How has Punishment and Surveillance affected American Democracy & Inequality?


Recently described as a “tale of two cities,” urban communities today experience vastly different faces of the state.  Given their spatial concentration, the expanding use of stop-and-frisk and incarceration has transformed not only individual citizens, but has potentially remade the whole fabric of community life.

I explore how these state interventions shape the political contexts we inhabit, specifically, community level civic and political engagement and racial inequality. How has the greater provision of police surveillance and punishment in some communities altered these spaces as sites of collective agency?  And has incarceration over time itself shaped these neighborhood contexts, namely, their levels of segregation and mobility?

Our first cut at this question is an article with Amy Lerman (Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science), Staying out of Sight? Concentrated Policing and Local Political Action, in which we empirically investigate the consequences of spatially concentrated police stops on the willingness of citizens to call upon government to help resolve problems in their neighborhoods based on an analysis of over 1 million police stops of citizens in New York City and over 3 million non-emergency calls for service (311 calls).

lermanweaver_new_3-10Arresting Citizenship: The Democratic Consequences of American Crime Control (with Amy Lerman)

University of Chicago Press 2014

Winner of the Best Book in Urban Politics Award

Never before has American government exhibited so strong an urge to punish, and so vast a network of institutions dedicated to the control, confinement and supervision of its citizens. Citizen contact with criminal justice is unmatched in American history and around the world.  How does our view of American democracy change once we account for the growth of its punitive apparatus? How do citizens experience government and democratic citizenship when the most visible face of the state is punitive?

In this book, we argue that the modern criminal justice system embodies a set of values that are antithetical to democratic norms.

Through the detailed narratives of over one hundred custodial citizens, along with careful analyses of large-scale survey data, we demonstrate that contact with police, courts, prisons and jails produces a “carceral lifeworld”—a particular sense of the state, conception of citizenship, and orientation toward the democratic polity. The result of criminal justice contact is decreased trust in political institutions and a reduced faith that the state will respond to the will of the people. Worse, custodial citizens not only disengage and feel disempowered, they actively fear and avoid interactions with government.

At the same time, contact with criminal justice shapes citizens’ racial transcripts, constructing ideas not only about blacks in custody, but about the condition of blacks in America—perceptions of their worth, standing, and citizenship. Blacks who undergo law enforcement interventions are more pessimistic about racial equality in America.

Our focus is not simply criminal justice as a distinct policy domain, separable from American governance more broadly. Our inquiry must instead also prompt us to revisit core assumptions about the character of the American state and the increasingly defining role of its least democratic institutions. Our central claim is that the growth of criminal justice has fundamentally recast the citizen-state relationship.

Read a key findings brief about Arresting Citizenship on the Scholars Strategy Network.  Review from Prison Policy Institute. Review in American Journal of Sociology.

Related Articles:

Political Consequences of the Carceral State
with Amy Lerman, American Political Science Review

What explains why, when, and how the United States became more punitive?  

Frontlash: Civil Rights, the Carceral State, and the Transformation of American Politics
Under contract, Cambridge University Press

In analyzing how the United States came to operate the most expansive criminal justice enterprise in the world, I argue in Frontlash that the carceral state’s robust and sudden development owes its beginnings to the conflict over race.  Rather than a genuine response to crime, the origins of the punitive turn in crime policy can be traced back to a campaign by defeated policymakers, who turned the crime issue into political currency to make an end-run around civil rights.  The graveyard of civil rights legislation was the same place where crime bills were born.  First, through a process I term frontlash, elites mobilized around crime and violence after suffering serious defeats in civil rights, arguing that crime legislation would be a panacea to protest and “crime in the streets” and building an indelible connection between black activism and crime.  Second, this episode resulted in a set of policy changes that speeded the development of the carceral state.  Specifically, passage of the omnibus Safe Streets and Crime Control Act built up tremendous state capacity to punish, engendered a whole network of new institutions dedicated to crime-control and punishment, and fostered powerful interests with a stake in the new punishment bureaucracy.  The policy shift expanded police departments, spent billions on new prisons, agencies and technological developments, promoted a burst of state policy change and criminal code reform, and stimulated the formation of a powerful criminal justice lobby.  I show that not only did this reform episode double the prison population in the first few years, it made a deep imprint on the later functioning, limits, and possibilities of the carceral state.

Related Articles:

Frontlash: Race and the Development of Punitive Crime Policy
Studies in American Political Development

Unhappy Harmony: Black Mass Incarceration in a “Postracial” Era*
In Beyond Discrimination: Racial Inequality in a Post-Racial Era (F. Harris and R. Lieberman, eds.)

Embedding Crime Policy:  The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration and the Growth of the Carceral State*
In Living Legislation: Durability, Change and the Politics of American Lawmaking  (J. Jenkins and E. Patashnik, eds.)

Race and Crime in American Politics: From Law and Order to Willie Horton and Beyond*
with Amy Lerman.  Oxford Handbook of Race, Ethnicity, Immigration, and Crime, Oxford University Press (S. Bucerius and M. Tonry, eds.)

The Carceral State and American Political Development*
with Amy Lerman. Oxford Handbook of American Political Development, Oxford University Press (R. Lieberman, S. Mettler, and R. Valelly, eds.)

Between Reconstructions: Congressional Action on Civil Rights, 1890-1950
with Jeff Jenkins and Justin Peck, Studies in American Political Development

*Available Upon Request. These are book chapters so cannot be distributed here.

How is the Racial Order Changing in America and with what Benefits and Costs?

CaNROCreating a New Racial Order
How Immigration, Multiracialism, Genomics, and the Young Can Remake Race in America
Princeton University Press 2012

Jennifer L. Hochschild, Vesla M. Weaver & Traci Burch

The American racial order—the beliefs and practices that organize relationships among the nation’s many races and ethnicities—is undergoing its greatest transformation since the 1960s. Creating a New Racial Order takes a groundbreaking look at the reasons behind this dramatic change, from the late twentieth century to today, and considers what parts of the American population have been affected. Through original analysis, revealing narrative, and striking research, the authors show that the personal and political choices of Americans will be critical to how the racial hierarchy is redefined in decades to come.

The authors examine the components that make up a racial order and focus on the specific mechanisms influencing shifting demographics in the United States: immigration, multiracialism, genomic science, and generational change. Cumulatively, these mechanisms increase heterogeneity within each racial or ethnic group, and decrease the distance separating groups from each other. The authors show that individuals are moving across group boundaries and that genomic science is challenging the whole concept of race. Economic variation within groups is increasing and the traditional hierarchy of whites on the top and blacks at the bottom is breaking down. Above all, young adults understand and practice race differently from their elders: their formative memories are 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Obama’s election—not civil rights marches, riots, or the early stages of immigration.

Portraying a vision, not of a postracial America, but of a different racial America, Creating a New Racial Order examines how the structures of race and ethnicity are altering a nation.

Read the Introduction to CNRO.

Read a review of CNRO by Rogers Smith and a review by Jennifer Lee.

Related Articles:

Is the Significance of Race Declining in the Political Arena? Yes, and No with Jennifer Hochschild, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Destabilizing the American Racial Order
with Jennifer Hochschild, Daedalus

“There’s No One as Irish as Barack O’bama”: The Policy and Politics of American Multiracialism
with Jennifer Hochschild, Perspectives on Politics, Winner of the best paper award from the APSA Public Policy section

Racial Classification and the Politics of Inequality
with Jennifer Hochschild.  In J. Soss, S. Mettler, and J. Hacker, Remaking America: Democracy and Public Policy in an Age of Inequality

What are the effects of Skin Color on Inequality and Political Perceptions?

The Electoral Consequences of Skin Color: The “Hidden” Side of Race in American Politicsscedu
Political Behavior. Data are available here.

The Skin Color Paradox and the American Racial Order
with Jennifer Hochschild, Social Forces

New Research

Class and Group: Political Implications of the Changing American Racial and Ethnic Order 

“They Treat Us Like a Different Race”: A Multi-City Project on Class-In-Race Inequality

“The War On Crime is the Only Battle in which the Black Community has not been Enlisted”: Black Agency and Alternatives to the Carceral State

Learning From Ferguson: Welfare, Criminal Justice, and the Political Science of Race and Class with Joe Soss, APSA Taskforce on Racial and Class Inequalities in the Americas

Re-estimating Race: How Incarceration Biases Studies of Black/White Political Attitudes
with Amy Lerman


My research has been generously supported with fellowships and training from the following: Russell Sage Foundation, National Science Foundation, Ford Foundation, The Brookings Institution, Harvard Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality, European Network on Inequality (London School of Economics), Time-Series Experiments for the Social Sciences, Institute for Qualitative Research Methods, Ralph Bunche Summer Institute, APSA Minority Fellows, Harvard Center for American Political Studies, UVA Page-Barbour, UVA Summer Research grant, UVA Excellence in Diversity Fellowship.