Instability, informal control, and criminogenic situations: community effects of returning prisoners
Incarceration, whose putative goal is the reduction of crime, may at higher concentrations actually increase crime by overwhelming neighborhoods with limited resources. The present research poses and provides initial support for an explanation of this paradoxical consequence of a crime control strategy. Specifically, we draw on two different lines of theoretical work to suggest that large numbers of returning prisoners may negatively impact a community’s economic and residential stability, limiting a community’s capacity for informal social control and resulting in labor market conditions conducive to criminal behavior. This study combines data on local social organization processes from a large survey of Seattle residents with contextual, crime, and incarceration data from the US Census, Seattle Police Department, and Washington State Department of Corrections. The results suggest that high concentrations of returning prisoners are associated with a reduced capacity for collective efficacy; the fostering of social situations conducive to criminal behavior; and higher levels of violent crime. The impact of incarceration on these neighborhood processes, however, appears to be largely indirect through the turmoil that concentrations of incarceration create in a neighborhood’s labor and housing markets. We conclude with a call for greater scrutiny of the goals and actual outcomes of incarceration policy.