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Episode 9: How Democrats and Republicans Created Mass Incarceration

Episode description

There are a few schools of thought regarding the origins of mass incarceration. Some blame Reagan and his” war on drugs,” while others blame Bill Clinton’s 1994 Crime Bill. Meanwhile, movies like Ava Duvernay’s 13th have drawn the direct parallels between slavery, Jim Crow, and our racist incarceration system. Each of these theories is correct, at least in part. Yes, it is undoubtedly true that mass incarceration cannot be divorced from prior systems of racial subjugation in America. And yes, Reagan and Clinton helped to perpetuate mass incarceration.

But in her book From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, our guest Elizabeth Hinton, a professor of History and African American studies at Harvard, argues that the modern roots of mass incarceration can be traced even further back, to president Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson, a Democrat, is famous for helping usher in key Civil Rights victories, from the Voting Rights Act to the Civil Rights Act. And he spent much of his tenure fighting for low-income Americans, implementing a series of domestic policies that he called the War on Poverty. But he also pushed for harsher punishments and a larger law enforcement presence, particularly in communities of color. Under Johnson, the federal government started pouring tons of money into local law enforcement, which gave them the tools they needed to lock up millions of people.

On this episode, we discuss how both parties helped perpetuate mass incarceration in the years immediately following the Civil Rights movement. We also discuss why it is that, during the 70s and 80s, black elected officials were some of the most ardent supporters of mass incarceration.

Professor Hinton joins us to talk about how both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the mass incarceration system we have today.

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