From The War On Poverty to the War on Crime – The Making of Mass Incarceration in America
By Elizabeth Hinton
Harvard University Press – £22.95
One cannot help but wonder how America’s new president, Donald of Trump Towers, would react to this book. A thought, to which all intents and perpetual purposes of incarceration, is a mode of impossible and inexorable practice, set in place some fifty years ago by President Lyndon Johnson.
Known as the ”War on Crime,” lest it be said that prison cells, unlawful arrest and law enforcement agencies have, for said time period, functioned as the ”central engine of American inequality.” Inequality, being the key word here, as one need look no further than what is happening in the United States right now. In 2017.
A country where one in every thirty-one adults is under some form of penal control, including one in eleven African American men.
It does indeed make one wonder how the supposed land of the free can boast of being the world’s largest prison system; especially when one takes into account that it has more wealth, more oil, more cars, more food-stocks, indeed, more of everything than anywhere else in the world.
Including more guns. And THEREIN lies the fundamental answer to a problem that is clearly out of control.
Out of control, because many would also agree with regards the trajectorial caveat, that America has more than its fair share of stupid people – many of whom buy the guns. Yet, perhaps more importantly still: the country is inundated with greed.
More greed than anywhere you care to name. Not to mention division, whereby most white people automatically receive a far, far bigger share of the pie when compared to their African American compatriots. So it’s hardly surprising the country has more people locked up than any other nation; less surprising still that there are more African Americans in jail than any other racial group. A social breakdown upon which From The War On Poverty to the War on Crime – The Making of Mass Incarceration in America sheds an abundance of clear and refreshing light.
For instance, in the chapter ‘The War On Black Poverty,’ Elizabeth Hinton writes: ”Declining job prospects for African Americans during the second half of the twentieth century exacerbated segregation and poverty in the neighbourhoods where displaced southern agricultural workers congregated. As 2 million white residents left cities for suburban areas, 1.5 million black Americans migrated to industrial centres in the North and West, joined by Latinos and white Appalachians, and moved into the neighbourhoods previously occupied by European immigrants and their children. By the early 1960s, 31 percent of African Americans lived in twelve northern cities, their living conditions characterized by the isolation, marginalization, and exclusion that stemmed from segregation.”
Segregation: a social stasis that throughout these nine chapters, is comprehensively addressed time again as being the most fundamental problem in American society today.
As well as yesterday.
A problem it would seem, that has, and continues to be shamefully exacerbated by society at large and Washington’s domestic policy: ”Under Richard Nixon and his successors, welfare programmes 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 neighbourhoods 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 realisation of the punitive transformation of urban policy implemented by Republicans and Democrats alike since the 1960s.”
These 340 pages (excluding comprehensive Notes, Acknowledgements and Index), alert us to a problem that has been going on for far too long. So long in fact, it may well end up destroying America. Although it does seem as if Donald Trump is already doing quite well on that score – without any outside assistance whatsoever.
As author of The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South, Matthew Lassiter has said, this is: ”an outstanding book – clear, compelling, and essential. Hinton excavates the deep roots of police militarisation, surveillance of minority communities, and the punitive shift in urban policy. Her argument that liberals were key architects of the war on crime is a necessary and even urgent corrective to conventional thinking about mass incarceration.”
So take note Messrs. Trump and Pence, and add this very fine book to your ever increasing stack of necessary, bedtime reading.