Elizabeth Hinton: Federal Policy, Urban Policing, and the Roots of Mass Incarceration


Monday, March 23, 2015, 12:00pm to 1:45pm


Harvard Kennedy School: Allison Dining Room

Elizabeth Hinton, Assistant Professor of History and of African and African American Studies, Harvard University.

Fifty years ago this month, President Lyndon B. Johnson called for a “War on Crime,” a declaration that ushered in a new era of American law enforcement. This seminar will consider the impact of the punitive shift in domestic policy from 1965 onwards, focusing on the various strategies federal policymakers developed to fight the War on Crime in African American neighborhoods.

By examining the largely untold history of decoy squads, sting operations, and other urban patrol and surveillance programs of the 1970s, the seminar will illuminate the ways in which the law enforcement measures that followed civil rights legislation left a legacy of more crime, more incarceration, and more inequality.  

(No advance paper for this seminar).

About the speaker:  Elizabeth Hinton is Assistant Professor in the Department History and the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Hinton’s research focuses on the persistence of poverty and racial inequality in the 20th century United States. Her current scholarship considers the transformation of domestic social programs and urban policing after the Civil Rights Movement.

In her forthcoming book, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: Race and Federal Policy in American Cities (with Harvard University Press), Hinton examines the implementation of federal law enforcement programs beginning in the mid-1960's that laid the groundwork for the mass incarceration of American citizens. In revealing the links between the rise of the American carceral state and earlier anti-poverty programs, Hinton presents Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs not as a sharp policy departure but rather as the full realization of a shift towards surveillance and confinement that began during the Johnson administration.

Before joining the Harvard faculty, Hinton spent two years as a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Michigan Society of Fellows and Assistant Professor in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan. A Ford Foundation Fellow, Hinton completed her Ph.D. in United States History from Columbia University in 2012. She also co-edited The New Black History: Revisiting the Second Reconstruction (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011) with the late historian Manning Marable.

See also: Spring 2015