Essays on Place and Punishment in America
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CitationSimes, Jessica Tayloe. 2016. Essays on Place and Punishment in America. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation consists of three essays on the spatial and neighborhood dynamics of incarceration in the United States.
In the first essay, I apply theories of social control and urban inequality to study prison admission rates at the census tract level for the state of Massachusetts. Regression analysis yields three findings. First, incarceration is highly spatially concentrated. Census tracts covering 15 percent of the state's population account for half of all prison admissions. Second, across urban and non-urban areas, incarceration is strongly related to poverty, high school dropout, and minority population, even after controlling for crime. Third, an outlier analysis shows admission rates in small cities and suburbs are among the highest in the sample and far exceed model predictions. The main theoretical implication is that mass incarceration emerged not just to manage distinctively urban social problems but was characteristic of a broader mode of governance evident in communities often far-removed from deep inner-city poverty.
The second essay examines the pre-prison neighborhood environment of racial and ethnic subgroups within the Massachusetts prison population. From an analysis of over 13,000 prison admissions in Massachusetts, findings indicate that some of the most disadvantaged pre-prison neighborhoods come from places outside of Boston. Whites and Hispanics who enter prison from smaller city centers in Massachusetts lived in significantly more concentrated disadvantage than their counterparts in Boston. However, black men and women coming from Boston lived in the greatest concentrated disadvantage among the black admission population. Taken together, the prison population is drawn from a diverse set of communities, and the highest levels of concentrated disadvantage in the state are composed of small cities and towns.
In the third essay, I investigate neighborhood attainment after a period of incarceration. Combining census data and prison records with a longitudinal survey of people leaving prison and returning to the Greater Boston area, this paper examines mechanisms explaining the disparities in neighborhood attainment upon release from prison. In the context of Greater Boston, black and Hispanic men and women leaving prison move into significantly more disadvantaged areas than their white counterparts, even after controlling for levels of pre-prison neighborhood disadvantage. Household dynamics are an important neighborhood sorting mechanism: living in concentrated disadvantage was more likely for those living in non-traditional households or group quarters. While 40 percent of respondents initially moved to only one of two neighborhoods in Boston, nearly 25 percent of respondents left prison and entered formal institutional settings, returned to prison, or lived in extreme social marginality throughout various locations in Greater Boston. Racial and ethnic differences in neighborhood sorting by household type--and the conditions of extreme marginality--are key mechanisms of neighborhood attainment during the precarious of period reentry.
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