By Mona Charen . . . With several septuagenarians competing for the presidency, the ghost of the 1990s looms over the 2020 race. Joe Biden has faced criticism for his sponsorship of the 1994 crime bill. President Donald Trump tweeted, “Anyone associated with the 1994 Crime Bill will not have a chance of being elected.”
Here’s some context. Violent crime rates in the United States began a steep climb in the mid-1960s and reached their peak in the early 1990s. Americans were extremely worried. Donald Trump, for example, recommended bringing back New York’s death penalty in response to a much-publicized Central Park attack. Politicians listened. Many states passed tough anti-crime measures and in 1994, the federal government got into the act. Though Republicans criticized the federal crime bill for gun restrictions and what they called “pork,” the measure passed the House on a voice vote and the Senate by 61-38 with many Republican votes. . . .
One feature of the 1994 law that has had baleful unanticipated effects was the adoption of sex offender registries. At the time, experts advised that sex offenders never reformed. To protect the community from those found guilty of such offenses after their return to society, registries would require them to identify themselves (sometimes even with signs in their windows). Understandably, penalties were particularly harsh for anyone who harmed a child sexually.
What the law’s authors didn’t anticipate is that children themselves would be caught up in this net. The Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia has been studying those effects.