result in a sustained and increasing reliance on incarceration in criminal justice policy. Furthermore, these earlier crime waves did not spur sustained and wide-scale political attacks on judges, other public figures, and experts who sought to stem crime by addressing its structural causes and who emphasized the rehabilitation of lawbreakers rather than increased incapacitation and retribution.
There is a long history in the United States of debates over criminal justice policy, often in relation to the issues of race and civil rights. To many African Americans and Mexican Americans, dramatic, often violent confrontations in the years immediately after World War II illustrated serious problems of bias on the part of police forces. These confrontations included the lynching of black veterans returning home to the south after World War II; the numerous clashes between long-time white residents and new black and other migrants in U.S. cities, notably the infamous “Zoot Suit Riots” in Los Angeles in 19422 and the 1943 race riot in Detroit; and rising urban-suburban tensions with the rapid expansion of suburbia after the war (Sugrue, 1996; Murakawa, forthcoming; Mazon, 1984; Kruse and Sugrue, 2006; Theoharis and Woodard, 2003). These developments led many to demand that more attention be paid to episodes of police brutality as well as to police inaction in the face of organized and wide-scale white violence.
During this period, whites in the south and increasingly in the north also demanded that greater attention be paid to problems of crime and disorder. Many of them believed that these problems could be solved only with tougher laws; tougher sanctions; and tougher police, prosecutors, and judges. They sought greater protection from what they perceived to be disorderly protests by blacks and their allies seeking to desegregate U.S. society. Arguing that integration breeds crime, they sought an expanded criminal justice apparatus as a way to stem what they perceived as the increased lawlessness of blacks and their supporters who were challenging the Jim Crow regime (Sugrue, 1996; McGirr, 2002; Biondi, 2006; Countryman, 2007; Thompson, 2001; Jones, 2010; Murakawa, forthcoming; Weaver, 2007).
In response to this unrest and other political pressures at home and abroad, President Harry S. Truman and his supporters invoked the need for more “law and order” as they sought a greatly expanded role for the federal government in the general administration of criminal justice and law enforcement at the local and state levels and in the specific prosecution
2In the Zoot Suit Riots, Mexican American youths became the targets of violence by rioting white sailors following the release of inflammatory reports by government agencies suggesting that Mexicans had a greater propensity to crime because of their cultural inferiority and certain psychological characteristics (Grebler et al., 1970).