Recent Urban Policy and Community Development Research


Prisons and Mass Incarceration

Mary Pattillo
IPR associate Mary Pattillo (right), a sociologist and African
American studies researcher, is investigating the impact of
fees and fines on the criminal justice ysstem, examining
what variables—including race—are at play.

Analyzing Misdemeanor Fines
IPR associate Mary Pattillo, Harold Washington Professor of Sociology and African American Studies, is currently in the third year of an extensive five-year project investigating the impact of fees and fines on the criminal justice system in eight states, including Illinois. The study is creating a “legislative landscape” of the statutes that impose monetary sanctions on those convicted of low-level felonies and misdemeanors in each state. Pattillo’s work, which focuses on Illinois, includes interviews with people who have been assessed fines and fees, observations of courtrooms, and surveys of court personnel, including judges, lawyers, and clerks. In the fourth year of the process, Pattillo and other researchers plan to conduct a quantitative analysis examining all those who received fees and fines to determine which variables, including race, are at play.

Building the Prison State
In her new book, Building the Prison State: Race and the Politics of Mass Incarceration (University of Chicago Press, 2018), IPR sociologist Heather Schoenfeld uses an in-depth case study of Florida, a state with one of the largest prison populations, to examine the development of mass incarceration in the United States from 1950 to the present. In the United States, the rise of mass incarceration is usually depicted as a result of politicians deciding to get “tough on crime,” but Schoenfeld notes that many states had tough-on-crime cultures early on when incarceration rates were much lower. So, what changed? Drawing on archival evidence and interviews with key stakeholders in Florida, Schoenfeld focuses on capacity, showing how the government’s ability to detect crime and punish individuals grew in the 1970s and 1980s due to the professionalization of policing, increased funding, and eventually the building of more prisons. Schoenfeld is also working on a project entitled “The Changing Tides of Mass Incarceration: Explaining State Variation in Decarceration Reforms,” which examines the processes leading to state policies aimed at decreasing prison populations. The three-year, National Science Foundation-funded project began in fall 2017, and its goal is to help lawmakers, interest groups, and reform advocates create the conditions necessary to substantially reduce incarceration.

Race and Income Segregation

Poor Neighborhoods and Disadvantage
In a 2017 report on intergenerational poverty, IPR sociologist Lincoln Quillian discusses the role of poor neighborhoods in intergenerational poverty. Living in a poor neighborhood is associated with exposure to crime and violence and reduced levels of happiness. Children who grow up in poor neighborhoods have worse health, lower educational attainment, and reduced income as adults compared with similar children that grow up in more affluent neighborhoods. There is strong continuity of neighborhood income level between parents and children, meaning many children that grow up in poor neighborhoods will live in poor neighborhoods as an adult. African American and Hispanic families are much more likely than whites to live in poor neighborhoods, even after accounting for their household income. Through worsening life chances across generations, neighborhood poverty contributes to the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Quillian outlines some of the more effective policies to reduce neighborhood poverty, focusing on policies to reduce racial and income segregation. Housing vouchers that facilitate moves to more affluent neighbor-hoods and efforts to combat exclusionary zoning would reduce the number of high-poverty neighborhoods and could significantly improve quality of life for many disadvantaged families.

Segregation and Contextual Advantage
How does segregation contribute to inequality? Quillian provides a formal demographic model of how segregation affects an individual’s social context—a neighborhood, school, or even social network. Published in RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, Quillian’s model builds on the idea that better contexts provide people with contextual advantage and that poorer social contexts result in disadvantage. He includes two groups that differ along a dimension of average advantage and disadvantage—for example, two racial groups that differ in their poverty rates. His model illustrates how contextual advantages and disadvantages from segregation are affected by demographic conditions like group relative size and the rates of group advantage and disadvantage. Quillian outlines a series of 11 conclusions from the theoretical model and then applies the model to understanding racial segregation effects in U.S. cities.

Racial Discrimination and Hiring
Since 1990, the United States has experienced some positive racial trends, including declines in residential segregation and the black-white test score gap. According to a meta-analysis of 21 studies, however, there has been no change in rates of hiring discrimination against African Americans between 1990 and 2015. Together, the field experiments represent almost 56,000 applications submitted for roughly 26,000 positions. With funding from IPR and the Russell Sage Foundation, Quillian and his colleagues find that whites received on average 36 percent more callbacks to interview than African Americans with equal job qualifications. Whites also had 24 percent more callbacks than Latinos. The results, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, support the need for efforts to enforce anti-discrimination laws and suggest a continued need for compensatory policies like affirmative action in hiring. Quillian is currently working on a meta-analysis comparing rates of hiring discrimination between the United States and Europe. Based on 97 field experiments, he finds substantial variation in hiring discrimination across nine countries. France has the highest rates of discrimination, and Canada, the United States, the Netherlands, Norway, and Germany are among those with the lowest rates. The research received much attention from both national and international media outlets around the world, including the Guardian, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal.

Community Policing and Criminal Justice

Public Safety vs. Community Trust 
Citizens depend on police to provide public safety while maintaining the trust of the community. How can democratic societies balance these two often conflicting aims, given citizens’ often divergent views over basic tenets of criminal justice policy? IPR economist Charles F. Manski, the Board of Trustees Professor of Economics, and Carnegie Mellon criminologist Daniel S. Nagin seek to provide a model that can help. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Manski and Nagin outline a formal model of optimal policing that can be used to resolve tensions between public safety and community trust—and that can also help a public that is prone to privileging one over the other, depending on the circumstances, to keep both in mind. They provide a structure to weigh the costs and benefits of confrontational forms of proactive policing, such as stop, question, and frisk. They built their model with a fundamental tradeoff of policing tactics in mind: How much does a tactic reduce crime and how much does it interfere with innocent people’s lives? And how much does it have a disproportionate impact across racial and ethnic groups? They also use New York City’s experience with “stop and frisk” and an increase in Chicago homicides as lenses for exploring the model’s policy implications.

Fairness in Policing
While research on public support for the police has documented the role of procedural justice—or fairness in the relationship between police and the public—in shaping public perception of police legitimacy and whether or not citizens cooperate, less attention has been paid to how to get police officers to act under the principles of procedural justice. In Police Quarterly, IPR faculty emeritus Wesley G. Skogan and co-author Maarten Van Craen of the Leuven Institute of Criminology in Belgium address the challenging, multifaceted issue of fostering procedural justice internally among police officers. With support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Joyce Foundation, the authors examine the relationship between fair supervision and fair policing. The study results indicate that perceived internal procedural justice is directly related to support for external procedural justice, and also indirectly, through trust in citizens. The findings suggest that supervisors can positively influence the way officers deal with citizens by providing good examples and setting the right tone in their own leadership practices.

Use of Force by Police
Recent shootings by police in the United States emphasize that legitimate policing is difficult to achieve and highlight concerns over use of force by police. In Criminal Justice and Behavior, Skogan and Van Craen examine the relationship between fair supervision and officers’ support for restrictions on their use of force. They find that a supervisor modeling good behavior can offer an important link between the two. Their results suggest that fair supervision fosters support for restraint in the use of force through greater “moral alignment” with citizens and increased trust in the public. The research also suggests that police organizations can contribute to encouraging economy in the use of force by implementing supervisory practices that reflect the principles of procedural justice. With support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and the Research Foundation-Flanders, Skogan and his co-author examine how supervision might contribute to a better justified use of force by the police.

Thinking Fast and Slow
For nearly a decade, IPR economist Jonathan Guryan has been following the participants of Becoming a Man (BAM), a group cognitive behavioral therapy program for at-risk Chicago youth designed by local nonprofit Youth Guidance. Instead of emphasizing education or punitive methods to deter crime, cognitive behavioral therapy-based programs like BAM offer strategies to teach kids to slow down and think before they act. Guryan and his colleagues’ research shows that BAM reduced arrests for violent crimes by half and increased high school graduation rates by nearly 20 percent for the Chicago Public School students in the program. The program, which now includes several thousand young men in seventh through twelfth grade in Chicago schools, provides mentorship and group role-playing lessons. The researchers findings offer policymakers evidence that investing in social intervention programs can have positive results. BAM’s results have inspired otherseven President Barack Obama, who started the My Brother’s Keeper initiative after attending a 2013 BAM session. In recognition of its effectiveness, Chicago Public Schools now uses federal Title I dollars to support and expand efforts to implement it in high schools around the city. The study was published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Social Networks and Gun Violence
Does gun violence spread through social networks through a process of social contagion? Using an epidemiological analysis of a network of more than 138,000 people in Chicago, IPR sociologist Andrew Papachristos and his colleagues determine that social contagion—the spread of behavior from one person to another—was responsible for 63 percent of the 11,123 gunshot violence incidents in Chicago that occurred between 2006 and 2014. In their study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine and funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the National Science Foundation, they learn that the victims of gun violence were shot, on average, 125 days after their “infector”—or the person most responsible for exposing the subject to the violence—was shot. Models that incorporate social contagion and demographic factors, such as age, sex, and neighborhood, predicted future gunshot subjects better than models based on social contagion or demographics alone. The research suggests gunshot violence follows an epidemic-like process of social contagion that is transmitted through networks of people by social interactions. Additionally, violence prevention efforts that account for social contagion in addition to demographics may have the potential to prevent more shootings than efforts that solely focus on demographic risk factors.