The cumulative risk of jail incarceration

Research on incarceration has focused on prisons, but jail detention is far more common than imprisonment. Jails are local institutions that detain people before trial or incarcerate them for short sentences for low-level offenses. Research from the 1970s and1980s viewed jails as “managing the rabble,” a small and deeply disadvantaged segment of urban populations that struggled with problems of addiction, mental illness, and homelessness. The1990s and 2000s marked a period of mass criminalization in which new styles of policing and court processing produced large numbers of criminal cases for minor crimes, concentrated in low-income communities of color. In a period of widespread criminal justice contact for minor offenses, how common is jail incarceration for minority men, particularly in poor neighborhoods? We estimate cumulative risks of jail incarceration with an administrative data file that records all jail admissions and discharges in New York City from 2008 to 2017. Although New York has a low jail incarceration rate, we find that 26.8% of Black men and 16.2% of Latino men, in contrast to only 3% of White men, in New York have been jailed by age 38 y. We also find evidence of high rates of repeated incarceration among Black men and high incarceration risks in high-poverty neighborhoods. Despite the jail’s great reach in New York, we also find that the incarcerated population declined in the study period, producing a large reduction in the prevalence of jail incarceration for Black and Latino men.

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