On Monday, Senator Rand Paul told CBS radio host Dom Giordano that if he were the Republican nominee for president he would attack Hillary Clinton on crime. “I’ll ask Hillary Clinton, what have you done for criminal justice? Your husband passed all the laws that put a generation of black men in prison.”
Paul did not go into detail. If he does, he will discover he is on thin ice. The total federal and state prison population (not broken down by race) grew 49 percent between 1992 (883,593) and 2000 (1,312,354). It would be difficult to establish what portion of this change was caused by Clinton administration actions. Certainly, some administration measures contributed—as did a range of state initiatives. And certainly black men were among those who went to prison in greater numbers during this period—although the reference to putting “a generation of black men in prison” is demagogy.
In fact, as the various “tough on crime” forces played out, black arrest rates dropped 18 percent—from 13,362 per 100,000 in 1992 to 10,955 in 2000. Of course, crime overall dropped during the Clinton administration (and continued dropping).
Did this make a difference for black Americans? Well, the rate of violent crime victimizations for black Americans declined 30 percent between 1992 and 2000—dropping from 50.4 per 1,000 aged 12 and above in 1992 to 35.3 in 2000. In fact, among all racial groups, black American victimization by crime was the highest and declined the most.
Perhaps no one will defend the criminal justice policies of the Clinton administration, but if they do, Rand Paul might be asked whether he is on the side of criminals or on the side of their victims. Or, he might be asked whether he really cares about the safety and security of African Americans.
John P. Walters co-directs Hudson Institute's Center for Substance Abuse Policy Research and was director of Drug Control Policy for President George W. Bush.