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Getting Tough:
Welfare and Imprisonment in 1970s America
Julilly Kohler-Hausmann

Hardcover | 2017 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691174525
328 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 7 line illus.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400885183 |
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The politics and policies that led to America's expansion of the penal system and reduction of welfare programs

In 1970s America, politicians began "getting tough" on drugs, crime, and welfare. These campaigns helped expand the nation's penal system, discredit welfare programs, and cast blame for the era's social upheaval on racialized deviants that the state was not accountable to serve or represent. Getting Tough sheds light on how this unprecedented growth of the penal system and the evisceration of the nation's welfare programs developed hand in hand. Julilly Kohler-Hausmann shows that these historical events were animated by struggles over how to interpret and respond to the inequality and disorder that crested during this period.

When social movements and the slowing economy destabilized the U.S. welfare state, politicians reacted by repudiating the commitment to individual rehabilitation that had governed penal and social programs for decades. In its place, they championed strategies of punishment, surveillance, and containment. The architects of these tough strategies insisted they were necessary, given the failure of liberal social programs and the supposed pathological culture within poor African American and Latino communities. Kohler-Hausmann rejects this explanation and describes how the spectacle of enacting punitive policies convinced many Americans that social investment was counterproductive and the "underclass" could be managed only through coercion and force.

Getting Tough illuminates this narrative through three legislative cases: New York's adoption of the 1973 Rockefeller drug laws, Illinois's and California's attempts to reform welfare through criminalization and work mandates, and California's passing of a 1976 sentencing law that abandoned rehabilitation as an aim of incarceration. Spanning diverse institutions and weaving together the perspectives of opponents, supporters, and targets of punitive policies, Getting Tough offers new interpretations of dramatic transformations in the modern American state.

Julilly Kohler-Hausmann is assistant professor of history at Cornell University.


"A vital reminder that reactionary ideas gestate at the local level before they get nationalized. And, with enough organizing, so too might emancipatory ones."--Dan Berger, Truthout


"In her groundbreaking book, Kohler-Hausmann draws important new connections between penal and social welfare policy and debunks common assumptions about poverty, crime, and drug use in the process. Getting Tough transforms the way we view the late twentieth-century United States and speaks to the problems at the center of American democracy today."--Elizabeth Hinton, author of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America

"Getting Tough is an extraordinary gift to all of us who have long tried to make sense of how the United States came to build one of the world’s most punitive carceral states, so closely on the heels of having constructed a redistributive welfare state. Examining the complex histories and sensibilities of political elites, grassroots activists, and voters, while illuminating the lived experiences of drug sellers, welfare recipients, and prisoners, Kohler-Hausmann profoundly upends how we understand the political, cultural, and social transformations of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This book is nothing short of pathbreaking."--Heather Ann Thompson, author of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy

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Table of Contents:

List of Figures ix
Acknowledgments xi
Introduction 1
Part I Pushers 29
1 Addicts into Citizens: The Tribulations of New York’s Treatment Regime 33
2 The Public versus the Pushers: Enacting New York’s Rockefeller Drug Laws 79
II Welfare Queens 121
Three The Welfare Mess: Reimagining the Social Contract 125
4 Welfare Is a Cancer: Economic Citizenship in the Age of Reagan 163
III Criminals 207
5 Unmaking the Rehabilitative Ideal 211
6 Going Berserk for Punishment: A Prelude to Mass Incarceration 250
Conclusion Forging an “Underclass” 289
Index 299


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