Vera Initiative Looks Back and Ahead at U.S. Crime Policy

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The Vera Institute of Justice in New York is launching a three-month initiative that looks back at the impact of the 1994 crime bill and looks ahead to the future of criminal justice policy. “Justice in Focus: Crime Bill @20” will include comments and commentary from more than 30 people, including law enforcers, criminologists, politicians, crime victims and convicted felons.

The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was passed with strong bi-partisan support in an era when violent crime gripped the nation, Vera notes. The prison population ballooned as a result of the law. “Today, the recognition that we need to recalibrate our over-reliance on incarceration is both bipartisan and almost conventional thinking,” said Nicholas Turner, president of Vera. “There is increasing commitment to find solutions that keep crime rates low without imposing unnecessary burdens on communities or taxpayers. But there’s more to be done.” The initiative’s website is www.vera.org/crimebill20


On Friday, the Vera Institute of Justice is launching a new initiative, “Justice in Focus: Crime Bill @20,” a three-month campaign to engage key voices in an ongoing dialogue that looks back at the impact of the 20-year-old crime bill as well as raises questions about what kind of policy we need for the next 20 years.

Vice President Joe Biden, New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton, the American Conservative Union’s Pat Nolan, PolicyLink’s Angela Glover Blackwell, John Jay College of Criminal Justice President Jeremy Travis and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin are the first of among the more than 30 voices who will add their unique perspective on the crime bill, how it has shaped where we are today, and what we must do differently for our future.

Their commentaries and reflections, in video, audio, and print, will be housed on VERA’s new online platform at URL TO COME. In addition to the architects of the bill, there will be reflections from people directly impacted by it including law enforcement officials, justices, victims, those who run prisons, and those who have been in them. The online platform will also provide useful resources and tools for engaging on the issues and opportunities facing our criminal justice system today.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, known today as the Crime Bill, was the largest piece of criminal justice legislation in U.S. history. It was passed with strong bi-partisan support in an era where high profile violent crime gripped the nation.

In signing the Crime Bill, President Bill Clinton said, “My fellow Americans, this is about freedom. Without responsibility, without order, without lawfulness, there is no freedom.”

Now, 20 years later, crime, especially violent crime, is down significantly. Women survivors of domestic violence have more protections. Community-policing practices have been more broadly adopted. And the prison population has more than doubled – largely because of harsher sentencing requirements and get tough on crime incentives.

“Today, the recognition that we need to recalibrate our over-reliance on incarceration is both bipartisan and almost conventional thinking,” said Nicholas Turner, president of Vera. “There is increasing commitment to find solutions that keep crime rates low without imposing unnecessary burdens on communities or taxpayers. But there’s more to be done.”

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