Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Clinton Unveils "Anti-Crime" Package

By Paul Wright

On August 11, 1993, president Clinton revealed his proposed new "anti crime" legislation. A few months ago I wrote an article in PLN concerning Clinton's campaign promises as they affected prisoners. It appears that things are worse than expected.

With Slick Willie having reneged or backed off on most of his major campaign promises (i.e. gays in the military, middle class tax break, etc.) it looks like he is going to deliver on his promise of repression, prisons and death. Coming from the man who interrupted his presidential campaign to fly home to publicize the execution of a mentally retarded black man, this is not surprising.

At the center of the proposal is spending $3.4 billion to put an additional 50,000 police on the streets. He calls this "a major downpayment" on his campaign promise for 100,000 more police. PLN readers should note that, according to the National Institute of Justice, there are approximately 500,000 Americans employed in law enforcement at all levels throughout the US. An increase of 20 % is a very significant increase no matter how you look at it. An increase in police is called a "front end load up." More police will mean more arrests, this is going to require an increase in judges, prosecutors and prisons a little farther down the line, they are the "back end" part of the process. With citizens/prisoners being the product they churn through the system. An increased police presence on the streets is supposed to make people feel safer. Yet who will protect citizens from the police?

As the contradictions caused by the economic decline of the US and increased rivalry with its other capitalist competitors heighten there will be increased repression at home. This process began back in the late 60's when the US was being racked by opposition to the Viet Nam war and there was a mass movement. The mass movement scared the ruling class and they have been reacting ever since. In his memoirs John Erlichman said the Nixon White House looked out their window at the 400,000 anti war demonstrators protesting outside the White House and had visions of the Bolsheviks storming the Winter Palace in 1917. Since roughly 1968 when Nixon was elected to office on a promise of an "Anti Crime" platform there has been an uninterrupted stream of repressive laws and practices, regardless of who the token figurehead is sitting in the White House. Almost every year since then has seen major "omnibus crime bills" with the purported goal of "getting tough on crime." The real effect of these laws has been the massive increase of sentences, the criminalization of more and more behavior, more resources for domestic repression, more prisons and more cops. The judges appointed to the judiciary have reflected this repressive trend with the judiciary relegated to the role of being a rubberstamp for the prosecution.

Clinton's crime bill will also restore the federal death penalty for a wide number of federal crimes. George Bush tried to enact this same part of legislation into law in his last year in office. It looks like Clinton will finish what Bush started. At the behest of the National Association of Attorneys General and the National District Attorneys Association, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Joe Biden (D-Delaware) has introduced a bill which would limit the availability of federal habeas corpus review to death sentenced state prisoners. For the first time this bill would impose a six month time limit in which to file and limit them to a single habeas corpus petition. The habeas corpus limits would be incorporated into Clinton's bill. Biden says his bill would ensure that poor capital defendants (as if there were any other kind!) would get lawyers "meeting tough, specific standards of knowledge and experience" at every step of the legal process. If past experience is any indication poor capital defendants are about as likely to receive competent, experienced legal counsel at every phase of the legal process as it is for leopards to change their spots.

By executive order, without waiting for approval from congress, Clinton ordered the Treasury Department to suspend importation of foreign made pistols and ordered a review of rules and laws concerning gun dealers. He also voiced his support for the "Brady Bill" gun control law which would impose a five day waiting period and background check on gun buyers. This too is part of the process that started in 1968 to restrict Americans legal access to firearms. It is interesting that these moves come in the absence of not only organized resistance to the government, but any resistance. Not waiting for a potential mass movement the ruling class has been steadily working on restricting citizens legal access to weapons. This trend really picked up in the mid 80's as increasing numbers of poor people, especially in the cities, gained access to weapons. When guns are outlawed only the police will have guns. And that is the main goal of these laws.

Supposed anti gun control president Reagan signed several gun control laws while in office and Bush promised to sign others if other legislation he backed was passed. There is no significant differences in most of Clinton's crime bill and that proposed by Bush in his last year of office (except for the vast increase of police) nor in their positions on gun control.

The fact remains that the continuing dynamic of repression and using prisons and the death penalty as a means of social control and social policy will continue unabated regardless of the figureheads in political office or which faction of the ruling class is in the white house. When Clinton was elected a large number of naive prisoners and citizens thought that there would be some change or differences between Clinton or Bush. Yet in foreign and domestic policy there has been no differences of substance. Until there is a party that represents the interests of the working class and poor people in general there will be no change for the better. Historically, empires in decline resort to increased repression at home and imperialist wars of intervention abroad. For example, England was hanging its citizens for pick pocketing and its gunboats and soldiers were always avenging some slight, real or imagined, abroad. The Roman and other empires illustrate this point as well. PLN will continue to report on Clinton's activities regarding his "anti-crime" bill. When passed into law this bill will be as successful in its stated goal of reducing crime as its many predecessors. Until something is done about the root causes of crime, namely the lack of meaningful jobs, all the prisons, police and state killings will continue to be a band aid for the symptoms of imperialist decay.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login