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“'To Wage a War': Crime, Race, and State Making in the Age of FDR"

Published in Studies in American Political Development (2021)

The FDR administration waged a war on crime starting in 1933. I argue that this war on crime had three primary effects. First, it created a ratchet effect whereby expanded institutions did not return to previous levels after the campaign ended. Second, it instilled enduring institutional and racial logics into law enforcement in America. By building a state through a war on crime, these leaders constructed a criminal justice system designed to make war. Moreover, they perpetuated the surveillance of Black leaders and eschewed calls from Black organizations demanding protection from widespread racial violence. Third, these political entrepreneurs induced an issue realignment that defined crime policy around a politics of consensus—a consensus that included every major political bloc but Black Americans, who unsuccessfully called on the federal government to hold local police accountable and address racial inequality. This coalition diffused their methods to states and deployed future wars on crime, and the racial logics cemented in the FDR era set the stage for these future wars to be deployed disproportionately against the Black community.


Peer-reviewed research

"Compounding Racialized Vulnerability: COVID-19 in Prisons, Jails, and Migrant Detention Centers" (with Ramon Garibaldo Valdez)

Published in Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law (2021)

Carceral institutions are among the largest clusters of COVID-19 in the United States. In response, activists and detainees have rallied around decarceration demands: the release of detainees and inmates to prevent exposure to COVID-19. This article theorizes the compounding racial vulnerability that has led to such a marked spread behind bars, mainly among race-class subjugated (RCS) communities. We provide an in-depth account of COVID-19 in American correctional facilities and the mobilization to reduce contagions. We also use two survey experiments to describe public support for harm reduction and decarceration demands and to measure the effects of information about racial inequalities in prison and poor conditions inside migrant detention centers. We found only one-third to one-half of respondents believe that response to COVID-19 in prisons and immigrant detention centers should be a high priority. We also found Americans are more supportive of harm reduction measures than decarceration efforts. Information about racial disparities increases support decarceration. We did not find any significant effect of information about poor conditions in migrant detention centers.

Conclusions: The conditions in carceral institutions during the pandemic—and public opinion about them—highlight the realities of compounding racialized vulnerability in the United States.

"The Effects of College in Prison and Policy Implications" (with Robert Tynes)

Published in Justice Quarterly (2021)

Despite the policy relevance of college-in-prison, the existing research on these programs has important flaws, failing to address selection and self-selection bias. We address an important policy question: what are the effects of college-in-prison program? To do this, we provide the largest study published to-date of a single college-in-prison program. We analyze the effects of the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) in New York, a liberal arts program that has offered college courses to incarcerated students since 2001. By leveraging the BPI admissions process, we employ a design-based approach to infer the causal effect of participation in BPI. We find a large and significant reduction in recidivism rates. This reduction is consistent across racial groupings. Moreover, people with higher levels of participation recidivate at even lower rates. In light of these findings, we provide policy recommendations that support college-in-prison programs.

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