FBI; and of Wall Street: where not a single one of the fraudsters who precipitated the 2008 Financial Crisis was ever prosecuted by a captive Justice Department under Holder and Breuer, and the perpetrators were instead rewarded for their crimes through TARP gifts from the Congress and the Treasury under Paulson and Geithner.

        Yes, those are choices driven by political policy — scales of justice tipped by a heavy hand toward sequestering economic resources for the few.

    2. knowbuddhau

      Those reasons are straight outta Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Usually presented in a pyramid (cuz pyramid power? lol jk), which asserts that we meet these needs in order: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization (whatever tf that might be). Speaking as a BA in psych, I think it’s a crock. People sacrifice their health (physical, mental, and environmental) and safety all day long for the upper 3.

      And as one who practices Zen, most people I know don’t even know enlightenment is even an easily accessible possibility for them, not a supernatural freak event that only happened to freaks once upon a time in a land far, far away.

      Closer to home, did your daughter’s class discuss, as Yves pointed out only yesterday, that “the drop in the crime rate in the 1990s was due to getting lead out of gasoline”? It links to “Lead: America’s Real Criminal Element,” Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

      KD’s 2013 MJ piece: How Did Lead Get Into Our Gasoline Anyway?

      KD cites Jamie Lincoln Kitman’s 2000 piece in The Nation: The Secret History of Lead

      How does Maslow’s hierarchy account for the incontrovertible fact that our entire industrial “civilization” is based on ignoring the sacrificing of our environmental health aka “externalitites”? The “supreme deadliness” of tetraethyl lead was known right from the start, but never mind that, there’s money to be made!

      This statement of early factual knowledge of TEL’s supreme deadliness is noteworthy, for it is knowledge that will be denied repeatedly by the principals in coming years as well as in the Ethyl Corporation’s authorized history, released almost sixty years later. (JLK, 2000).

      People also don’t commit crimes when they don’t see how well it pays. And that justice is blind, from the top down. Our foreign policy “elite” have been committing war crimes day in and day out for gods/esses know how long, and getting away with it. To point this out is to sacrifice belonging in the “Very Serious People” cult of US Exceptionalism (looking at you, Bacevich et al.). So they sacrifice their physiology and safety (apparently forgetting that blowback happens) for belonging.

      Since it’s tax season, and the Panama papers are all the rage: Why should people be scrupulous in self-reporting their every tax liability, when they see how well evading them works for apparently “successful” people? Are TPTB not “self-actualized?”

      And more relevant to BLM: why should we obey the law when we see cops murder people in broad daylight, use “drop guns” and otherwise falsify evidence, collude with their partners to falsify reports so badly even Blind Freddie can see right through them, and that DA’s and judges are only too happy to go along with the charade?

      Maslow’s HoN is a crock.

    3. knowbuddhau

      Stay tuned for a rebuttal, focusing on a critique of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, currently in moderation. Shorter: it’s a crock.

    4. washunate

      Hey Sluggeaux, before we start asking why people commit or don’t commit crime, don’t we first need to define crime?

      You are (perhaps unwittingly) suggesting that the subset of the population that is prosecuted for crime is representative of the population that commits crime. The data is reasonably clear that commission of crime is randomly distributed (in fact, if anything, rich educated white guys are more likely to use a drug like heroin or cocaine or engage in a major fraud than poor uneducated black guys). However, the rates for arrests, prosecutions, convictions, and sentencing is not randomly distributed, instead falling disproportionately on poorer, younger, and less white men.

  9. Sluggeaux

    Oh, and I do completely agree with the Ben Jealous quote in the post. The ridiculous costs to state governments of mass incarceration are largely being borne by our once-great public universities. The University of California is a case in point. When I attended 40 years ago, a UC degree was effectively free. Today, it costs the equivalent of a private university to those of us who don’t qualify for a subsidy — but the Federal government will happily lend the money at nearly treble the interest rate of a 30-year mortgage.

  10. AnEducatedFool

    He should change that to 18-34 instead of 18-24. The boom in prison construction did not start during Obama’s administration. States were slashing education budges to pay for prisons in the early 2000s.

    As for black voters, I’d love to see an analysis of disenfranchised black male voters. Many voters, disproportionately black men, that are part of the Prison Industrial Complex can not vote.

    In 2000, Bush was able to narrow the gap with Gore by disenfranchising black voters that had SIMILAR names to felons. That aspect never gets play. Many people still bring up Nader’s role in Gore’s loss despite clear evidence of voter suppression by the GOP.

    Mass incarceration is a tool to keep people under the thumb of the corporate elite even people who have never committed a crime.

  11. Knute Rife

    The federalization of criminal law in the 90s, through both new or enhanced federal statutes and federal mandates to states, put the criminal “justice” industry in to overdrive and interfered with a lot of alternative programs. There were things the Feds could have done to help. Where I was prosecutor, for example, we were on the state border and had a significant area of tribal land, both of which were issues the Feds could have helped with but didn’t (and then there were the cases we would have liked to have handed off for evidentiary reasons because, unlike in Federal courts, we had no good faith exception to the exclusionary rule). Instead, they stomped on our turf at will with their new statutes, many of which had (and have) effectively no intent element. It blew me away to learn it was easier to get a criminal conviction for improper asbestos removal than impose civil liability for it.

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