Policing Race and Place during a Pandemic: A Multi-City Study
Jaquelyn L. Jahn*, Jessica T. Simes*, Brigette A. Davis, Victoria Cowger
*shared first authorship
Structural racism in police contact is an important driver of health inequities among the U.S. urban population. Hyper-policing and police violence in marginalized communities have risen to the top of the national policy agenda, particularly since protests in 2020. How did pandemic conditions impact policing? We assess neighborhood racial disparities in arrests after COVID-19 stay-at-home orders in Boston, Charleston, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco census tracts (January 2019-August 2020). Using interrupted time series models with census tract fixed effects, we report arrest rates across tract racial and ethnic compositions. In the weeks following stay-at-home orders, overall arrest rates were 49% (95% CI: 45-53%) lower on average compared to rates the year prior. Although arrest rates steadily increased thereafter, most tracts did not reach pre-pandemic arrest levels. However, despite declines in nearly all census tracts, the magnitude of racial inequities in arrests remained unchanged. During the initial weeks of the pandemic, arrest rates declined significantly in areas with higher Black populations, but absolute rates in Black neighborhoods remained higher than pre-pandemic arrest rates in White neighborhoods. These findings support urban policy reforms that reconsider police capacity and presence, particularly as a mechanism for enforcing public health ordinances and reducing racial disparities.
This research has been supported by the Social Science Research Council, the Scholars Strategy Network, and the Boston University Initiative on Cities.
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.