Cumulative Disadvantage in the American Criminal Justice System

Megan C. Kurlychek, Brian D. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


Research on inequality in punishment has a long and storied history, yet the overwhelming focus has been on episodic disparity in isolated stages of criminal case processing (e.g., arrest, prosecution, or sentencing). Although theories of cumulative disadvantage exist in criminology, they are seldom adapted to account for treatment in the criminal justice system. We provide an overview of the concept of cumulative disadvantage in the life course and review evidence on the development of cumulative disadvantages across stages of the criminal justice system. In doing so, we appraise the empirical research on policing, prosecution, and the courts and consider how these largely separate bodies of scholarship are inherently connected. We conclude with a call for future research that focuses more explicitly on the ways that life-course disadvantages shape contact with the criminal justice system and how these processes work to perpetuate patterns of disadvantage within the system and in subsequent life outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-319
Number of pages29
JournalAnnual Review of Criminology
StatePublished - Jan 13 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law


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