9 February 2021
Does Incarceration Shape Trust in the State, Community Engagement, and Civic Participation?
Seminar series on International Social and Public Policy
Speaker: Professor Chris Wildeman (Duke University)
In this article, we provide the most complete assessment to date of how incarceration is associated with trust in the state, community engagement, and civic participation in the contemporary United States using data from the Family History of Incarceration Survey (FamHIS). The results support three conclusions. First, own incarceration is associated with a deep distrust of state institutions even after adjusting for a host of possible confounders and matching on observed characteristics. Second, family member incarceration is also associated with distrust of state institutions, but these differences are roughly half the magnitude of the associations tied to own incarceration. These first two conclusions strongly mirror findings from existing research, suggesting that the FamHIS data can provide reliable estimates of how incarceration shapes community engagement and civic participation. Finally, and in a significant break from most existing research in this area, neither own incarceration nor family member incarceration is significantly associated with any of the 14 indicators of community and political participation we consider in any of the total of 84 models we run on participation (14 outcomes, 3 models per outcome, models including both own incarceration and family member incarceration). Although the cross-sectional nature of our data precludes strong causal claims, we see this third finding as providing important evidence that while there may well be heterogenous effects of incarceration on community engagement and civic participation, it appears that these heterogenous effects largely cancel each other out.
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