New Book Draws Direct Line from the War on Poverty to the War on Crime
Date:  06-01-2016

In the era from Presidents Kennedy to Carter some of the most punitive criminal justice policies against African Americans were implemented
From the New York Times

Prison is on our minds. Its tentacles reach far beyond the two million Americans who are incarcerated, extending to their beloved friends and families, to the schools, homes and streets of people who once were, and who will someday be, locked up. In the years following the 2010 publication of Michelle Alexander’s best-selling book “The New Jim Crow,” several scholarly works have emerged that explain the rise and reality of mass incarceration. Like Naomi Murakawa’s “The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America,” Elizabeth Hinton’s “From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime” argues it was not just a conservative backlash to the civil rights movement that led to mass incarceration; it was a bipartisan enterprise.

Murakawa, a political scientist, focuses primarily on legislation and policy, whereas Hinton, an urban historian at Harvard, takes us from the policy to its application. Hinton acknowledges the 19th-century roots of what Khalil Gibran Muhammad has called “the condemnation of blackness,” but she notes that a significant transformation in racial politics took place in the late 20th century: “The long mobilization of the War on Crime was not a return to an old racial caste system in a new guise "A New Jim Crow." Rather, the effort to control and contain... produced a new and historically distinct phenomenon.”

“From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime” requires slow and careful reading for anyone seeking to grasp the full implications of this exceedingly well researched work. While the introduction and the first chapter take a while to gain momentum, the remainder of the book is vivid with detail and sharp analysis. Stretching beyond the typical scope of an academic text, Hinton’s book is more than an argument; it is a revelation. She describes how, from the administration of John F. Kennedy to that of Ronald Reagan, the executive, Congress and the courts together expanded the architecture of criminalization, driven by assumptions about the cultural inferiority and “pathology” of African-Americans. The Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Offenses Control Act of 1961, established by Kennedy’s executive order, imagined black youth as being in need of repair rather than justice. Lyndon B. Johnson recast this war on delinquency as a War on Crime. Police were militarized; law and order touted as essential; and black youth labeled “delinquent” and “potentially delinquent,” reputedly in need of special surveillance and supervision. Read more