Lecture by Mary Pattillo, Harold Washington Professor of Sociology and African American Studies, Northwestern University
The relationship between criminal justice involvement and housing is complex because the causal arrow goes both ways. Existing research documents a “homelessness-incarceration nexus” whereby homelessness is criminalized, and incarceration leads to homelessness. In this article, we broaden the scope of housing outcomes by considering housing instability more generally and we shift the focus to legal financial obligations (LFOs) as a specific kind of criminal justice sanction, apart from incarceration or the effects of a record. Our data consist of qualitative interviews and survey data with people paying LFOs (N=519), interviews with court actors (N=442), and over 1600 hours of courtroom ethnography in eight states, plus nationally representative survey data. We find substantial evidence of a housing instability-LFO nexus, a caustic churn whereby a population whose housing hardship is a direct result of financial strain is saddled with a punishment that further deepens that strain, and thus weakens housing stability.
Mary Pattillo is Chair of the Department of African American Studies, and the Harold Washington Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern University. She is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Pattillo received her PhD in Sociology from the University of Chicago, and her BA in Urban Studies from Columbia University in New York. She is the author of two award-winning books–Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril among the Black Middle Class and Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City. Her research covers the areas of housing, education, criminal legal systems, politics, and racial inequalities in the city. She studies Black communities not simply from a deficit perspective, but instead looks at the internal strengths of strong neighborly, religious, social support, and intergenerational family ties. Outside of her research, she is on the Advisory Boards of Urban Prep Charter Academies and the African American Legacy Fund, and a member of the Board of the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice.