Racial Variation in the Effect of Incarceration on Neighborhood Attainment

Michael Massoglia, Glenn Firebaugh, Cody Warner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


Each year, more than 700,000 convicted offenders are released from prison and reenter neighborhoods across the country. Prior studies have found that minority ex-inmates tend to reside in more disadvantaged neighborhoods than do white ex-inmates. However, because these studies do not control for pre-prison neighborhood conditions, we do not know how much (if any) of this racial variation is due to arrest and incarceration, or if these observed findings simply reflect existing racial residential inequality. Using a nationally representative dataset that tracks individuals over time, we find that only whites live in significantly more disadvantaged neighborhoods after prison than prior to prison. Blacks and Hispanics do not, nor do all groups (whites, blacks, and Hispanics) as a whole live in worse neighborhoods after prison. We attribute this racial variation in the effect of incarceration to the high degree of racial neighborhood inequality in the United States: because white offenders generally come from much better neighborhoods, they have much more to lose from a prison spell. In addition to advancing our understanding of the social consequences of the expansion of the prison population, these findings demonstrate the importance of controlling for pre-prison characteristics when investigating the effects of incarceration on residential outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-165
Number of pages24
JournalAmerican sociological review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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