Other Forms of Criminal Justice Contact

Effects of Incarceration and Other Forms of
Criminal Justice Contact
Incarceration and other forms of criminal justice contact have both
short- and long-term consequences for a host of measureable outcomes
for people who are justice-involved, their families, and their
communities. Research has shown that spending time in prison has
negative effects on 1) employment, earnings, and wage growth; 2)
political engagement; and 3) health and well-being. Other measures of
justice involvement also affect these and related outcomes, although
the evidence is less definitive. Nonetheless, the criminal justice system
has become an important and pervasive axis of stratification in
the United States.
Economic Self-Sufficiency
Diminished employment opportunities, bouts of unemployment, and
lost wages influence economic security and self-sufficiency for individuals
who have been incarcerated as well as for their families and
children. Having been incarcerated significantly decreases the likelihood
that applicants receive call-backs for potential jobs (Pager 2003) ,
2007 ). Similar effects are found for having a felony conviction even
in the absence of spending time in prison or jail (Uggen et al. 2014 ).
Incarceration significantly depresses employment after release and is
also associated with extended periods of unemployment, especially
among low-skilled black men (Apel and Sweeten 2010 ; Western 2002,
2006 ). Evidence on the effects of other types of interaction with
police and the courts are more mixed, yet recent research shows
that even minor contacts with the criminal justice system can have
important negative consequences because of inconsistencies between
routines of work and demands of the court, including repeated court
appearances (Kohler-Hausman 2018 ).
Incarceration has been shown to depress wages and wage growth
even among former inmates who find work upon their release (Apel
and Sweeten 2010 ; Lageson and Uggen 2013 ; Loeffler 2013 ; Mueller-
Smith 2014 ; Ramakers et al. 2014 ; Western 2002, 2006 ). Even relatively
short stints in jail can have long-term implications for wage growth
Mass Incarceration and Racial Inequality 1163
and wealth (Sykes and Maroto 2016 ; Western 2006 ). Incarceration is
associated with time out of the labor force, lost work experience, and
skill depreciation (Kling 2006 ; Raphael 2011 ). However, there are also
direct wage penalties associated with spending time in prison that
result from the stigmatizing effects of any contact with the criminal
justice system (Mueller-Smith 2014 ; Pager 2003 , 2007 ; Western 2006 ).
More than 90 percent of employers in the United States are estimated
to obtain background checks on at least some of their potential hires
( Jacobs 2015 ). Employers express much less enthusiasm about hiring
a person with a criminal record than hiring a person with a spotty
work history or a history of unemployment (Holzer et al. 2006 ).
The economic consequences of incarceration and other forms of
engagement with the criminal justice system extend well beyond
people who are justice-involved. Incarceration diminishes contributions
to families (Geller et al. 2011 ). It also increases household financial
burdens associated with livelihood, such as childcare expenses
(Braman 2004 ; Grinstead et al. 2001 ). Family members, especially
mothers and partners, bear excess financial burdens—from posting
bail, to paying legal fines and fees, to visitation and related costs
(Comfort 2007 ; Harris, Evans, and Beckett 2010 , 2011 ; Harris 2016 ;
Maroto 2015 ). Financial obligations associated with criminal convictions,
transferred to family members, can fuel a cycle of debt and
obligation that spans across generations (Harris 2016 ).
Economic insecurity associated with incarceration critically affects
families and children through increased household instability. Having
a criminal record affects the ability to secure and sustain housing
(Lee, Tyler, and Wright 2010 ). Children of recently incarcerated fathers
are three times more likely to experience homelessness than children
without incarcerated fathers. Even after adjusting for many of the preexisting
family and household differences between children with and
without incarcerated parents—such as welfare receipt, eviction history,
public housing history, alcohol and drug abuse among parents,
and family violence—paternal incarceration is found to increase the
risk of childhood homelessness by 94 to 97 percent (Wakefield and
Wildeman 2013 ). Parental incarceration pushes even formerly nonpoor
children into poverty and entrenches their dependence on state
and federal assistance programs (Sykes and Pettit 2015 ).
1164 The American Journal of Economics and Sociology
Incarceration has widespread consequences for civic engagement.
Having a felony record, even in the absence of spending time in
prison or jail, can prohibit people from political participation. Fortyeight
states prohibit people who are currently imprisoned from voting.
Thus, incapacitation alone excludes over a million people each year
from the franchise; having a felony record precludes millions more
from voting long after they complete their custodial sentence (Manza
and Uggen 2008 ; Uggen, Larson, and Shannon 2016 ). Whether, and
for whom, formerly incarcerated individuals would vote is a matter of
some debate (Burch 2011 , ; Gerber et al. 2017 ; Miles 2004 ; Uggen and
Manza 2002 ; Uggen, Manza, and Thompson 2006 ).
The Sentencing Project (2010) estimates that 13 percent of black
men are disenfranchised from voting as a result of their criminal justice
involvement. Although some formerly incarcerated individuals remain
eligible to vote, voter turnout rates in this group are exceptionally
low (Burch 2012 , 2013, Gerber et al. 2017 ; Weaver and Lerman 2010 ).
Despite claims of growing political participation among young blacks,
evidence suggests that the exclusionary effects of mass incarceration
depressed voter turnout rates among young black men during the
historic 2008 election to the extent that they mirrored the low voter
participation rates among this group in the 1980 presidential contest
(Pettit 2012 ). If current rates of incarceration and racial disproportionality
persist in the future, 30 percent of black men in the next generation
can expect to be disenfranchised at some point in their lifetime,
and as many as 40 percent of black men may permanently lose their
right to vote in states that disenfranchise ex-offenders (Sentencing
Project 2012 ).
The negative effects of mass incarceration on civic engagement
extend well beyond voting. Spending time in prison and other forms
of criminal justice contact affect civic engagement, trust in institutions,
and cynicism about the legal system itself (Baumgartner et al.
2018 ; Mueller and Schrage 2014 ; Weaver and Lerman 2010 , 2014).
Growth over time in incarceration and racial disproportionality in exposure
to surveillance is linked to heightened levels of distrust in
the law among African Americans (Mueller and Schrage 2014 ). Racial
Mass Incarceration and Racial Inequality 1165
disproportionality in police stops and the outcomes of those stops
fuel race differences in perceptions of the police and their legitimacy.
African Americans are much more likely than whites to be stopped
by police, yet a disproportionate number of cases where whites are
stopped do not generate a citation, further reinforcing beliefs in an
unjust system designed to subjugate people of color (Baumgartner et
al. 2018 ).
Trust and engagement in the political system is similarly precarious
for family members and romantic partners of incarcerated people as it
is for those in, or recently released from, punitive confinement (Lee,
Porter, and Comfort 2014 ; White 2018 ). The criminal justice system is
an important institution in the political socialization of people connected
to currently or formerly incarcerated individuals, especially
as their relationship with the carceral state alienates them from other
mainstream socializing institutions (Flanagan 2003 ). Accordingly, the
political and civil behaviors of individuals connected to the criminal
justice system may diminish as a result of the general influence that
parents and romantic partners have on shaping these outcomes.
Indeed, individuals with an incarcerated parent or romantic partner
are less likely to vote, more likely to feel discriminated against in
their daily lives, and less likely to participate in community service
(Lee, Porter, and Comfort 2014 ). While family members are not the
primary targets for political disenfranchisement, their propensity for
engaging in the political process declines as they experience negative
interactions with correctional authorities that erode their beliefs in the
fairness of the government as a whole. The spillover consequences
of mass incarceration on trust in government and on political engagement
more broadly are profound. Children who have experienced the
incarceration of a parent exhibit significantly more legal cynicism than
other children (White 2018 ). Being stopped by police depresses trust
in the law, especially among African Americans (Baumgartener et al.
2018 ; Tyler, Fagan, and Geller 2014 ). In neighborhoods where police
surveillance is high and interactions with the police are the result of
unsolicited contact initiated by the police, policing is often viewed as
racially biased or unfair on other grounds (Sunshine and Tyler 2003 ;
Tyler and Huo 2002 ; Tyler and Wakslak 2004) . When positive views of
1166 The American Journal of Economics and Sociology
the police are weakened among individuals within a community, the
legitimacy of the police in that area is diminished.
Illegitimate and negative views of the criminal justice system have
cascading consequences for inequality within a community, in part
by making areas less safe. When individuals experience or perceive
unfair treatment from legal authorities, their propensity to cooperate
with and follow the law diminishes (Tyler 2003 ). This process,
however, is not unique to individuals. Through social interactions,
distrust of the police and negative views of the law more generally become
part of the neighborhood milieu (Kirk and Papachristos 2011 ).
Because the police rely on local residents to report crime, to participate
in criminal investigations, and to assist in the informal control of
crime, the reduction of police legitimacy often puts neighborhoods at
risk for growing levels of crime and violence (Carr, Napolitano, and
Keating 2007 ; Kirk et al. 2012 ; Tyler and Huo ).
Health and Well-Being
By and large, incarceration negatively affects health. Incarceration
is considered a chronic stressor (Pearlin 1989 ). It introduces acute
shocks to inmates’ immune systems during their time spent behind
bars and also throughout their lives. These acute shocks accumulate,
causing dysfunction to the immune system that can last for long
periods and result in early death (Pridemore 2014 ). Spending time in
jail and prison therefore affects health both during and after incarceration,
and the health effects of incarceration manifest in both
the short and long term. Because the stress related to incarceration
persists beyond the confines of correctional facilities, having spent
any amount of time behind bars is considered more consequential
for health than the length of incarceration itself (Massoglia 2008a ;
Schnittker and John 2007 ).
The negative health effects of incarceration are often most dangerous
in the short term, as the period immediately following release
from prison and jail is associated with a severely heightened risk of
death (Binswanger et al. 2007 ; Krinsky et al. 2009 ; Lim et al. 2012 ;
Merrall et al. 2010 ). In the first two weeks after being released from
prison, the rate of death among formerly incarcerated individuals is 13
Mass Incarceration and Racial Inequality 1167
times higher than the rate for the general population (Binswanger et
al. 2007 ). The leading cause of death during this post-release period
is overwhelmingly drug overdose, resulting from the combination of
exacerbated stress and poor continuity of healthcare and other forms
of support for former inmates on the outside (Binswanger et al. 2011 ).
The heightened risk of death following release from prison and jail
is also observed in the longer term, as incarceration harms the health
of former inmates in multiple ways long after their formal sentences
are served. In terms of physical health, spending time in prison or
jail increases the occurrence of chronic health problems (Schnittker
and John 2007 ). Incarceration also adds to susceptibility to infectious
diseases and stress-related illness, such as hypertension and heart
disease (Massoglia 2008b ). Having spent time in prison during young
adulthood is also found to deteriorate physical health functioning for
people at middle age (Massoglia 2008b ). In terms of mental health,
the stress associated with imprisonment also puts formerly incarcerated
individuals at higher risk for psychological problems and depression
(Massoglia 2008a ; Schnittker and John 2007 ).
Measuring the impact of incarceration as a mechanism of health
inequality is complicated by the fact that the negative effects of incarceration
on health are uniquely absent among black men (Patterson
2010 ). Black and white men display similarly poor health upon their
entry into prisons and jails (Nowotny, Rogerts, and Boardman 2017 ).
However, incarceration lowers the risk of mortality for black males
both during and after their time spent behind bars. The lower mortality
among black males could result from increased protection from
acute stressors and risks like exposure to violence and drug overdoses.
Prison conditions may provide a safer environment than what
black males on the outside otherwise encounter. Removing firearm
and motor vehicle deaths from the mortality rate of the general population,
however, does not fully explain the improved life expectancies
of incarcerated black men (Patterson 2010 ). Lower than expected rates
of death among black males in prison are also observed for chronic
causes of death, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes
(Rosen et al. 2011 ). Improvements in these cause-specific mortality
1168 The American Journal of Economics and Sociology
rates of black men in prison even extends to the period following the
first five years after their release (Rosen et al. 2008 ).
The health benefits of incarceration experienced by black men may
therefore be attributed to the constitutionally mandated requirement
to make healthcare available in jails and prisons that is otherwise
largely inaccessible or unused for this segment of the population. As
improvements in the mortality rate of incarcerated black men remain
uniquely steady for deaths caused by chronic conditions but not for
those caused by external injuries, the treatment and services provided
to inmates may generate health benefits that extend well beyond the
confines of correctional facilities. Nevertheless, racial disproportionality
in exposure to incarceration means that aggregate effects of the
criminal justice system fuel racial inequality in health. One way to see
this is by measuring the years of life lost associated with incarceration.
Public health scholars and epidemiologists often employ demographic
life-table techniques to measure the years of life lost to
uncover the impact of large-scale events that adversely impact a population.
Drucker ( 2002 ) applied this method to incarceration rates
during the prison boom in New York, a state that implemented its
own legislation to increase the length of prison sentences for nonviolent
drug offenses under the Rockefeller drug laws (RDL). Using
data from the New York State Department of Corrections merged with
population estimates and vital statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau,
Drucker found that RDL-related offenses accounted for over 325,000
person-years of life lost in New York from 1973 to 2002. With a median
age of 35 and a life expectancy of 68 years, this figure is equivalent
to the years of life lost associated with nearly 10,000 deaths
in a population with the same age, racial, and ethnic composition.
Drucker ( 2002 ) finds that the magnitude of these years of life lost to
incarceration for nonviolent drug offenses is similar to the death toll
associated with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York, especially for
young black men. According to Drucker, approximately 242 black
men ages 20–45 died in New York City during 2001, accounting for
7,986 years of life lost. In this same population group, the estimated
years of life lost due to nonviolent drug incarceration is 8,805, a figure
equivalent to 245 deaths.
Mass Incarceration and Racial Inequality 1169
The health and well-being of partners, children, and communities
are also impacted by mass incarceration. For example, people
who spend time in jails and prisons face greater risks of sexually
transmitted infections and diseases, which may eventually translate
to their partners on the outside when they return to society. The
concentration of incarceration within communities gravely shapes the
disproportionate risk of HIV among black men and women. Through
the late 1980s and mid-1990s, the rate of infection was nearly 20
times greater among black women than among white women. After
accounting for racial differences in incarceration, however, the infection
rate of black women would have been lower than that of white
women (Johnson and Raphael 2009 ; Schnittker, Massoglia, and Uggen
2011). Along with potential detriments to their sexual health, individuals
with incarcerated romantic partners experience elevated levels
of stress as a result of their partner’s incarceration, exposing them to
greater risks of health problems throughout the life course, such as
depression in the short term and heart disease in the long term (Lee
and Wildeman 2013 ; Lee et al. 2014).
Children conceived by recently incarcerated men also suffer negative
effects to their health in utero , threatening their chance of survival.
Wakefield and Wildeman ( 2013 ) use data from the Pregnancy
Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) to investigate the association
between infant mortality (death of a newborn before the first
birthday) and paternal incarceration. Among children born to women
who did not complete high school, infants with an incarcerated father
are 75 percent more likely to die within the first year of their lives
than those infants whose fathers are not imprisoned. Controlling for
risk factors associated with infant mortality, however, the authors find
that paternal incarceration increases the odds of infant death by 49
percent. Nevertheless, the risk of paternal incarceration on infant mortality
remains similar to other factors that have long received attention
in public health and medical research, such as the effect of maternal
smoking, which increases the odds of infant mortality by 46 percent.
It is hard to identify the direct effects of incarceration on a variety
of outcomes because families of incarcerated parents experience
conditions such as lower educational attainment of parents, greater
1170 The American Journal of Economics and Sociology
levels of public assistance utilization, more single-parent households,
and greater risks of domestic violence between parents. Nonetheless,
incarceration has been shown to negatively impact children’s mental
and behavioral well-being, as well as their residential stability,
which cumulatively relate to enduring physical health disadvantages
(Wakefield and Wildeman 2013 ).
Collective Consequences of Mass Incarceration

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