Biden in 1976: Criminal Justice System Should Punish, Not Rehabilitate

'You don’t have to be some racist so-called redneck to say that'

Former U.S. vice president Joe Biden / Getty Images

Former vice president Joe Biden said in 1976 that the criminal justice system is intended to punish, not rehabilitate, criminals.

The Democratic presidential candidate also argued against more federal funding for rehabilitation programs, according to comments uncovered by the Washington Examiner. Biden's remarks came during an address at the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Boise, Idaho, in February 1976.

"We liberals stand up and we say, ‘What we need to do is rehabilitate.' And yet we go to any university in the United States of America and we find among the [academics] a recognition of the fact that we do not know how to rehabilitate," Biden said. "We have not found a way to rehabilitate. And yet we conduct the debate and tell ourselves if we only had more money we'd correct the system. That is not true. Flat out not true."

"Why should we liberals, why should we Democrats, apologize for saying a criminal justice system has implicit in it the idea that a crime should be met with a punishment? What is wrong with that? I don't know. I don't have any idea," Biden continued. "If you commit a crime you should be accountable for it. And you don’t have to be some racist so-called redneck to say that."

Biden claimed Democrats' focus on rehabilitation would lead Americans to turn to figures like then-Alabama governor George Wallace.

"When we don't respond, we don’t talk in those terms, we allow men like the governor from Alabama to run around the nation talking about ‘pointy-headed federal judges' and about the fact that we need more severe penalties in the government for crime, and people begin to believe him," Biden said. "We don't respond and give the field to him, to what the majority of the American people know makes good common sense, that if you commit a crime you should be accountable for it."

Biden has faced criticism for his work on the 1994 crime bill, which many Democrats blame for mass incarceration, especially of racial minorities. Biden claimed he "got stuck with" the legislation because he chaired the Judiciary Committee. He has also claimed the bill "did not generate mass incarceration."