I study how meaning and power are constructed and negotiated through criminal records and criminal stigma within overlapping social fields. My current and ongoing projects can be loosely grouped into three primary and interconnected spheres of scholarship: (1) the effects of criminal legal involvement and criminal records; (2) the development, dissemination, and commodification of criminal records; and (3) social and political engagement of people with criminal records. Below are a few of my ongoing projects.
Effects of Criminal Legal Involvement and Criminal Records
Criminal Records and College Admissions
I study the use of criminal history information in the college admissions process, how punishment and education work together as an apparatus of social reproduction and stratification, and how these processes produce and define social membership. In the first paper from this project, published in Criminology, we find when applicants with felony records had to disclose their criminal history, their rejection rates were three times the rates of similarly situated applicants without records. Additional papers consider how discrimination and exclusion are exercised through the admissions process beyond admissions outcomes, how administrative burdens shape the application experience for people with records, and how criminal history disclosure policies in have been transmitted throughout the higher education field.
Financial Costs of Justice Involvement
I have been a member of the Arnold Ventures-funded Multistate Study of Monetary Sanctions, a study of monetary sanctions and other sentencing outcomes in eight states led by Alexes Harris (University of Washington). Through this project, our research team, led by Chris Uggen, has been exploring the financial penalties imposed on Native Americans, the racialized packaging of punishment, and the interaction between criminal justice debt and child support obligations, and how these two forms of debt interact to exacerbate inequality, recidivism, and procedural injustice.
Development, Dissemination, and Commodification of Criminal Records
When employers or landlords review applicants’ criminal records, the accuracy, completeness, and validity of those criminal records are largely taken for granted. In collaboration with Sarah Lageson (Rutgers University), I am analyzing the accuracy of criminal records from various public and private sources. This work highlights how even minimal criminal justice contact becomes permanently recorded online, exacerbating social inequality. The first paper from this project, which will soon appear in Criminology (preprint), demonstrates that private sector background checks--both regulated and unregulated--are laden with false positive and false negative errors. Additional papers will focus on quality issues in criminal justice administrative data sources and how legal uncertainties arising from discrepancies between data sources can reinforce existing social hierarchies.
Social and Political Life of People with Criminal Records
The United States is one of the few countries in the world that prohibits at least some citizens from voting because of a criminal conviction. Over the last few years, I have worked with various colleagues on a set of interrelated, public-facing projects to contribute to the ongoing debates about felony disenfranchisement. In 2022, I began partnering with the Minnesota Justice Research Center to develop and field a series of RCT's to test whether pre-election contact increases voter participation of formerly disenfranchised people. Also in 2022, I joined Chris Uggen (UMN), Sarah Shannon (UGA), and Ryan P. Larson (Hamline University) to estimate levels of disenfranchisement in the U.S. for The Sentencing Project.
Social Surveys of People with Felony Records
I recently began a new research direction examining the social and political inclusion of people with criminal records. The centerpiece of this new line of research is a series of national surveys of people with felony records. To analyze the characteristics, attitudes, and beliefs of people with felony convictions, social scientists have had to use creative but flawed or imprecise approaches to understanding this population. This project will produce the first national social survey data collected specifically from people with felony records who are not in prison, revealing the complexity and diversity of this population. I recently completed the first successful pilot survey, and in addition to analyzing the results, I am planning additional waves for 2024 and 2026.