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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

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  506 ratings  ·  72 reviews
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 m ...more
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published May 2nd 2016 by Harvard University Press
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Stefania Dzhanamova
May 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The momentous year 1964 witnessed the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the launch of the federal initiatives collectively called the “War on Poverty.” The following year President LBJ sent to Congress the Voting Rights Act, which provided African Americans in the southern states the opportunity to participate in the electoral process as equal citizens. However, Johnson hoped that 1965 would be remembered not only for the triumph of the Civil Rights Movement, but also for the beginning of "a t ...more
May 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
If you liked the New Jim Crow, you will love this academic re-telling of that story. Hinton rejects the simple narrative that the war on crime came under Nixon and Reagan, but shows that it started creeping in with Kennedy and Johnson. The book shows how the poverty programs were coopted by law enforcement immediately. A must-read.
Bryan Craig
Jun 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
Professor Hinton has written an important work here.

There is a small window when White House policymakers looked at structural racism with Kennedy and the War on Poverty. They linked crime with economic inequality. But it quickly closed as racial bias set policy and things quickly morphed into punitive crime policy, especially after the riots in 1965.

LBJ began the War on Crime and supported legislation to militarize the police and more police surveillance. We move into Nixon who continued thos
Jun 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you are only going to read one book on mass incarceration and inequality, you should read The New Jim Crow by Michele Alexander. However, if you would like to read additional books on the subject, I definitely recommend this one. Hinton's book goes back farther in time to recount the history of of the war on poverty, masked as the war on crime. While the beginning of the book did not grab me right away, I was really appreciative of Hinton's focus on the academic liberal's depiction of black p ...more
Conor Ahern
This comprehensive book explores how the Civil Rights Era directly facilitated the modern carceral state, through the initiatives of Republicans and Democrats alike. At a recent remove, our prison populations matched the complexion of our country. But images of cities being "torn apart" by non-white agitators and the specter of non-white people with power, demanding rights shook genteel, suburban America to the core. The flip side of the "Great Society"--of dubious lasting success--was Law and O ...more
Chris Jaffe
Jun 24, 2016 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book more than I actually did like it. This left me largely flat. I think that’s largely because of the focus: academic tomes that focus heavily on the bureaucratic process of Washington DC and legislative back-and-forth are never my favorites. Yeah, it’s a legitimate way of exploring topics, but it also feels lifeless. Some of my favorite parts here are when Hinton gets into specific examples, such as police programs in Detroit or LA and the impact that had on communities. ...more
Ethan Price
Jan 20, 2021 rated it liked it
takeaway theme:

we’re prone to forget.
hence, we often repeat.
we often like to talk
yet we’re blessed with hands & feet.
many say that actions are much louder than words...
but what if we first need quiet, not noise,
for the cries to be heard?
let our ears listen, hands ready with a pen
to know where we’re heading
we must know where we’ve been.
Joseph Stieb
Sep 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was an exceptionally well researched/documented book and an interesting argument that nonetheless has some problems. Here's the basic argument: Hinton says that the roots of the War on Crime/Drugs can actually be found in Great Society/War on Poverty discourses/policies about delinquency, the causes of poverty/crime, and race. She argues that WoP advocates saw problems in black society as coming largely from "pathologies" born of racism, family breakdown/structure (think Moynihan report) an ...more
Jun 06, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-nonfiction
For the research purposes (and why I read it), this packs a lot of information and food for thought. Hinton proves how America's justice system has been formed on racism and inequality and still is. However, it is not particularly easy to read, either in subject or writing wise. It feels very heavy in many instances and you need to have some background knowledge of United States' history from the Second World War to the beginning of 21st century. Luckily I had an extensive course on American his ...more
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Easily one of the best & most important history books on 20th century America.
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a good but sad book. I think it’s important to know this information, but nevertheless, it was a hard read for that reason.
Edward Sullivan
An important contribution to the history of mass incarceration, the focus here on federal policies beginning in the 1960s.
Aug 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: c20, racial-justice
In the middle of the 1960s, even as the black civil rights movement was winning landmark victories such as the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, LBJ called for a "War on Crime", sowing the seeds for new systems of black control and oppression. Increasing crime rates became conflated with black protest, and a notion of a deep-rooted pathology in black communities took hold, initiating a pattern of focusing crime interventions in black urban environments. Flawed crime statistics and flaw ...more
Jo Stafford
Jun 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Elizabeth Hinton packs a great deal of information into this academic analysis of criminal justice policies and programs implemented by administrations from Kennedy to Reagan, with special emphasis on how Johnson's War on Poverty became subsumed by the War on Crime.

This is an insightful examination of deeply flawed policies, of a lack of imagination at the highest levels of government, of a reluctance to grapple with the underlying socioeconomic causes of crime, and of the consequent racist cri
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: justice, history
Tough dive into the policy and policing of crime from the 60s to the 80s, very much addressing the same ground as Michelle Alexander (but as a political history rather than legal polemic) of how we constructed black criminality and accepted a fatalist view that society's only hope for law and order amid urban poverty and unrest was a permanent and increasing supervision and incarceration of our unemployed minorities. Federal policy lies at the root, with both good and ill intentions. ...more
Ailith Twinning
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
The US chose racism, sexism, hate, terror, and 'warehousing' - under exactly the same fear that lead to genocidal assaults against black slaves.

The assertion that the US is not racist to the very core ignores everything about this country and its history, and the white fear and exploitation that has been shipped abroad so enthusiastically under the name "democracy", as the bodies pile up to become mountains and swamps in the deserts and forests.

When yous top to think about the actual crimes of
Dec 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book and should be read by all Americans. Professor Hinton does a magnificent job tracking how the Great Society very quickly was subsumed by the war on crime. She especially does well tracking the evolution of what can only be described as a war on poor African American citizens, tracking the various programs, laws, and departments whose design seems to have been primarily to punish minorities. She doesn't pull partisan punches, and the willingness of Democrats and liberals ...more
Kevin Pedersen
Jul 09, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a solid overview of the history of police militarization in America, with a special focus on racial disparities in policing over time. It gives a good foundation for an understanding of this subject and points at some broad themes and action points for addressing this.

However, for the most part this is very textbook-y, with a zoomed-out view of the subject that often feels impersonal. There are a few places where the writing moves closer and we get a better look at specific people and mo
Jan 26, 2020 rated it liked it
Maybe 2.5 stars - I had high hopes for this book as I was very interested in its subject matter but I found the very academic prose got in the way of really getting into it. The writing suffers from simultaneously being overly detailed with lots of names and acronyms while not getting deep enough on some topics. It also seemed to repeat the same point over and over. I had a hard time finding a sense of narrative in here.
Robert S
Feb 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history, race
The era of mass incarceration and the rise of the carceral state in today's America was not an accident, rather it is the culmination of over forty years of bi-partisan actions by state and Washington policymakers that has led us to our current predicament. Hinton examines the origins, from JFK's "Great Frontier" anti-delinquency policies through LBJ's "War on Poverty" and beyond.

Mandatory minimum sentencing, "three strikes" laws, militarization of police forces through federal block grants, the
Lucas Miller
May 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a particular type of of big important history book. I think it is much easier to appreciate and study then to enjoy.

Hinton is a very gifted scholar who is part of a new generation of historians that are doing really important work. She has been mentored by people like Robin D.G. Kelly and Eric Foner. She has the research and writing chops. It's all there.

This book is a brick. The text runs 340 pages, but it doesn't feel brisk. It swings for the fences with its thesis that the foundatio
Nick Van Brunt
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Elizabeth Hinton’s incredibly well-sourced and surprisingly accessible text (given the depth of the treatment of the subject matter) leads to the following convincing take away: Mass incarceration, and specifically the disproportionate (and seemingly logarithmic growth in imprisonment rates for African-Americans over the course of the latter half of twentieth-century) were not simply a result of the war on drugs, though that played a factor. Drawing on the racist assumptions of the Moynihan Repo ...more
April Helms
This was certainly an eye-opening read. The question always comes up: why do our country's jails hold such a disproportionate percentage of people of color, particularly young black and Latino men? And why does America have the greatest percentage of its population behind bars? The answer — essentially, it was designed that way, going back decades. Unwittingly, at times, to be sure. But the history of our ill-fought wars made me ill to read this book at times. We seem to have a history of disreg ...more
Brook James
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Starting back in the 1960s with LBJ’s social welfare programs, Hinton follows the programs and their intentions over the course of the next 25 years. With great detail she explains how programs intended to help fight poverty, bring about equality, and create opportunity quickly started moving in the wrong direction. She shows how based on misguided or even willfully ignorant or dismissive information, each consecutive presidential administration helped change from a war on poverty to the war on ...more
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really good book that explains the transition from supporting communities economically to instituting a policy of incarceration and criminality. The author is very even handed and thorough on how this came about and how the fed ignored time after time how the policies, laws funding was racially biased to say the least. I had held Carter in higher regard until I read this book and had no idea the extent that Reagan enlisted the military and the CIA in the "fight against drugs", with devastating o ...more
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: thought
A very interesting and needed book about the expansion of state power and state sanctioned violence. The book has some shortcomings and blind spots, as pointed out in this review in Reason magazine ( Sadly the article is unfair and written by an informed, yet shallow mind. See the conclusion of Thaddeus Russell of Reason magazine: "Even if we freed all black and Latino inmates tomorrow, the United States would have the fourth-largest prison population in ...more
Atif Taj
May 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Youth Offenses Control Act of 1961
Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Offenses Control Act of 1961
Law Enforcement Assistance Act of 1965
Long Range Master Plan (to construct prisons) of 1970
Special Treatment and Rehabilitative Training Program of 1970s (to place dangerous prisons in isolation)
Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986
Omnibus Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1988

These are all federal laws and programs disturbing the urban life of people of color that rather improving the health, education, and employment oppor
Oct 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Nothing in this book surprised me because, frankly, at this point the capacity for hate and stupidity in white men when it comes to race has been laid bare. It did, however, give me a clear picture of the history of America's inherently racist criminal justice system and I can't get enough education about the real history of this country. The book is very thorough, very interesting, and completely maddening (at least it was to this flaming liberal anti-racist). The only reason I knocked a star o ...more
Tori Allen
Dec 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Talk about a tour de force in understanding how we are where we are. From “Broken Windows” policies, to Jim Crow, to and really just understanding how our politicians really don’t care or protect the Black and Latino communities. If you want to better understand how the government has created this environment, and you want to better understand and argue the current state of incarceration, Black neighborhoods, targeted crime, and how exactly this country targets low-income communities and persons ...more
Noah Barth
Dec 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: criminal-justice
Great study of how anti-crime measures were first misguidedly and then nefariously bundled in with anti-poverty measures as a Trojan horse to subjugate communities of color.

The early chapters on Kennedy and Johnson administration policies and very vague and use the term “pathology” way too much. As the book moves into the Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan years we get a lot of very insightful detail.
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Elizabeth Hinton is Assistant Professor in the Department History and the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Her research focuses on the persistence of poverty and racial inequality in the 20th century United States, while her current scholarship considers the transformation of domestic social programs and urban policing after the Civil Rights Movement. She h ...more

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