I am broadly interested in the diversity in state and city-level politics regarding punishment, incarceration, and criminal justice.
Here are my published and forthcoming papers.
"Partisan Politics, Social Control, and Corrections Spending: The Counterbalancing Effect of Black Political Incorporation." Forthcoming in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics. Theories concerning the adoption of punitive policies at the state level often cite two dynamics: conservative ideology and racial threat, that punitive policies are more likely in states with Republican politicians and a higher proportion of Black residents. I argue these theories lose their explanatory power in the post-Civil Rights era, and suggest Black political incorporation acts as a powerful antidote to the punitive impulses of government officials. I test my hypotheses on a dataset of state corrections spending from 1983 to 2011 and find evidence for the counterbalancing argument. States with increasing percentages of Black state legislators spend 0.42 fewer dollars per capita on corrections, suggesting Black political incorporation is an important mediator in the relationship between racial threat and corrections budgets. This paper has implications for the application of the social control theory as descriptive representation grows, but also for the study of the effect of minority politicians on budgets and policy more broadly. The adoption of policies deleterious to certain communities can be mitigated by the presence of representatives who legislate on behalf of those communities.
"Do Officer-Involved Shootings Reduce Citizen Contact with Government?" With Tom Clark, Adam Glynn, Michael Leo Owens, Elisha Cohen, Kaylyn Jackson, and Paul Zachary. Published in the Journal of Politics. Police use of force bears on central matters of political science, including equality of citizen treatment by government. In light of recent high-profile officer-involved shootings (OIS) that resulted in civilian deaths, we assess whether, conditional on a shooting, a civilian’s race predicts fatality during police-civilian interactions. We combine Los Angeles data on OIS with a novel research design to estimate the causal effects of fatal shootings on citizen-initiated contact with government. Specifically, we examine whether fatal OIS affect citizen contact with the municipal government via use of the emergency 911 and nonemergency 311 call systems in Los Angeles. We find no average effect of OIS on patterns of 911 and 311 call behavior across a wide range of empirical specifications. Our results suggest, contrary to existing evidence, that OIS, in and of themselves, do not substantively change civic behavior, at least not citizen-initiated contact with local government.
Here is a list of my working paper projects, some more nascent than others.
"Why Do States Privatize their Prisons? The Unintended Consequences of Inmate Litigation." The United States has witnessed privatization of a variety of government functions over the last three decades. Media and politicians often attribute the decision to privatize to ideological commitments to small government and fiscal pressure. These claims are particularly notable in the context of prison privatization, where states and the federal government have employed private companies to operate and manage private correctional facilities. I argue state prison privatization is not a function of simple ideological or economic considerations. Rather, prison privatization has been a (potentially unintended) consequence of the administrative and legal costs associated with litigation brought by prisoners. I assemble an original database of prison privatization in the US and demonstrate that the privatization of prisons is best predicted by the legal pressure on state corrections systems, rather than the ideological orientation of a state government.
"Who Punishes More? Partisanship, Punitive Policies, and the Puzzle of Democratic Governors." The growth of the carceral state over the last few decades has been remarkable, with millions of Americans in prison, jail, on parole or probation. However, political science explanations of this policy largely identify partisanship as a key explanatory variable in the adoption of punitive policies: by this theory, Republicans are the driving force behind these measures. This paper argues this explanation is incomplete and emphasizes the bipartisan coalition that built the carceral state. I argue Democratic governors will be incentivized to pursue more punitive policies to compete with Republicans, especially when they are electorally vulnerable. I test this proposition using a series of regression discontinuity designs and find causal evidence for Democrats' complicity in the expansion of the carceral state. Democratic governors who barely win outincarcerate and outspend their Republican counterparts on corrections, highlighting their role as key architects in the creation of the vast criminal justice system and its punitive institutions.
"Does Military Aid to Police Decrease Crime? Counterevidence from the Federal 1033 Program and Local Police Jurisdictions in the United States." With Tom Clark, Adam Glynn, Michael Leo Owens, Elisha Cohen, and Kaylyn Jackson. For three decades, the federal government has been supplying local law enforcement agencies with surplus military equipment, on the logic the support will enhance crime fighting and law enforcement. This policy has helped change the physical profile of policing, "militarizing" it. But the question remains, does the policy serve the stated goal of reducing crime rates? Scholars debate that question. We join the debate, demonstrating deep problems with commonly used data about the collection and retention of SME by local law enforcement agencies. We also revisit two prominent "police militarization" studies, using new data to demonstrate that any conclusions that military aid reduces crime are likely driven by flawed data. Data quality problems with SME records seriously limit the ability to assess the effects of police militarization on law enforcement and public safety.
"Blue First and Foremost: The Limited Impact of Female Descriptive Representation on Sex Crimes Arrests." With Laura Huber. The degree to which female political actors influence policy outcomes is hotly debated in political science. However, relatively little research considers how women's representation in one key institution in American daily life - the police - influences arrest outcomes. We argue that increasing women's representation among sworn police officers should not be associated with changes in arrest rates, as police forces are highly masculine and hierarchical environments and we expect female officers to conform to institutional norms. We leverage data from 1987 to 2013 and find no evidence that women's representation impacts arrest rates for sex-based crimes, suggesting that female police officers may be "blue" first, and women second. Our paper has implications not only for the study of female representation and representative bureaucracy, but also provides insights into how these vital political actors are influenced by their own characteristics and institutional culture.
"The Effects of Ideology and Disadvantage on Federal District Court Prisoner Petitions." Nearly 80% of all federal judicial activity occurs in the district courts and a significant portion of that activity is the result of prisoners filing petitions against state and federal correctional representatives. We know relatively little about these lawsuits, however. This paper focuses on inmate litigation as a vital form of political action of those incarcerated and argues that ideology and disadvantage play a role in the ultimate outcome of these cases. I amass a large dataset of every prisoner petition filed from 1989 to 2016 and find that while ideology does not predict the likelihood an inmate lawsuit will succeed, that prisoner's pro se status, whether they file the petition without the aid of an attorney, makes it significantly more likely the suit will be dismissed and less likely that inmate will receive relief. This paper has implications not only for the study of judicial decisionmaking in the federal district courts, but also as an example of important political action of a disenfranchised and neglected group in our legal system.
"Noncongruent Policymaking by Cities and States for Citizens with Criminal Records: Representation, Organizing, and 'Ban the Box'." With Michael Leo Owens. Generally, policymakers adopt policies encumbering groups with negative social constructions and limited political power. Sometimes, they choose policies to benefit, not burden them, adopting “noncongruent” policies that deliberately mismatch assumptions about deservingness and the distribution of benefits (and costs). We study noncongruent policymaking for one group, citizens with criminal records. We test whether such policymaking may require, among other things, presence by “preferable representatives” and civil society organizations that intentionally mobilize disadvantaged groups. We focus on polices removing criminal records questions from public and private job applications, using longitudinal data for 251 cities and the 50 states. Leveraging event history analysis, we report evidence that Black policymakers as preferable representatives and civil society leagues that employ community organizing are associated with subnational removal of “the box.” While descriptive, the findings deepen understanding of how intracity and intrastate politics may influence noncongruent policymaking for negatively constructed and politically weak groups.
"Beyond the Boy's Club: Gender Integration and Police Behavior." With Laura Huber. In the last decade, scholars and the public alike questioned policing and its methods, from use of force against civilians to police militarization. As of yet, however, we know relatively little about how police actions are shaped by gender, specifically the gender of officers and leaders. We leverage insights from the effect of gender on legislative and bureaucratic outcomes and suggest that not only ought the gender balance of the police force alter its culture and institutions, but that this effect is conditional on female police leadership. We use Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics data on female presence in both leadership and sworn officers in 2013 to analyze how gender shifts a police force's priorities and effectiveness. Primarily we examine whether increased gender integration affects arrest rates for gendered crimes, such as sexual assault. Overall, we find little evidence that changes in the percent of women in the police force or its leadership, with the exception of female intermediate supervisors, influences arrest rates for sex crimes. This paper highlights the need for more complete administrative data on policing, as well as careful theorizing about how descriptive representation, gender, and responsiveness influence police action.