Policing Race and Place during a Pandemic: A Multi-City Study
Jaquelyn L. Jahn*, Jessica T. Simes*, Brigette A. Davis, Victoria Cowger
*shared co-first authorship
We examine the neighborhood rates and racial disparities in police arrests after initial stay-at-home orders were issued during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using geospatial data on police arrests in census tracts in Boston, Charleston, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco for every week from January 2019 to May 2020, we examined all arrests, and specific arrest types potentially related to the pandemic environment. We use time-series models with census tract fixed effects to assess changes in rates of arrest pre and post stay-at-home orders, and variation in this change across census tract racial/ethnic composition. We find arrests declined significantly in all included cities except Charleston. Rates of arrest decreased between 24% (the week of stay order implementation 95% CI: 13-34%) and 58% (at 2 weeks post 95% CI: 51-65%). We also observed significant effect modification by neighborhood racial composition: whereas decreases in rates of arrest were not different across neighborhoods with a greater percentage of White residents, arrests decreased dramatically in neighborhoods with a higher percentage of Black residents. However, arrests increased in neighborhoods with a higher percentage of Asian residents, and in the final two weeks of observation for Hispanic/Latino population. Communities with higher concentrations of Black residents were the most chronically policed before stay-at-home orders, and the pandemic initially disrupted these racial inequities in neighborhood policing. However, for census tracts where arrests increased, higher rates of arrest could have led to the spread of infection and other harms to health and community wellbeing. Municipalities should reconsider police capacity and presence, particularly as a mechanism for ensuring compliance with public health ordinances.
This research has been supported by the Social Science Research Council, the Scholars Strategy Network, and the Boston University Initiative on Cities.
White population x Arrest rate
Black population x Arrest rate
Asian population x Arrest rate
Latino population x Arrest rate
Disparities and Conditions of Solitary Confinement
Solitary confinement is an extreme form of prison custody involving isolation from the prison’s general population and highly restricted access to visitation and phone calls, programs, and free movement outside of a prison cell. I am co-Principal Investigator (with Bruce Western) of the Pennsylvania Solitary Study (PASS). PASS examines the effects and conditions of solitary confinement with a longitudinal survey of incarcerated men (N=117, including a main sample of 99 and a pretest sample of 18) who were living in a Restricted Housing Unit in the Pennsylvania state prison system during 2017. Combining fieldwork and interviews with incarcerated people and prison staff (N=22), a neurocognitive battery administered to incarcerated respondents, and an analysis of administrative records, PASS breaks new ground in research on prisons and inequality, using mixed methods to study conditions of prison confinement and effects on health and well-being, labor force participation after prison release, and recidivism. This project examines the demographic prevalence of solitary confinement. In one study, we find that up to 11 percent of black men born in 1986-1989 will experience solitary confinement by age 29-31. This research was supported by grant 1823846/1823854 from the National Science Foundation and a grant from the Ford Foundation.
In a paper with Ryan Sakoda, we examine detailed prison records covering 30 years of practices in the Kansas Department of Corrections (1985–2014). We find solitary confinement is a normal event during imprisonment: 38 percent of whites and 46 percent of blacks experienced solitary confinement during their prison term. While long stays in isolation were rare in the late 1980s with no detectable disparities, the opening of a new prison began an era of long-term isolation most heavily impacting black young adults. A decomposition analysis indicates the increase in the length of time spent in solitary confinement almost entirely explains the growth in the proportion of people held in solitary confinement. Our results provide new evidence that forces of punishment driving growth in the prison population led to highly punitive prison conditions and unmeasured forms of inequality emerging from the experience of punishment.
The Effect of ACA Medicaid Expansion on Police Arrests
Jessica Simes and Jaquelyn Jahn
Although research has demonstrated the expansive role of police to respond a broad range of social problems and health emergencies, existing research has not explored the capacity for health policy to influence rates of arrest in the population. To fill this gap, we examine the potential effect of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on arrests in 3,035 U.S. counties. We compare county-level arrests using FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program Data before and after Medicaid expansion in 2014–2016, relative to counties in non-expansion states. We use difference-in-differences (DID) models to estimate the change in arrests following Medicaid expansion for overall arrests, and arrests for violent, drug, and low-level offenses. Police arrests significantly declined following the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA. Medicaid expansion produced a 20-32% negative difference in overall arrests rates in the first three years. We observe the largest negative differences for drug arrests: we find a 25-41% negative difference in drug arrests in the three years following Medicaid expansion, compared to non-expansion counties. We observe a 19–29% negative difference in arrests for violence in the three years after Medicaid expansion, and a decrease in low-level arrests between 24–28% in expansion counties compared to non-expansion counties. Our main results for drug arrests are robust to multiple sensitivity analyses, including a state-level model.