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Bill Clinton: Drug ‘Sentencing Craze’ of the ’80s was ‘Way Overdone’

Former President Bill Clinton revealed that five of his friends have lost their children to the opioid epidemic and encouraged activists to come up with a “sentence reduction and release program” for nonviolent offenders that includes opioid addiction treatment.

“We need to get these people who are essentially nonviolent offenders out of prison. But the thing that really bothers me is what was said – you don’t want to put people out without treatment, you could be given treatment now and somebody’s got to figure out how to persuade all these people who say in theory – I’ve never heard in the last 10 years at least as much bipartisan agreement on anything as I hear, in theory, there are too many people behind bars who shouldn’t be there,” Clinton said this week at the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters Annual Activation Summit in Little Rock, Ark.

“We need to come up with a model, a sentence reduction and release program, that deals with treatment, that deals with all this. And this is something that maybe we can all work together on, because I found when you want change you can always find some reason not to do it if there is an organized effort on the other side. But I have never seen the feeling that exists today that we overdid this, that this whole sentencing craze that got going in the ’80s was just way overdone. We’ve just got to provide a safer, healthier, better way forward,” he added.

Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 that some criminal justice reform activists have said caused mass incarceration in minority communities. The crime bill became an issue brought up by protesters at some of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign events. Hillary Clinton reportedly said mass incarceration was an unintended consequence of the crime bill.

Bill Clinton did not mention the crime bill during the health summit.

Clinton described his personal connection to the opioid crisis.

“I’m like every other narrow-minded person, I see everything in part through the prism of my own experience – five of my friends have lost their children to this epidemic,” he said. “Three of them, I thought, although I might be wrong, were basically the product of ignorance that you could not mix OxyContin and alcohol, and they went to sleep and never woke up. The other two were more complicated.”

Clinton referred to a vaccine that one of the panelists, Dr. Kim Janda, has been developing.

“The point is if you are right about this, I believe all five of them would have come in and at least tried this. You’ve got to be really deliberately suicidal not to give this a shot,” he said.