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The Source: The Great Society Was Also The Start Of Mass Incarceration

LBJ Library

In the early 1990's U.S. crime rates had been on a steep upward climb since the Johnson presidency of the 1960's. The crack cocaine epidemic in the mid 1980's made things even worse. Handgun related homicides more than doubled between 1985 and 1990. That year murders peaked in New York City with 2,245 killings.

In San Antonio we were seeing nightly multiple drive by shootings. Politicians embraced tough on crime platforms - the baked into the judicial system racially targeted super enforcement and mandatory minimums that created a society of mass incarceration.

Often these programs were also embraced by leaders in the African American community, or so history tells us. As Elizabeth Hinton points out in her new book "From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America" the actions called for by the the communities being ravaged by drug violence were just as much about social welfare programs, education, and rehabilitation as they were about getting tough. But when these programs were passed the get tough was all that was left.


  • Elizabeth Hinton, assistant professor of History and of African American Studies at Harvard University


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