Contact with criminal justice system may affect well being, elections

Published: Sep. 19, 2020 at 6:23 PM CDT
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (WIBW) - A University of Kansas study shows that contact with the criminal justice system may affect residents' well being and have consequences at the polling booths.

The University of Kansas says when police in Aurora, Col., handcuffed children and made them lie face down on the pavement after stopping an African American family they incorrectly identified, they not only made headlines but also prompted city officials to apologize for the officers' behavior and offer to pay for therapy for the traumatized children.

KU said when officers in Kenosha, Wis., shot Jacob Blake in front of his children, the resulting protests and unrest grabbed more headlines than the effects of the situation on the children. It says a KU scholar as written a study connecting contact with incarceration, feelings of well being and how a predacious criminal justice policy decreases political participation in certain communities.

According to KU, Brandon Davis, assistant professor of public affairs & administration at the school, wrote a study that has been published in Policy Studies Journal, which examines survey data from thousands of young people throughout the nation about their contact with the criminal justice system, their wellbeing and how politically active they were. It said among the findings, Davis found feelings of well being are strongly connected to political participation and that contact with incarceration negatively affects these feelings.

“That was a critical, prime example of how families learn about their role in the community and how law enforcement interacts with them, and traumatic incidents like that will have a lasting effect on their feelings of well-being,” Davis said of the Aurora incident in which officers handcuffed children as young as 6. “That has an interpretive feedback effect on the community as well beyond the people who were handcuffed. These incidents are happening across the country and have a lasting effect on political participation.”

Davis says for the study he analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a data set surveying almost 9,000 Americans born between 1980 and 1984. He said political participation was measured by those participants that were registered to vote, their interest in politics and their voting history.

According to KU, depressio nwas the strongest predictor across levels of participation and those experiencing it were least likely to take part in any of the measures of political participation. It said feelings of sadness or anxiety also had negative associations with participation. It said in terms of well being, those reporting the highest levels of happiness were the most likely to be politically active in all measures.

The University said the data also showed that respondents having the most contact with incarceration, whether they were incarcerated or simply just stopped by the police for a traffic violation, reported the lowest levels of well being, indicating they were less likely to be politically active. It said Davis points out African-American respondents were most likely to report feelings of depression and anxiety, followed by Hispanics, then whites, which followed the pattern of people of color being disproportionately affected by policing, incarceratio and criminal justice policy.

KU said the research has long found that people of color are more likely to be negatively affected by the criminal justice system, but it is rarely examined how it is happening and its teis to political participation. It said that link is vital in order to fight the problem and help boost voting and political participation in minority communities.

“The question of how this is happening is important because if you want to fix it, you can’t do that if you don’t know the mechanisms that it is working through,” Davis said.

Davis said furthermore, understanding specifying policies have negative effects on individual and community well being and how they discourage political participation are necessary if advocates, scholars and law makers hope to make better policies that are equitable and encourages equal participation.

According to Davis, carceral contact can decrease participation beyond those dealing with the justice system as well. He said in previous research he found that carceral contact decreases participation for those with a family member incarcerated even more than it does for the individual.

Davis said such a negative interaction passed through family generations and through a community lead to communities not being truly represented by their government. He said a 2016 Department of Justice report on the City of Baltimore’s Police Departmetn showed large inequalities in policing measures taken against minority residents, prompting him to begin his research in carceral contact and political participation. He said among his other findings, the report showed residents of color were commonly subjected to public strip searches for minor offenses.

“It made me think about what that would do to your well-being if you didn’t know when you left your house if someone would strip you naked in the street for something as minor as what are essentially misdemeanors of poverty, like having a broken taillight,” Davis said.

KU said what may be most important is that the current study shows how public policy affects political behavior. It said by illustrating the connection between carceral contact, well being and political participation, Davis hopes researchers will further study other forms of institutional contact and how they inhibit participation as well. It said with further study, it can be better understood how poor and people of color are ecludied from political participation via public policy, which can then lead to addressing those casual mechanisms through public policy reform.

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