From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America

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From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America NYT Notable Books 2016
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Product Description

"In the United States today, one in every 31 adults is under some form of penal control, including one in eleven African American men. How did the "land of the free" become the home of the world's largest prison system? Challenging the belief that America's prison problem originated with the Reagan administration's War on Drugs, Elizabeth Hinton traces the rise of mass incarceration to an ironic source: the social welfare programs of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society at the height of the civil rights era. Johnson's War on Poverty policies sought to foster equality and economic opportunity. But these initiatives were also rooted in widely shared assumptions about African Americans' role in urban disorder, which prompted Johnson to call for a simultaneous Waron Crime. The 1965 Law Enforcement Assistance Act empowered the national government to take a direct role in militarizing local police. Federal anticrime funding soon incentivized social service providers to ally with police departments, courts, and prisons. Under Richard Nixon and his successors, welfare programs fell by the wayside while investment in policing and punishment expanded. Anticipating future crime, policy makers urged states to build new prisons and introduced law enforcement measures intourban schools and public housing, turning neighborhoods into targets of police surveillance. By the 1980s, crime control and incarceration dominated national responses to poverty and inequality. The initiatives of that decade were less a sharp departure than the full realization of the punitive transformation of urban policy implemented by Republicans and Democrats alike since the 1960s."--Provided by publisher.

Editorial Reviews

A Harvard historian examines the origins of "the foremost civil rights issue of our time." Over the past two years, deadly confrontations between police and young African-Americans, the demonstrations and movements these incidents inspired, and subsequent commentaries by writers such as Ta-Nehisi Coates have forced the issues of aggressive police practices and mass incarceration to the forefront of our national consciousness. Now comes Hinton (History and African and African-American Studies/Harvard Univ.; co-editor: The New Black History: Revisiting the Second Reconstruction, 2011) to remind us that these problems were a long time in the making. As the author demonstrates, President Richard Nixon's war on crime, Ronald Reagan's war on drugs, and George W. Bush's war on terror played roles in ratcheting up the militarization of police forces and the surveillance of the inner city. All contributed mightily to the vastly disproportionate numbers of African-Americans and Latinos currently filling our prisons. But Hinton goes even further back to Lyndon Johnson's Great Society programs and the unfortunate yoking of anti-poverty legislation with anti-crime laws. This unprecedented infusion of the federal government's authority, muscle, and dollars into crime prevention—primarily through the aegis of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration—distorted and eventually overwhelmed efforts to combat unemployment, address housing, and improve education. Academic readers will appreciate Hinton's archival deep dive into the various and successive congressional acts responsible, sometimes unwittingly, sometimes not, for what amounts in her terms to criminalizing poverty. She discusses the prevailing social science theories that informed those laws—James Q. Wilson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan take a beating—and frequently cites official reports and informal intergovernmental communications that expose the policymakers' thinking. Gene r al readers will be appalled at her portrayal of outrageous police practices, all fueled with LEAA money, that contributed to the agency's reputation as a "bureaucratic monster." Those whose politics differ from Hinton's will likely be inclined to quarrel with her diagnosis, but they'll be obliged to grapple with her fact-filled, scholarly argument. Copyright Kirkus 2016 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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