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Chris Wildeman: Does Incarceration Shape Trust in the State, Community Engagement, and Civic Participation?

February 12, 2021 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

On February 12, 2021, Chris Wildeman, Professor of Sociology at Duke University, will present “Does Incarceration Shape Trust in the State, Community Engagement, and Civic Participation?” as part of the Carolina Population Center’s 2020-21 Interdisciplinary Research Seminar Series. This year, the CPC Interdisciplinary Research Seminars will be open to both CPC members and Social Epidemiology program members.


In this article, we provide the most complete assessment to date of how incarceration is associated with trust in the state, community engagement, and civic participation in the United States. Our analysis uses data from the Family History of Incarceration Survey (FamHIS) and is rooted in the theoretical and normative observation that, while highly salient and immensely disruptive, incarceration is one of many factors that might influence community and civic engagement and that incarceration can be mobilizing or demobilizing, potentially leading to net zero effects. Ultimately, the results support three conclusions. First, own incarceration is associated with a deep distrust of state institutions even after adjusting for a host of confounders and matching on observed characteristics. Second, family member incarceration is associated with distrust of state institutions, but these differences are roughly half the magnitude of the associations tied to own incarceration. These first two conclusions strongly mirror findings from existing research, suggesting that the FamHIS data can provide reliable estimates of how incarceration shapes community engagement and civic participation. Finally, and in a significant break from most research in this area, neither own incarceration nor family member incarceration is associated with any of the 14 indicators of community and political participation we consider in any of the 84 models we run on participation (14 outcomes, 3 models per outcome, models including own incarceration and family member incarceration). Although the cross-sectional nature of our data precludes strong causal claims, we see this finding as providing vital evidence that while there may be heterogenous effects of incarceration on community engagement and civic participation, it appears that these heterogenous effects largely cancel each other out.


Christopher Wildeman is Professor of Sociology at Duke University and Professor at the ROCKWOOL Foundation Research Unit. His work focuses on the prevalence, causes, and consequences of contact with the criminal legal system and the child welfare system for families.

This event will be held on Zoom. You can register here. We will post a recording after the talk. You can see previous events here.


February 12, 2021
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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