In 1964 just over two hundred thousand Americans were in prison. Today that number reaches over two million. The question at the core of Elizabeth Hinton’s book From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime is, how did we get here? Her work demands a reconsideration of commonly held narratives about when and how mass incarceration started in modern America and who is responsible for its architecture. Hinton deepens our understanding of the historicization of violence and the criminalization of black youth in the twentieth century and places the role of the federal government at the heart of her study.

Hinton situates the roots of the modern carceral state not in the Reagan era but over twenty years earlier in the midst of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. She examines LBJ’s pivot to his third war—the War on Crime—through...

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