American Sociological Association

The Ecology of Race and Punishment across Cities

In an era of mass incarceration in the United States, neighborhood context plays a significant role in demographic patterns of imprisonment. This paper examines the preprison neighborhood environment of racial and ethnic groups within the Massachusetts prison admission population. The data include over 12,000 prison records of individuals sentenced to state prison for a criminal offense between 2009 and 2014. Findings indicate significant spatial variation across racial groups: The most disadvantaged preprison neighborhoods exist in small cities outside of Boston. Whites and Hispanics who enter prison from small cities, suburbs, and rural towns in Massachusetts lived in significantly more concentrated disadvantage than their counterparts in Boston. However, black men and women coming from Boston and small cities lived in the greatest concentrated disadvantage among the black admission population. Black‐ and Hispanic‐incarcerated people lived in significantly higher levels of concentrated disadvantage as compared to the average neighborhood of white‐incarcerated people. Results indicate that the prison population is drawn from a diverse set of communities, and suggest that an understanding of the full picture of differences in neighborhood context may play an important role in understanding community‐level conditions of mass incarceration and inform interventions aimed at ameliorating the community‐level impacts of imprisonment.


Jessica T. Simes





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