Book Review: From the war on poverty to the war on crime: The making of mass incarceration in America

AuthorBecky Pettit
Published date01 December 2020
Date01 December 2020
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Review
Book Review
Hinton, E. (2016).
From the war on poverty to the war on crime: The making of mass incarceration in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press. 449 pp. $18.95, ISBN 9780674737235.
Reviewed by: Becky Pettit, University of Texas–Austin, Austin, TX, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016818820574
From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime is a compelling and nuanced modern historical
narrative of mass incarceration. The contemporary plague of over policing and the forced removal of
disproportionate numbers of young Black men from free society, Elizabeth Hinton argues, are rooted
in the designs of federal policy during the height of the Civil Rights era. Policy initiatives cham-
pioned by academics advising the Kennedy and Johnson administrations laid the organizational
infrastructure and cued critical assumptions about “pathological behavior and criminality among
urban African Americans” that made “escalating the War on Crime ...the most practical policy path
forward” (p. 66).
The book begins with a careful review of federal policy initiatives noting that one of the
“essential ironies of American history” is that policies and practices that led to mass incarceration
began “during an era of liberal reform and at the height of the civil rights revolution” (p. 1). The
same Johnson administration that launched the “War on Poverty,” less visibly though arguably more
effectively, also launched a “war against crime” (p. 1). The battle plan from the War on Poverty
proved even more useful for waging the War on Crime. Wide-ranging initiatives centralized the
federal government in the organizational landscape of localities in new ways to ensure voting rights,
children’s access to quality education, and employment and training for young people. At the same
time, policy solutions for urban joblessness and youth delinquency were increasingly li nked to
behavioral explanations rather than structural inequalities. The Law Enforcement Assistance Act
(1965) and the Safe Streets Act of 1968 were thereby enabled to support unprecedented federal
involvement in local police, court, and prison operations. Taken tog ether, Hinton argues, these
federal policy shifts undermined local authority structures and fueled racialized punishment.
Hinton draws on evidence from Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, DC,
and St. Louis to chronicle how people living and working in urban areas contested and complied
with new forms of governance. The specific contours of punishment differed in relation to existing
race relations, economic opportunities, and urban unrest. Yet Hinton paints a broadly consistent
picture that the federal government provided the weapons, technical expertise, and financial support
for localities to wage a sustained campaign against both real and imagined acts of crime and
violence. The Johnson administration laid the groundwork for future criminal justice expansion
by developing strategies to encourage “police forces to actively seek out potential criminals in low-
income urban neighborhoods” (p. 97). Anticipatory, or predictive, policing expanded the carceral
net into adolescence as new forms of state surveillance targeted youth who officials deemed
“delinquents” or otherwise in need of supervision (p. 115).
Criminal Justice Review
2020, Vol. 45(4) 508-509
ª2018 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT