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When Neighbors Go to Jail: Impact on Attitudes About Formal and Informal Social Control

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 1999
3 pages
Publication Series
The Leon County Neighborhoods and Crime Project (Leon County, Fla.) is assessing the unintended consequences of incarceration policies on communities by analyzing the relationship between neighborhood incarceration rates and a variety of social indicators, including crime, attitudes about community quality of life, and attitudes about formal and informal social control mechanisms.
Researchers obtained data through a random-digit-dialing telephone survey of nearly 1,500 residents of Leon County, producing approximately 1,300 completed surveys. In addition to demographic information, questions addressed respondents' exposure to incarceration and attitudes about social control. Sixty-four percent of respondents reported that they knew someone who had been incarcerated, and 9 percent of the respondents had themselves been incarcerated. African-Americans were more likely to be exposed to incarceration than were non-African-Americans. They also had a lower general assessment of formal social control than others, and this remained true regardless of exposure to incarceration. Among those not exposed to incarceration, African-Americans were more likely than non-African-Americans to have a negative assessment of informal social control. Among those exposed to prison, however, there was no difference between the races. Thus, exposure to incarceration diminished the differences between the races in attitudes toward informal social control. Among those exposed to prison, a negative assessment of formal social control led to a negative assessment of informal social control. These findings raise the prospect that the consistent increase in the number of people going to prison since the 1970's has led to a deterioration in attitudes toward both formal and informal social control in those communities disproportionately impacted by this trend. Further analysis and implications are discussed. 6 notes

Date Published: July 1, 1999