Prisons of Poverty

In the early 1990s, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani launched a zero-tolerance campaign aimed at street disorders and petty offenders, incarnated in the infamous “squeegee man.” New York City soon became a planetary showcase for an aggressive approach to law enforcement that, despite its extravagant costs and the absence of connection to the crime drop, came to be admired and imitated by other cities in the United States, Western Europe, and Latin America.

9780816639014-usIn Prisons of Poverty, Loïc Wacquant tracks the incubation and internationalization of the slogans, theories, and measures composing this new punitive “common sense,” fashioned to curb mounting urban inequality and marginality in the metropolis. He finds that a network of Reagan-era conservative think tanks (led by the Manhattan Institute) forged them as weapons in their crusade to dismantle the welfare state and, in effect, to criminalize poverty.

He traces their import and export through the agency of the media and the pro-market policy institutes that have mushroomed across the European Union, particularly in Tony Blair’s Britain. And he shows how local academics helped smuggle U.S. techniques of penalization into their countries by dressing them up in scholarly garb.

Now available in English for the first time in an expanded edition, Prisons of Poverty reveals how the Washington consensus on economic deregulation and welfare retrenchment was extended to encompass punitive crime control because the invisible hand of the market necessitates and calls forth the iron fist of the penal state.

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