In the past few years, there has been increased discussion of the growth in America’s prison population to more than 2 million Americans incarcerated, many of them drug offenders, for periods that seem far too long. Since the publication in 2010 of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, there has been more scholarship on the topic of mass incarceration. In a title added last year to the Brooklyn Law School Library collection, From the War on Poverty to the War On Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America by Elizabeth Hinton (Call No. HV9950 .H56 2016), the topic get detailed attention.
The author, an Assistant Professor at Harvard University and urban historian, argues that mass incarceration is not just a conservative backlash to the civil rights movement but an initiative of both of the major political parties. In the book, Hinton traces mass incarceration, often based on assumptions about the cultural inferiority African-Americans, back to the 1960s, from the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to that of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. The Democrats passed the The Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Offenses Control Act of 1961 which portrayed black youth as being in need of repair rather than justice. At the same time when President Johnson’s War on Poverty sought to foster equality and economic opportunity, his administration advanced initiatives rooted in widely shared assumptions about African Americans’ role in urban disorder. Johnson called for a War on Crime in 1965 when he created the Office of Law Enforcement Assistance, which significantly increased federal involvement in militarizing local police. From the late 1960s starting with Richard Nixon’s law and order campaign to the 1980s administration of Ronald Reagan, crime control and incarceration dominated national responses to poverty and inequality as initiatives that were the full realization of the punitive transformation of urban policy implemented by both parties.
A search of the BLS Library OneSearch platform will lead readers to a recent review of Hinton’s book in the February 2017 issue of the American Journal of Public Health (Vol. 107 Issue 2) under the title Reckoning with the Rise of the Carceral State by David H. Cloud. For more on the topic, the BLS Library has ordered for its collection a new title, Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration—and How to Achieve Real Reform by John F. Pfaff, Professor of Law at Fordham Law School. The book describes a fractured criminal justice system, where many counties do not pay for the people they send to state prisons, and white suburbs set law and order agendas for more-heavily minority cities.