“I didn’t support more money to build state prisons. I was against it. We should be building rehab centers and not prisons,” he said Saturday.
He was misrepresenting his own record.
Facts First: Biden expressed unequivocal support, in both 1994 and in the years following, for the law’s billions in funding to build state prisons, including in his home state of Delaware. He argued in 1994 that the law should include less money for prison construction than Republicans wanted to spend — but he emphasized that he too wanted to spend billions.
The bipartisan law included a multitude of provisions, some preferred by conservatives and some preferred by liberals. Biden made clear at the time that he did not support all of them. But he also made clear, over and over again, that he thought it was a good idea to spend more money on building and expanding state prisons.
Biden’s campaign did not dispute our conclusion that Biden did support this kind of spending.
“Vice President Biden was referring to how Republicans wanted to provide more money for prison construction than he felt was right,” said campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates.
“They have too few cops, too few prison cells, too few programs to help our children avoid crime,” he said.
He then addressed critics in the media who argued that everything he was proposing in the bill had been tried before.
“We have not built new prisons to keep up with the increase in violent crime in America. We have not tried and failed — we haven’t tried at a state level before. And this is partially our attempt to help the states and localities try,” he said.
“I think the American people want the federal government to give states monies to build prisons so no hardened criminal is let out, as they say, before his time,” Biden told the Senate in August 1994.
Bates, Biden’s campaign spokesperson, said Sunday: “Throughout the debate over the 1994 Crime Bill, Republicans pressed to include much more severe measures and approaches than then-Senator Biden supported. The GOP also opposed the unprecedented funding for crime prevention programs that he fought to ensure was in the law — and they later excoriated the bill for being ‘soft on crime.'”
But he also continued to tout the prison funding in the years following the law’s passage.
“It was only a very few years ago when no one thought we could do anything about violent crime. But in 1994, we started getting smart. We did it all: more police, more prisons, more treatment and more prevention. And, what was unthinkable just a few years ago has happened. Just look at the most recent FBI data: murder has fallen to the lowest rate since 1970,” he said.
That is all true. But it’s also true that he was inaccurately describing his 1994 position on prison funding.