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The Link between Incarceration and Public Housing


Research on mass incarceration has documented its devastating consequences on incarcerated individuals, their families, and minority communities. This study examines the increased risk of incarceration in New York City Housing Authority neighborhoods. That incarceration is disproportionately concentrated in disadvantaged and segregated Black neighborhoods is well documented. This analysis examines public housing developments as a primary site of spatially clustered incarceration or concentrated incarceration. This study contributes to research on punishment and inequality by highlighting the public-housing-to-prison pipeline as a missing link in the carceral system.


Using public housing developments as a strategic site, our research documents a distinct pathway linking disadvantaged context to incarceration—the public-housing-to-prison pipeline. Focusing on New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) housing developments as a case study, we find that incarceration rates in NYCHA tracts are 4.6 times higher than those in non-NYCHA tracts. More strikingly, 94% of NYCHA tracts report rates above the median value for non-NYCHA tracts. Moreover, 17% of New York State’s incarcerated population originated from just 372 NYCHA tracts. Compared with non-NYCHA tracts, NYCHA tracts had higher shares of Black residents and were significantly more disadvantaged. This NYCHA disadvantage in concentrated incarceration is also robust at different spatial scales. Our findings have implications for policies and programs to disrupt community-based pipelines to prison.

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