The Paradox of Probation—Understanding an “Alternative” to Incarceration during the Prison Boom
My dissertation project focuses on the rise of probation supervision in the criminal justice system and its implications for our understandings of the punitive turn. I blend quantitative analyses of the relationship between probation and incarceration rates at the state-level with a historical analysis of probation in one key state—Michigan—to understand the role of probation in the build-up of mass incarceration and contemporary reform efforts. The first article from the dissertation, titled “The Paradox of Probation: Community Supervision in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” was published in Law & Policy in 2013.
Rehabilitation in the Punitive Era
Seperating rhetoric from reality, this project examines changes in rehabilitative programs in U.S. prisons since the 1970s. The first paper from this line of research, entitled "Rehabilitation in the Punitive Era: The Gap Between Rhetoric and Reality in U.S. Prison Programs," was published in 2011 in Law & Society Review. The article concludes that despite the profound changes in rehabilitative rhetoric, practices inside prisons remained fairly stable, with changes representing more of a shift in rehabilitation rather than a wholesale decline.
Rehabilitation in the Punitive Era (LSR, 2011)
The second paper from this project, entitled "The Place of Punishment: Variation in the Provision of Inmate Services Staff Across the Punitive Turn," was published in the Journal of Criminal Justice (2012) and explores regional and state-level variation in the provision of inmate services staff. The findings suggest that divergences across place eclipsed changes across time.
The Place of Punishment (JCJ, 2012)
Breaking the Pendulum
My work on prison rehabilitation grew into a collaborative book project with Philip Goodman and Joshua Page, currently under contract at Oxford Press. The project, titled Breaking the Pendulum: The Long Struggle Over Criminal Justice, uses historical case studies of states' penal development to illustrate a new model of penal change. Rather than the "pendulum model" of mechanical cycles between rehabilitative and punitive pulls, we argue that the process of policy formation and implementation is a result of continued "agonistic" friction between actors with competing interests and goals. This ever-present contestation makes criminal punishment, to borrow a phrase from Pat O’Malley (1999), inherently volatile and contradictory.
The End of Mass Incarceration?
I am also conducting collaborative research with Devah Pager on the state-level determinants of the recent downturn in incarceration rates. In 2009, the number of prisoners incarcerated in state prisons declined for the first time in nearly four decades. Rather than focusing on the policy levers influencing these changes, we instead shed light on the social, economic, and political contexts in which reductions in incarceration become possible.
Prison as a Social Context
Lastly, Professor Pager and I have a project exploring how prison inmates’ social environments shape their in-prison behavior. In the first paper from this line of work, we use administrative data from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to examine how residential mobility and social ties in prison affect inmates’ long-term outcomes.