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Kamala Harris disputes Joe Biden's claims about 1994 crime bill

NBC News logo NBC News 5/15/2019 Adam Edelman
Kamala Harris wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone: Image: Democratic Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris Holds Town Hall In New Hampshire © Spencer Platt Image: Democratic Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris Holds Town Hall In New Hampshire

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., on Wednesday said she took issue with Joe Biden's claim that the 1994 crime bill, which he voted for, did not lead to mass incarceration in the U.S.

"I have a great deal of respect for Vice President Joe Biden, but I disagree. That crime bill, that 1994 crime bill, it did contribute to mass incarceration in this country," the 2020 hopeful told reporters after a town hall in New Hampshire.

Harris added that the bill "encouraged and was the first time that we had a federal three-strikes law."

"It funded the building of more prisons in the states. So I disagree, sadly," she said.

Harris was responding to comments made by Biden, one of many rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, a day earlier in the same state. He said that the bill did not lead to mass incarceration.

"Folks, let's get something straight, 92 out of every 100 prisoners end up behind bars are in a state prison, not a federal prison.This idea that the crime bill generated mass incarceration, it did not generate mass incarceration," Biden said during a campaign stop.

Biden added that the bill had provided $10 billion for crime prevention measures.

"That's what it was about," he said.

Biden had been responding to questions from New Hampshire voters about the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act — commonly referred to as the 1994 crime bill — which has, in recent years, come under renewed criticism from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Biden was a U.S. senator from Delaware at the time and supported the bill, which was later signed into law by then Democratic President Bill Clinton. It included billions in funding to states for new prisons, trained police officers, added more law enforcement positions and mandated life sentences for people convicted of a violent felony three times.

Critics have said the law disproportionately harmed African Americans.

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