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

Front Cover
Harvard University Press, May 9, 2016 - History - 449 pages
2 Reviews
Reviews aren't verified, but Google checks for and removes fake content when it's identified

In the United States today, one in every thirty-one 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 War on 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, policymakers urged states to build new prisons and introduced law enforcement measures into urban 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.


What people are saying - Write a review

Reviews aren't verified, but Google checks for and removes fake content when it's identified

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - rivkat - LibraryThing

How the feds were involved in the creation of the largest carceral state in the world, starting with antipoverty programs that were funneled at least in part through police/law enforcement structures ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - bookwyrmm - LibraryThing

Interesting look at how the war on poverty led to over-policing in African-American areas, but it felt like it was written in the the time it covered, so much so that the epilogue seemed incongruous. Read full review


Origins of Mass Incarceration
Chapter 1 The War on Black Poverty
Chapter 2 Law and Order in the Great Society
Chapter 3 The Preemptive Strike
Chapter 4 The War on Black Crime
Chapter 5 The Battlegrounds of the Crime War
Chapter 6 Juvenile Injustice
Chapter 7 Urban Removal
Chapter 8 Crime Control as Urban Policy
Chapter 9 From the War on Crime to the War on Drugs
Reckoning with the War on Crime

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2016)

Elizabeth Hinton is Assistant Professor of History and African and African American Studies at Harvard University.

Bibliographic information