Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

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

Rate this book
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.

464 pages, Hardcover

First published May 9, 2016

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Elizabeth Hinton

8 books127 followers
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 has written for the Journal of American History, the Journal of Urban History, and Time. She also co-edited The New Black History: Revisiting the Second Reconstruction (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) with the late historian Manning Marable.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
243 (38%)
4 stars
266 (42%)
3 stars
100 (15%)
2 stars
15 (2%)
1 star
7 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 84 reviews
Profile Image for Stefania Dzhanamova.
515 reviews293 followers
May 15, 2021
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 thorough, intelligent, and effective war against crime." On March 8, the president presented to Congress the Law Enforcement Assistance Act. Coming a week before the Voting Rights Act and after a summer of urban unrest in Harlem, Brooklyn, Rochester, Chicago, and Philadelphia in 1964, this punitive legislation offered a response to the threat of future disorder by establishing a direct role for the federal government in local police operations, court systems, and state prisons for the first time in American history.
"A new era of American law enforcement had begun, one that would soon shift the country’s progressive policy trajectory," writes Elizabeth Hinton. The federal government began to retreat from and eventually undercut many of the Great Society programs that are often heralded as the Johnson administration’s greatest achievements. Republican and Democratic policymakers alike instead mobilized to fight the War on Crime and, later, President Ronald Reagan’s more aggressive “War on Drugs.” According to the author, this long War on Crime would eventually produce the nowadays atrocity of mass incarceration in the United States, characterized by a rate of imprisonment far above all other industrialized nations and involving the systematic confinement of entire groups of citizens.
LBJ's Safe Streets Act of 1968 invested $400 million into the War on Crime. To promote the modernization of law enforcement and to help each state build its respective criminal justice apparatus, the legislation created the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) to administer this funding, and the LEAA became the fastest-growing federal agency in the 1970s, its budget swelling from the $10 million Congress allotted to the War on Crime in 1965 to some $850 million by 1973. The states dedicated hundreds of billions of dollars more to criminal justice and law enforcement during the same years, stimulated by the programs national policymakers subsidized and designed. The result, points out Hinton, was a significant expansion of America’s "carceral state": "the police, sheriffs, and marshals responsible for law enforcement; the judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers that facilitate the judicial process; and the prison officials and probation and parole officers charged with handling convicted felons." The mission assigned to LEAA was to expand supervision and control in low-income urban communities. However, federal policymakers shared a set of (erroneous) assumptions about African Americans, poverty, and crime — although they never mentioned race explicitly, policymakers considered black urban poverty pathological, the product of individual and cultural "defficiencies." As Hinton argues, the seemingly neutral statistical and sociological “truth” of black criminality concealed the racist thinking that guided the strategies policymakers developed for the War on Crime, first in the 1960s, then through the 1970s and beyond.
In her book, Hinton also shows that contrary to popular opinion, it was not the Ronald Reagan administration that spearheaded the national crime-control programs. They began during the Civil Rights era with John F. Kennedy’s “total attack” on delinquency in 1961. The JFK administration’s antidelinquency programs were intended to provide low-income citizens in sixteen cities with counseling, job training, education, and other social welfare programs as a strategy to prevent youth crime. LBJ expanded Kennedy’s intervention on a national scale and reframed it as a “War on Poverty,” while also introducing more aggressive and exhaustive supervision in the black urban areas previously targeted by the JFK administration. Nixon introduced "draconian sentencing reforms", supporting the targeted deployment of aggressive local, state, and federal undercover police squads on the streets of American cities, and encouraging prison construction. As it became clear that white youth was also entering the justice system at alarming rates, though, Congress intervened to decriminalize certain offences that policymakers associated with white children and teenagers. Meanwhile, new legislation placed the stamp “potentially delinquent” on any urban youth of color who had family members with arrest records, attended public schools, lived in public housing, or received welfare benefits.
Thus, national priorities shifted from fighting black youth poverty to fighting black youth crime for the rest of the decade as policymakers introduced new patrol and surveillance measures in targeted urban communities. Not surprisingly, in the absence of programs that provided access to shelter, education, and employment, poverty and crime increased during the ensuing War on Crime. "That the crime control strategies federal policymakers developed proved to have the opposite impact in the cities and neighborhoods that they placed under siege is one of the most disturbing ironies in the history of American domestic policy," comments Hinton. As she argues, the War on Crime had made African-Americans vulnerable on two fronts: a struggle against one another and a struggle with the institutions and policies federal policymakers developed to fight crime. The essential strategies of the national law enforcement program — preemptive patrols that aimed to catch robberies in progress, juvenile delinquency policy that criminalized generations of black youth while decriminalizing their white counterparts, firearms sanctions that brought federal law enforcement authorities to the streets, Career Criminal court units that created an expedited criminal justice system for gang members, and security programs "that made housing projects resemble detention centers" — only hastened the trend toward internal violence and incarceration. While it may appear as though racial discrimination ended with the Civil Rights Movement, this is actually not the case. Waged over the second half of the 20th century, this long War on Crime has today positioned law enforcement agencies, criminal justice institutions, and jails as the primary "public programs" in many low-income, and especially African-American, communities across the United States.
Elizabeth Hinton's From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime raises awareness of an existing problem that should not be neglected. Her book is very well-written and highly important. Although I am not a U.S citizen, I found her work engaging, mostly because Bulgaria faces the very same domestic problem — but with low-income Roma communities.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,661 followers
May 22, 2016
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.
Profile Image for Bryan Craig.
175 reviews53 followers
June 24, 2020
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 those policies and double-down on them. Carter tried to shift a bit more on economic policy on the one hand, but the other, he established more security tactics. Then Reagan and his War on Drugs, which really put the mass incarceration on the fast track. All of this failed, because as a nation, we have not focused on uprooted structural racism and bias that would lead to supporting African-Americans. For example, why set up job training if there are no jobs to go to?

Hinton writes, "Put bluntly, due to its own shared set of assumptions about race and its unwillingness to disrupt the racial hierarchies that have defined the social, political, and economic relations of the United States historically, the bipartisan consensus that launched the punitive intervention did not believe that African Americans were capable of governing themselves." (337)

This book is about policy, so set your reading expectations accordingly, but truly, it is first-rate history. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Charlene.
875 reviews493 followers
June 28, 2017
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 people. Just as in Dunieier's book Ghetto, Hinton includes an impressive explanation of some of the most important insights from academics that served to both inform policy at the political level and inform ideology at the societal level. In addition, she tied what was going on in society at the time to the policies that were being written and enforced as well as the myriad academic books, papers, and reports that were also being compiled. For example, she did an incredible job of showing how attitudes and policies led to the famous Watts riots of 1965.

This book can provide the reader with an extremely in depth look at the very complex interactions between the citizens, the justice system, and the political system that at times tried to help and other times found creative and devastating ways to control America's most vulnerable citizens.
Profile Image for Conor Ahern.
655 reviews187 followers
December 21, 2018
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 Order, a regime that continues to thrive and enforce racial injustices that seem almost Apartheid-esque in their disproportionality.

This book talks a lot about what was happening on the ground, in individual precincts and cities, which I found less useful than its more macroscopic takes. But all around it was interesting, well-written, and a cautionary tale to progressives (very much including myself) who can be disinterested the tiresome but politically influential class and race anxieties of white people, never really activated more so than when minorities demand equality.
743 reviews25 followers
June 25, 2016
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. I could’ve used more of that to provide a sense of life. Also, I think the book at times led too strongly with opinion and the author’s own POV. I have no problem with an author having a POV – heck, I have a problem with an author lacking one – but if you lead too strongly with it, you can get detached from the evidence and overreach beyond your point. Example: she argues that crime stats had little to do with crime. That’s an intriguing point – but it needs to be elaborated a helluva more than is done. Also, it seems like no matter what happens and what the government tries to do, it’s bad and wrong and just makes the situation worse. There are times you have a program in place and it’s terrible. So the program is moved away from and a different approach tried – and it turns out that’s even worse than the terrible one. It gets a little confusing – wait, we’re going away from the bad approach, and that’s bad also? At times I felt myself wondering: well, what should be done? The only sense I got here is that everything stinks.

This book looks at how we went from LBJ’s War on Poverty to Ronald Reagan’s War on Crime, and largely argues that there wasn’t any big break – that all government programs led up to Reagan. The main theme here is continuity. From the Law Enforcement Assistance Act of 1965 and the Safe Streets Act of 1968, the federal government used law enforcement to try to control low income urban areas and centralize law enforcement. We had 185,000 in federal jails from 1865-1965 and then 251,107 from 1965-1985. And it’s now 2.2 million – 59% of whom are minorities.

She begins with JFK. Civil rights alone weren’t enough to overcome a legacy of historical inequality. He also focused on anti-deliquiency measures. There were notions of black cultural pathology (Hinton repeatedly asserts that these were based on racist assumptions. Asserts like this happen throughout the book – apparently, the truths of the assertions are self-evident). The War on Poverty had a fear of urban disorder. Federal programs ignored existing local efforts. Education was to expose kids to the norms of dominant society. LBJ expands JFK’s efforts against deliquincy. But as early as 1965, LBJ used the phrase war on crime and called for law and order.

The Watts Riot revealed the need for jobs and the stigma of poverty and segregation. Welfare agencies felt that it showed the cultural deficiencies of black communities. This is when LEAA passed. It was the start of the militarization of the police. Now you want police to actively seek out criminals in poor urban areas (re: black areas). Give cops more power over social programs. She argues that beneath the Kerner Commission’s liberal rhetoric, it also supported a war on crime because it assumed a pathology of poverty and crime.

Nixon pushes the most coercive pars of the Great Society programs. The War on Crime was used to target segregated urban areas. Nixon was all about law and order. LEAA became a den of corruption and patronage. By 1970, the first mandatory minimum sentences came about. The feds finance local cops more and more. The Bureau of Prisons created a long range plan that helped guarantee more people would be put in jails. Incarceration rates had little to do with crime, Hinton asserted.

There was increased pessimism by government leaders. People were fatalistic about black family pathology. They felt government programs couldn’t do any good. This led to more emphasis upon the police. Police began reigns of terror like the STRESS program in Detroit. A community backlash led to Mayor Coleman Young, who criticized STRESS, but still wanted federal money to come in for it. You had situations where blacks would be criminalized for going to McDonalds late at night. By the mid-1970s, federal programs would classify black youths as deliquent even before they did anything. Then crime stats would be produced to back it up. The top indicator of delinquency was being jailed or detained – and the policies just jailed and detained more and more. People felt nothing could be done and nothing worked – so do this.

Carter saw crime as a problem caused by poverty. He wanted to clean up the ghettos. He felt only the federal government could tackle the problem. But his policies didn’t match his rhetoric. He laid the groundwork for privitization and the war on drugs. There was bureaucratic opposition to his plans. He had a limited view of community participation. This chapter I felt was weak because it sounded like Carter was supporting a lot of what Hinton liked, but it’s terrible because it isn’t exactly what Hinton wants.

Finally, Reagan became president. Law enforcement became more centralized. Jail populations skyrocketed. The War on Drugs happened, which included cops skimming off the top. LA had its CRASH program, where the LAPD became a gang itself.

The War on Crime is all about social control, which is how we got to Ferguson. I like the book’s main point more than I liked the bok.
Profile Image for Ethan Price.
6 reviews
January 21, 2021
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.
Profile Image for Joseph Stieb.
Author 1 book127 followers
September 23, 2018
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) and culture. She claims that they overlooked the systemic factors of residential segregation, job loss/denial, poor education, and police abuse, in large part because they didn't want to tackle or face up to these problems. Thus, early WoP measures featured increased surveillance of the black community, which meant more exposure to police/the state in general.

These discourses/frameworks carried over as the WoP shifted to the WoC and then WoD in the late 1960s/70s/80s. The mid-60s race riots further convinced policymakers that black pathology was the main cause of poverty and crime. Nixon and his aides ran with this idea, cutting back on the WoP and pushing more money into policing and incarceration. She goes into the details of Carter and RR's changes to this system, but it was largely a downward spiral into mass incarceration after that point. She shows how by the 1970s the crime discourse among experts like James Q Wilson was focused on finding ways to get likely African-American criminals off the streets, even for minor crimes, to pre-empt what was expected to be a career of crime. This is a key idea in mass incarceration ideological edifice, and I hadn't really thought of it until I listened to Hinton. Think about 3 strikes laws, disproportionate sentencing for things like illegal handguns or crack v cocaine, and the overwhelming targeting of black communities: they all fit into this framework.

I'm usually the last guy to bring up Foucault, but I actually found this to be a useful application of his ideas from Discipline and Punish. One of the book's key insights is that government aid/outreach means surveillance or knowledge, especially when that outreach is done by the police, as it was increasingly during the WoC. This means that the likelihood of a black person breaking the law and getting caught is vastly higher, which means a criminal record, which means more surveillance and likely jail time. The situation in wealthier white communities was the opposite: relatively low surveillance and interference, especially when politically connected white communities complained. Thus we should expect that wherever police resources are directed, those areas will inherently appear more criminal, and to some extent a self-perpetuating cycle can ensue (think New Jim Crow). This is an important and timely lesson.

Nonetheless, there are points to be criticized here. Ultimately, I didn't think she strongly proved her point about the roots of the WoC in the WoP. She kind of glossed over the positive gains and long legacies of those programs, not of all which were rooted in understandings of black pathology. Moreover, she seems unwilling to examine how certain cultural factors may contribute to crime, delinquency, etc, in a community. This is largely a problem of class and family structure, as sociologists in books like Robert Putnam's Our Kids point out. White communities falling into poverty see the same cultural/social problems arising as black communities, showing that these are not pathologies of race but of class, opportunity, despair and the culture that can form from these factors. This is sticky territory, but just because Moynihan was wrong about matriarchal black family structure being the root of crime and poverty doesn't mean we can't fruitfully explore these sociological and cultural factors. Lastly, something I often say about books like this is that the argument and its political implications are strong and clear enough that the writer can write in an unbiased, level tone and get the message across. Hinton, for the most part, doesn't do this, thus decreasing the likelihood of her vital research reaching less sympathetic ears (ie, the ears that need to hear it). She would have been better off letting the strength of her research speak for itself than to constantly insert jabs and opinions.

This is a dense book, with a lot of discussion of agencies, policymaking, and law. I listened to it, but I probably missed a lot. You really have to focus. Nonetheless, if you have read texts like New Jim Crow and want to go a little deeper on mass incarceration type stuff, this is a strong and interesting book.
Profile Image for Petra.
831 reviews116 followers
June 6, 2019
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 history after World Wars as background because otherwise I would have been lost. Do I recommend to read it? Surely, if you are ready for a very academical and dry text. It carries a very important message and it isn't an easy read, but a very necessary read.
Profile Image for Jo.
254 reviews7 followers
June 2, 2017
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 criminalization of young African American men as urban Black communities were subjected to greater surveillance and became increasingly heavily policed.

Instead of dealing with substandard housing, unemployment, poverty, urban segregation, and racism, successive administrations chose to pursue policies that have resulted in the mass incarceration of Black men. Hinton's book provides essential background and context for anyone seeking to understand how the United States came to lock up so many of its young Black citizens.
Profile Image for Ietrio.
6,597 reviews25 followers
February 7, 2017
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 (https://reason.com/archives/2017/01/2...). 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 the world. " Well, given the US is the third largest country in terms of population, and that the fourth is about two thirds as numerous, that would be a good thing.
Profile Image for Phil.
130 reviews17 followers
February 24, 2022
A really necessary book for understanding the long road to mass incarceration. Hinton demonstrates how racist assumptions about Black residents of cities, poverty, and crime continuously shaped federal anticrime and antipoverty policies in a way that only exacerbated crime and economic inequality. She also successfully brings out an unnerving sense of federal policymakers' and not a few white politicians' desires for social control. There is a lot of irony, ambivalence, and complexity to this history and to this book.

But Hinton is also a little bit narrow in where she looks, despite the fact that she dug through an absolute mountain of documents for her sources. Her top-down policy-oriented account of the rise of mass incarceration is absolutely crucial to the story, but the economy, and capital, too, are largely left on the sidelines. Connections between mass incarceration and the military arm of the state appear, but could be more thoroughly brought into her analysis. Doing that would make racialized connections to Vietnam and US empire a lot clearer too. And while I appreciate her move to bring liberals into the circle of blame, I'm left with a very flat understanding of what it meant to be a liberal and who liberals were. Was LBJ a liberal? Certainly not in the same way that more progressive liberal politicians and activists who continued to push for the state to address structural issues that create and sustain poverty and crime were. LBJ's rejection of the Kerner Report, e.g., which Hinton takes note of, points to the severe limits to LBJ's supposed liberalism, which then might indicate the difficulty in trying to place liberalism at the heart of the rise of mass incarceration in the way that Hinton does. And what do we do with the fact that a lot of people in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations had worked with Civil Rights leaders to pass historic legislation in the mid-60s? Just have a feeling that the story might be more complicated than just those same liberals turned around and unwittingly threw a ton of Black people in jail. I'm not a liberal apologist, but if we want to unpack potential contingencies and foreclosed alternative routes this history could have taken, more nuance here would be helpful and potentially enlivening for our political possibilities today. In any case, it's well worth reading and will be a book I come back to!
Profile Image for Nut Meg.
93 reviews28 followers
March 13, 2023
This is without a doubt an incredibly important work of historical scholarship, and yet one I suspect few will ever manage to get through. Hinton's book can easily be considered a response to, or expansion on, Michelle Alexander's classic, "The New Jim Crow." While Hinton acknowledges her debt to Alexander's work on mass incarceration, she argues that "fully accounting for this remarkable transformation in late-twentieth-century domestic policy requires beginning much earlier" than the War on Drugs. This argument is laid out in depth as she reviews the "War on Crime" that preceded Reagan's War on Drugs by more than a decade and laid the foundations for mass incarceration in the 1980's, with the expansion and centralization of law enforcement efforts via the Law Enforcement Assistance Act (LEAA) in the 60's followed by the rapid increase in prison construction in the 70s to accommodate the growing prison population and a series of policy decisions to ignore the root causes of social unrest and instead respond with punitive measures.

However, for all Hinton's brilliance, like most historians she is guilty of being quite literally exhaustive. Reading this gave me flashbacks to C. Wright Mills "The Power Elite," another brilliant, shockingly relevant and incisive work that is dry enough to cause dehydration in the reader. If anything, reading Hinton will give you a renewed appreciation for Alexander's talent for making such dour subject matter accessible. So while I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone and their brother read this, be prepared for an academic slog that is not for the causal reader.

Profile Image for Eleni Packis.
47 reviews1 follower
July 23, 2021
A tremendous historical ride, taking you through each policy decision that has been made over the last 50 years in the criminal justice sphere and how it led to the massively destructive incarceration system we have today. And as she says at the conclusion—the reasonings behind the decisions are interesting, but most relevant action now is reckoning with them & bringing about change.
Profile Image for Mare.
109 reviews10 followers
October 20, 2017
Easily one of the best & most important history books on 20th century America.
Profile Image for Nicky.
407 reviews2 followers
November 26, 2017
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.
12 reviews1 follower
August 10, 2016
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 flawed criminological research reinforced racially biased policies.

Under the Johnson administration, there was a recognition that crime was rooted in poverty and unemployment, and correspondingly there was investment in a War on Poverty to reduce crime in the long term. After a few years, however, these programs were deemed to have failed. Social programs were progressively defunded or turned over to police, increasing community surveillance and contact with police, increasing arrest rates further. Policy circles agreed that rehabilitation programs were generally unsuccessful, and that crime was largely caused by a "hard core" of repeat offenders who needed to be kept off the streets. A massive program of prison construction struggled to contain a growing inmate population, fuelled by increasing arrest rates, curtailment of parole, and mandatory minimum sentencing.

The failure of these policies to reduce crime did not prevent them from being progressively intensified. Rather, it was assumed that more repeat offenders needed to be locked up, that sentences be made ever longer to increase deterrence. Lawmakers touted community involvement, but in practice communities had little influence over law enforcement. A series of Supreme Court decisions placed biased enforcement and curtailment civil rights beyond challenge. Under Reagan, the crack panic gave impetus to a renewed War on Drugs, further rationalizing aggressive policing, and asset forfeiture programs allowed policing to increase independent of federal funding. A focus on potential crime through increased patrol and surveillance of black communities, as well as a reliance on sting operations that manufactured crime in the name of fighting it, fuelled mass incarceration.

I read this as a follow-up to Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, wanting to understand more about how things got to where they are today. It goes some way towards explaining the mentality of lawmakers, government officials, mayors and police chiefs as they prosecuted the War on Crime. For me it was a harder read than its predecessor, largely due to the exhaustive wealth of detail and citations; I suspect that The New Jim Crow was written for more of a lay audience, while this book is aimed more at academics. It was also frustrating that Hinton's account ends in 1988 at the close of the Reagan presidency; an analysis of how the trends she documents continued in the Clinton presidency would have been especially interesting. But it's good as a follow-up nonetheless, enriching Alexander's portrait of how a series of decisions, enacted by Democrats and Republicans alike and untainted by obvious racial politics nevertheless worked together to form a new system of racial control and subjugation.
Profile Image for Luke.
847 reviews14 followers
February 6, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Ailith Twinning.
649 reviews34 followers
June 3, 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 the Us, it becomes so hard to believe it could ever be anything less than the Evil Empire, let alone resemble its propaganda in the least. Raised to believe in the things my nation leads the world in destroying, and to believe that others are guilty of our sins.
68 reviews
December 9, 2016
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 to back these anti-crime measures as readily as their Republican counterparts receive plenty of attention, and well before Bill Clinton shifted the Democrats to the center right.
Profile Image for Kevin Pedersen.
189 reviews3 followers
July 9, 2020
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 moments, but by and large it's pretty dry and can be a lot to try to retain.
Profile Image for Alice.
293 reviews
January 26, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Robert S.
389 reviews2 followers
April 2, 2017
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 vast expansion of the prison system, disparity in sentencing on the basis of race and class, lack of oversight, expansion of forfeiture laws, and expansion of severity for drug violations all boil over into creating what we have today. It is a vicious cycle and system where once you are in the hole, its difficult if not impossible to get out. The disfranchisement of felons from being able to vote as well as laws that allow for questions related to criminal history on job applications have all but ensured that.

Democrats sacrificed millions of Americans in order to not being seen as "soft" on crime, helping presidents from Nixon through Reagan only further solidify the carceral state. It is unfortunate that one of the few areas where both parties have been able to find common ground over the last thirty years has been in policies that have destroyed the lives of millions of Americans. Hinton is correct that it will take only major policy changes to enact any real change from the course we have set ourselves on. However, the current political climate makes it extremely unlikely that will happen anytime soon.

A definite must-read for anyone who wants to know how we've gotten into the position we are today.
Profile Image for Christopher.
275 reviews9 followers
December 12, 2022
In her book From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, Hinton reveals the connected development of social welfare and incarceration in the United States, giving rise to a robust law enforcement community at the expense of those trying to advance social welfare. Hinton describes how Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty sought to improve minority education, medical care, and housing, conditions resulting from racial discrimination. That message failed to compete with longstanding communal beliefs that poverty stemmed from poor individual decisions. As the War on Poverty expanded, government officials dismissed community solutions in favor of a professionalized response. Police, often not from the neighborhoods they were policing, became the face of community programs. While the local community was disempowered, the law enforcement community became stronger. By 1971, the federal government gave over $10 billion to the states through the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. The money aligned the goals and objectives of law enforcement from the national to the local level. The federal government's money and training provided to local law enforcement created a community of practice with shared techniques, perceptions, and values. The replacement of local community action programs by law enforcement made the War on Poverty more generic and less effective. No longer managed by the local community, Hinton shows how a strong law enforcement community used social programs as a venue for prosecution instead of improving the general welfare.
Profile Image for Lucas Miller.
440 reviews7 followers
May 9, 2020
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 foundation of Mass Incarceration begins with the War on Crime legislation put forward by LBJ as part of the Great Society. To my knowledge this pushes back the development of the Age of Mass Incarceration from the Reagan Era to 20 years earlier in the heart of the Liberal Hour of American social policy. This is shocking, exciting, and well argued.

It's a chore to get through the book. To read with a study group, a class, or in sections is advisable I think. It was overly ambitious to assign this to High School juniors who are learning at home during quarantine, but they are hanging in there.

It's well structured and lends itself to gutting/dipping into. I jumped over some of the extended examples in the later chapters, but still feel like I read this book. An essential for the history shelf. One I'll go back to.
Profile Image for Nick Van Brunt.
32 reviews
December 25, 2017
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 Report, Lyndon Johnson’s efforts to create a Great Society and to fight a war on poverty led to the creation of governmental agencies that became the framework for the federal government’s takeover of the “war on crime”, which was largely waged against African-American youth, while education and employment opportunities were defunded in favored of a militarized police force. The issue is inherently bipartisan and, regardless of intentions, people across the political spectrum played their role in altering black lives for the worse (though Reagan was clearly the worst) while shrouding themselves in the assumption that color blindness was appropriate after the 1960’s.

Incredible well-done and infuriating (as it should be).
Profile Image for April Helms.
984 reviews6 followers
July 15, 2019
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 disregarding preventative measures — even when they are shown to have success — and use only the stick (or in this case, jail) to deal with problems and potential problems. Answers and solutions won't come easy, but reading this book would be a good starting point, at least to illustrate how things got to this point.
Profile Image for Brook James.
28 reviews1 follower
March 15, 2019
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 crime and drugs with massive increases in rates and numbers of incarceration and militarization of the police forces. Hinton seems to confirm a lot of the information in other like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 84 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.