Bill Clinton’s crime policies left many poor people with only two options: prison, or homelessness.

From Nathan J. Robinson:

In addition to the Violent Crime Control Act, Bill Clinton signed two other major pieces of anti-crime legislation. 1996 brought the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which legal journalist Lincoln Caplan calls “surely one of the worst statutes ever passed by Congress and signed into law by a president.” As Caplan explains, “the heart of the law is a provision saying that, even when a state court misapplies the Constitution, a defendant cannot necessarily have his day in federal court.”..

But AEDPA was not the only way the administration restricted criminal offenders’ access to courts. Clinton also signed the Prison Litigation Reform Act, another legislative attempt to curb perceived excesses of justice. The PLRA was designed to restrain prisoners from filing lawsuits over their conditions; the perception was that too many prisoners were complaining of having their rights violated. Instead of having these allegations dealt with by the courts, the PLRA tried to shift them back to the in-prison administrative grievance process…

The PLRA eliminates the fee waiver for prisoners. Instead, it “requires indigent prisoners to pay the filing fees for their lawsuits by paying part up front and then making monthly installment payments of twenty percent of their previous month’s income until the fees are paid in full.”

Of course, since inmates often earn something like forty cents an hour, this means months of work. The result is that thanks to the PLRA, any prisoner whose rights are abused and who needs a judicial remedy must effectively sign himself up for permanent indenture to the courts…

The Clinton administration introduced administrative guidelines that required public housing authorities to evict anyone who committed a drug crime. Previously, public housing authorities had been reluctant to evict tenants for criminal infractions, fearing constitutional concerns. The Clinton rule clarified that it was official administration policy to evict people after a single offense, no matter what.

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