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I study the boundaries of social control through contested problems.

How do ordinary people & contextual factors shape social control processes?

How do people disentangle themselves from the criminal legal system?

a lawn chair sitting in an overgrown front lawn


Dissertation - Discourses, Demands, and Dispossession: How Citizens Engage a Liberal City Government about Homelessness My dissertation work focuses on the role housed residents and non-government professionals play in shaping city government responses to visible homlessness in Seattle. In Chapter 1 I leverage four years of public comments about homelessness at city council meetings. Using content and frame analysis I identify which publics use this forum, how they frame their complaints, and how the claimsmaking process is used to invoke social control responses and deploy government resources. Chapter 2 explores the content, tone, and geographic distribution of anonymous complaints through a large dataset of unauthorized camping reports made through a smartphone application to the city. In my final empirical chapter I connect these public demands to contested sites of dispossession via a media analysis of encampment removals. My work extends other scholarship on the impact of resident complaints for urban poverty management by detailing the content and framing of these demands. I also explore how ideologies of whiteness, private property, and policing shape these consequential discourses.

“I’d Like to Report an Illegal Encampment.’’ Visible Homelessness, Property Crime, and Encampment Sweeps in Seattle Neighborhoods In my collaboration with Charles Lanfear and Karen Snedker, I build on my dissertation project to quantitatively analyze connections between property crime, complaints about visible homelessness, and encampment sweeps. Our findings defy common assumptions on the topic: homeless people are more likely to experience property destruction (i.e. encampment removal) because housed residents spuriously associate them with property crime.

Patterns of Incarceration

The Place of Punishment in Twenty-First-Century America: Understanding the Persistence of Mass Incarceration This study analyzes prison admission and crime data to assess whether the penal system’s response to crime has continued to intensify since mass incarceration’s peak and whether the increasing use of prison in nonurban areas helps explain this trend. The findings show that penal intensity has continued to escalate despite falling crime rates and widespread efforts to reduce prison populations. Further, the justice system’s response to crime is most vigorous in nonurban, and especially rural, counties, where more felony arrests for all types of offenses result in a prison sentence. Although not new, this geographic difference has grown in recent years. While penal intensity thus varies notably within states, case outcomes also vary markedly across states. Comparative case studies of dynamics in a highly punitive state (Kentucky) and a less punitive state (Washington) show how formal law interacts with local dynamics not only by creating “statutory hammers” that are utilized by zealous prosecutors and judges but also by limiting the impact of aggressive prosecutorial practices on prison sentences.

Understanding the Place of Punishment: Disadvantage, Politics, and the Geography of Imprisonment in 21st century America Studies suggest that the spatial distribution of punishment in the United States is shifting. This article analyzes variation in prison admissions across U.S. counties to deepen our understanding of the contemporary geography of punishment. While research on punishment generally treats economic and political theories of punishment as distinct, we draw on recent studies of penal attitudes to develop a theoretical argument regarding their possible interconnection. We then use Hierarchical Linear Modeling to test the hypothesis that conservatism, race, and disadvantage are associated with the use of prison and that these factors help to explain why prison admission rates are higher in rural and suburban counties than in urban ones, despite notably higher crime rates in the latter. The results indicate that nonurban counties send more people to prison than urban counties and that socioeconomic disadvantage, the size of the Black population, and conservatism are significant predictors of prison admissions after controlling for crime-related problems. These findings suggest that poverty, race, and politics work in concert to shape the distribution of punishment across 21st century America.

U.S Criminal Justice Policy and Practice in the Twenty-First Century: Toward the End of Mass Incarceration? Although the wisdom of mass incarceration is now widely questioned, incarceration rates have fallen far less than what would be predicted on the basis of crime trends. Informed by institutional studies of path dependence, sociolegal scholarship on legal discretion, and research suggesting that “late mass incarceration” is characterized by a moderated response to nonviolent crime but even stronger penalties for violent offenses, this article analyzes recent sentencing-related reforms and case processing outcomes. Although the legislative findings reveal widespread willingness to moderate penalties for nonviolent crimes, the results also reveal a notably heightened system response to both violent and nonviolent crimes at the level of case processing. These findings help explain why the decline in incarceration rates has been notably smaller than the drop in crime rates and are consistent with the literature on path dependence, which emphasizes that massive institutional developments enhance the capacity and motivation of institutional actors to preserve jobs, resources, and authorities. The findings also underscore the importance of analyzing on-the-ground case processing outcomes as well as formal law when assessing the state and fate of complex institutional developments such as mass incarceration.

door of an old prison cell with the number 7 above

Courts & Policing

Formal Social Control in Changing Neighborhoods: Racial Implications of Neighborhood Context on Reactive Policing Public reports to the police are a key component of the formal social control process and have distinct interracial dynamics. This study examines the relationship between incident severity, neighborhood context, and participant race and patterns in the determination of probable cause and arrest in reactive police contacts. We utilize a complete record of police incidents in Seattle, Washington from 2008 through 2012 including information on race of reporters and targets and type of offense. These data are matched to longitudinal tract–level census data to evaluate how incident outcomes relate to neighborhood change. Results indicate that black targets are more frequently subject to arrest overall, particularly in changing neighborhoods and when reporters are white. For nuisance crimes such as public disturbances, probable cause is found more often for white reporters but less often in changing neighborhoods.

Beyond the “Revolving Door?”: Incentives and Criminal Recidivism in a Mental Health Court Specialized mental health courts (MHCs) address the growing problem of defendants with mental illness cycling through the criminal justice system. Employing a mixed-methods approach, this article explores if MHCs can slow the “revolving door” of criminal justice involvement. We use quantitative data to evaluate the effectiveness of one MHC on different measures of criminal recidivism with logistic regression, event history analysis, and negative binomial regression. Modeling strategies report that graduates of MHC, defendants offered a dismissal of criminal charges, and defendants who maintained the same noncrisis mental health treatment while in court as they had prior to court had lower odds of new criminal charges, a longer time to a new criminal charge, and fewer new criminal charges. Qualitative data—court observations and interviews—suggest that providing incentives for program compliance, connecting defendants to planned mental health treatment services, and court completion are central to reducing recidivism.

Unlocking the Black Box of Mental Health Court Case Processing: An Event History Analysis of Extralegal Characteristics & Behavior on Case Revocation Problem solving courts are a bastion of judicial innovation and pragmatic optimism, however, their structure and case processing dynamics reintroduce high-levels of discretion to the courtroom. Past research indicates that discretionary legal environments may be vulnerable to unconscious extralegal bias and disparate treatment based defendant behavior. This paper explores the role of extralegal bias and disparate treatment in a well-established MHC. A Cox-proportional hazard analysis is used to determine the effects of defendant characteristics, during-court behavior, and interactions terms on MHC case revocation. This project builds on prior research by introducing time-dependent measures of defendant behavior, which more accurately capture the complex dynamics of MHC case processing. Findings are discussed in the context with the therapeutic ideologies and broader objectives of problem solving courts.

a police car parked on a street at night
a door with a door knocker that looks like a hand

Abolition Program Evaluation

This collaboration is a large-scale mixed-methods evaluation of Success Stories, a California-based prison program. This program was started by a group of men incarcerated in California prisons to address the harms of toxic masculinity and patriarchal hierarchies using a peer-led, discussion-based, feminist-abolitionist model. My research examines the efficacy of Success Stories at more than 25 community and prison sites across California using pre- post-surveys, ethnographic observation, life history interviews, and administrative/recidivism quantitative data analysis.

graffiti of a rat on a concrete wall

Critiquing Broken Windows

Broken Windows, Informal Social Control, and Crime: Assessing Causality in Empirical Studies An important criminological controversy concerns the proper causal relationships between disorder, informal social control, and crime. The broken windows thesis posits that neighborhood disorder increases crime directly and indirectly by undermining neighborhood informal social control. Theories of collective efficacy argue that the association between neighborhood disorder and crime is spurious because of the confounding variable informal social control. We review the recent empirical research on this question, which uses disparate methods, including field experiments and different models for observational data. To evaluate the causal claims made in these studies, we use a potential outcomes framework of causality. We conclude that, although there is some evidence for both broken windows and informal control theories, there is little consensus in the present research literature. Furthermore, at present, most studies do not establish causality in a strong way.

Collective Efficacy & Broken Windows Social Experiements This extensive research with Ross Matsueda utilizes field experiments to measure the underlying relationships between collective efficacy (informal social control), physical disorder, and deviance. This work allowed us to intentionally manipulate the micro- (i.e. individual and environmental characteristics) and meso-level (neighborhood characteristics) settings to isolate particular relationships and perform causal analysis. I co-developed the research protocols and data collection practices and also conducted the field experiments, which resulted in a multilevel dataset of over 2,000 field trials and a city-wide lost letter experiment.

a church with a cross above it

Other Work

A Cucumber for a Cow: A Theoretical Exploration of the Causes and Consequences of Religious Hypocrisy This paper offers a first step in a theory of religious hypocrisy. Religious hypocrisy is shown to be a rational strategy at the individual level through which the individual maximizes his/her religious gain by accessing religious rewards and minimizing the costs through selective non-compliance to the religion’s objective commitments. The pervasiveness of religious hypocrisy is argued to be a result of group level characteristics, namely the extensiveness of the religious group’s objective commitments. The level of objective hypocrisy can be moderated through variation in the members’ dependence on the group and the group’s capacity to control its members. Religious hypocrisy is a maximizing behavior; however, it is not costless and it can lead to the experience of moral dissonance. This dissonance can have group level outcomes including decline due to exit and secularization.

Religious Chameleons: Exploring the Social Context for Belonging without Believing Following previous discussions of objective religious hypocrisy, we now explore the concept of subjective religious hypocrisy; that is, belonging to a religious group but not believing in its tenets. In exchange terms, subjective hypocrisy can be understood as cheating on one’s subjective religious commitments (belief) in order to gain access to otherwise unavailable social incentives. Drawing on existing literature, we specify the social structural conditions that lead to higher levels of subjective religious hypocrisy. We also explore the costs and risks this behavior can create for individuals and the consequences it can have for religious groups. We offer a series of testable deductive propositions.

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