The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration and the Construction of the American Carceral State, 1964–79

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 11:00 AM
Marriott Balcony A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Melanie Newport, Temple University
The carceral state was the one of the most important undertakings of state and federal governments during the late 20th century. The growing body of research on prison activism and law and order has emphasized the political and civil rights origins of the carceral state. The bureaucratic history of the carceral state has been overlooked in spite of the fact that the carceral state was the nation’s largest public and private works project during the late twentieth century. Using the tools of institutional and political history, this paper will look to Law Enforcement Assistance Agency (LEAA) to address the hidden history of the bureaucratic formation of the carceral state. A study of LEAA will show that the construction of the carceral state was a deliberate, calculated state building project intended not just to suppress urban unrest, but to generate a nationwide reformation of state criminal justice systems. Professionalizing and militarizing police, constructing prisons, and initiating comprehensive and complex state criminal justice planning, this state building project was essential for building the institutional and administrative capacity of states to fight crime. This study is the story of how LEAA reformed the United States criminal justice system, but also how LEAA evolved as a result of the evolving views of what criminal justice reform should achieve and the shifting dynamics of federalism. Congressmen and LEAA administrators, as agents of the federal government, used grants to influence the trajectory of the political development of the carceral state at the state level. As recipients of grants, local law enforcement, state criminal justice planners, and social scientists negotiated the implementation of LEAA’s plans for criminal justice reform. The story of LEAA’s important role in state building reveals the deliberate development of bureaucratic structures that unintentionally took rates of imprisonment in America from normalized to catastrophic.
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