Theses Doctoral

From Social Welfare to Social Control: Federal War in American Cities, 1968-1988

Hinton, Elizabeth

The first historical account of federal crime control policy, "From Social Welfare to Social Control" contextualizes the mass incarceration of marginalized Americans by illuminating the process that gave rise to the modern carceral state in the decades after the Civil Rights Movement. The dissertation examines the development of the national law enforcement program during its initial two decades, from the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, which established the block grant system and a massive federal investment into penal and juridical agencies, to the Omnibus Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which set sentencing guidelines that ensured historic incarceration rates. During this critical period, Presidential Administrations, State Departments, and Congress refocused the domestic agenda from social programs to crime and punishment. To challenge our understanding of the liberal welfare state and the rise of modern conservatism, "From Social Welfare to Social Control" emphasizes the bipartisan dimensions of punitive policy and situates crime control as the dominant federal response to the social and demographic transformations brought about by mass protest and the decline of domestic manufacturing. The federal government's decision to manage the material consequences of rising unemployment, subpar school systems, and poverty in American cities as they manifested through crime reinforced violence within the communities national law enforcement legislation targeted with billions of dollars in grant funds from 1968 onwards. By highlighting the role of race-neutral language in federal policy following civil rights legislation, the study also exposes the way structural racism endured after racism in the public sphere was no longer acceptable. Tracking the discretionary portion of the law enforcement budget that Congress permitted the White House to spend autonomously illustrates the way racism grounded color-blind crime control programs over time. With novel use of discretionary aid, White House Officials enlarged the federal government's influence over local authorities while still operating through the new states' rights paradigm the Safe Streets Act created via block grants. On the ground, federal law enforcement assistance heightened patrol forces in black urban neighborhoods and social institutions, causing disproportionate arrest rates and the unprecedented entrance of young Americans from areas of segregated poverty into state and federal penitentiaries. At the close of the first twenty years of the national law enforcement program, the number of inmates in American prisons had more than tripled. Ultimately, the dissertation questions the way the federal government helped to facilitate the process through which the state apparatus of punishment--including law enforcement, criminal justice, border management, and prison systems--quickly developed into its own viable industry in the context of urban deindustrialization and disinvestment. In contributing to debates about the persistence of poverty in the United States and drawing our attention to the federal government's role in sustaining punitive policy that first emerged in the 1960s, "From Social Welfare to Social Control" provides critical insight to one of the most important questions facing our society: why, in the land of the free, are more than one in a hundred American citizens in prison or jail?

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Foner, Eric
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 23, 2013