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Mass information is changing criminal justice surveillance. Police departments have begun to use massive digital datasets — referred to as “big data” — to reduce crime rates. However, these practices can prompt inadvertent social consequences, according to sociologist, Sarah Brayne. Brayne spent more than two years observing and interviewing members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) investigating how new technologies have intensified and transformed how police monitor large numbers of people.

One of the most shocking transformations in the LAPD data-systems is the dramatic increase in the number of people and institutions under surveillance. Their software investigates individuals with and without previous police contact. Based on police records, the software builds network diagrams of associated contacts. These include the suspect’s relatives and people affiliated with the addresses or phone numbers in the suspect’s register, regardless of their involvement in criminal activities. Databases also gather information not related to crime control, like from Twitter accounts and utility bills. This widens the net of surveillance to non-criminal spaces.  

Although technology plays a big part in decision-making, humans still play a vital role in surveillance. For example, when an analyst runs a search for a certain individual, they can see how many times other criminal justice employees have searched for that individual. The more searches, the higher the individual’s “criminal risk,” no matter what their criminal justice involvement is. Further, big data makes it possible to patrol “hot spots” of crime, based on predictive analyses of future crimes. However, some officers contest this form of control, by turning off their automatic vehicle location (AVL) technology.

Advocates of big data believe it can reduce human bias against racial minorities and increase police accountability. However, their faith rests on false the assumption that digital information is free of human bias. As these new technologies extend and intensify surveillance of both individuals and institutions, Brayne points out that some individuals — particularly those living in low-income, minority areas — will surely bear the burden of control more than others. 

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In a world of infoglut, it can be tempting to ignore most of what we see on the internet.  In order to gain attention, organizations must present their messages strategically. In a recent study, Christopher Bail, Taylor Brown, and Marcus Mann investigate how advocacy groups keep their audiences engaged on social media. The authors argue that rational arguments or emotional arguments alone are not enough. Instead, the key to successful messaging is the “cognitive-emotional current,” or switching back and forth between rational and emotional argument styles.

The researchers evaluated Facebook posts and comments for 200 autism and organ donation advocacy groups. After collecting posts and comments for over a year, the authors used text analysis to classify messaging either as rational or emotional. They also created their own application, “Find Your People,” which provided the organizations feedback about their messaging styles in exchange for information about the effectiveness of their outreach strategies. The authors measured effectiveness by recording how many unique users engaged with the organization’s content each day of the study. Based on this method, the advocacy groups in the study effectively used the cognitive-emotional current to keep their audiences engaged. After a series of emotionally-charged posts, the organizations would shift to more factual arguments, then back again.

While this alone is an intriguing finding, Bail, Brown, and Mann tell us there are larger benefits than understanding how organizations keep their audiences engaged. The methods the authors used in this study — analyzing social media posts and comments — give us insight into how humans communicate and connect in a world where much of our communication happens through the medium of technology.

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For those involved in gang activity, parenthood can serve as a powerful turning point in parents’ lives. Yet, men and women may experience and react to parenthood differently. In their recent work, David Pyrooz, Jean Marie McGloin, and Scott H. Dekker examine whether parenthood reduces the likelihood of gang affiliation and criminal offending among male and female gang members. 

The authors’ analysis draws from the responses of 163 women and 466 men who self-identified as gang members in the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The authors tested whether parenthood for the first or second time reduces the likelihood of self-identification as a gang member, in addition to the likelihood of committing crimes, including theft, drug solicitation, and assault. The authors also examined male gang members’ involvement in their children’s lives based on their residence with or apart from their children. Finally, the authors controlled for cohabitation between parents, legal employment, and education to determine the specific effects of parenthood.

Prior to having children, female gang members had a lower likelihood of committing crime and fewer years spent as gang members than men overall. For first-time mothers, having a child reduced their likelihood of gang affiliation by 93 percent and their probability of offending by 47 percent. However, only male gang members who were first-time fathers and resided with their children showed significant reductions in gang affiliation and criminal offending. At the same time, these changes were far less likely to last in comparison to female gang members. Thus, this research demonstrates that while parenthood can be a powerful force for moving away from criminal identity and activity, its impacts are tempered by gender.

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The Internet’s ability to disperse large amounts of information has greatly changed communication worldwide. Not only can beneficial information be transmitted quickly, but incorrect information can also spread rapidly. In new researchDeenesh Sohoni investigates how immigration numbers are manipulated by restrictionist groups in the United States — groups that advocate for reduced levels of legal immigration and crackdowns than undocumented immigration — to advance and legitimize their claims that immigration is a serious social problem. 

In 2011, Sohoni examined how 42 national-level restrictionist groups use their websites to frame the demographic impacts of immigration based on population projections. 2011 was a particularly important year for immigration in the United States, as the DREAM Act was reintroduced in the Senate, and a number of states followed Arizona’s SB1070, passing restrictive immigration policies. 

Of the groups that presented data, nearly half presented numbers that were either exaggerations of U.S. Census Bureau projections, used the higher end of the projections without noting it, or listed projections that could not be verified. In all cases, these numbers were treated as facts and the groups used them to argue further immigration would make whites a minority in the United States by mid-century. They also used these figures to argue for restricting “illegal” immigrants in the United States as a way to reduce crime, save public services, and keep jobs and government benefits for  “Americans.”

Sohoni’s research shows us that fake news is not a new phenomenon, and when we use the Internet, we must not only consider what information we’re getting, but also where it comes from.

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Originally posted Sept. 7, 2017

Criminologists have long observed that men seem to commit less crime after they get married — marriage increases interdependence between spouses, changes social activities, and develops new thinking patterns. However, marriage is more than just the relationship between two individuals, but rather the joining of two social networks of friends, coworkers, and family members that can have other consequences beyond the spousal relationship. And sometimes we marry into families that increase, rather than decrease, our exposure to crime.

Lars Hojsgaard Andersen asks how in-laws affect men’s criminal activity. Using registry data on the entire population of Denmark, Andersen finds that, consistent with previous research, marriage reduces the likelihood that men will be convicted of crime.  However, this “buffer” of marriage is lessened by the presence of a brother-in-law who has been in trouble with the law. Specifically, new husbands whose brothers-in-law were convicted in the last 3 years have a 20% higher likelihood of being convicted themselves, relative to new husbands without a convicted brother-in-law. This relationship holds even when accounting for the characteristics and criminal history of both husband and wife, as well as the criminal history of both families.

Andersen notes that previously convicted brothers-in-law increase the likelihood of crime for husbands regardless of their own criminal histories — they can even “ignite criminality” among husbands who previously had no brushes with the law. Overall, the research shows that the ability of marriage to reduce criminal activity partly depends on the new network ties that marriage brings. In short, the impact social bonds and institutions have on behavior rests, in part, on the social ties that those institutions foster.

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Originally posted Aug. 15, 2017

Women have made many strides towards equality in the workplace. Yet, studies continue to show that women are frequently paid less than men, women are expected to perform more secretarial tasks, and women are less likely to be promoted to higher-level occupations within organizations. And academia is no exception — while attaining tenure and promotion is the key to a long academic career, universities are less likely to grant it to women. A recent study by Katherine Weisshaar explores why female academics have a harder time achieving tenure promotion than their male peers.

The author developed a unique longitudinal dataset that includes department information and characteristics (e.g. prestige ranking, gender composition) from the National Research Council (NRC), Google Scholar citations, personal websites, and CVs. From 2000 to 2004, Weishaar documented the names of former assistant professors in 330 departments within sociology, computer science, and English. She examines three possible explanations for the 7 percent gender difference between male and female assistant professors in sociology departments: scholarly productivity (i.e. publications, awards, research grants), organizational differences (i.e. gender composition, prestige, public or private) and inequality in evaluations (i.e. gender bias, differences in recommendations).

The results indicate that women are less likely to receive tenure than their male peers across all three disciplines, though sociology and English maintain the greatest gender inequities in tenure. When women do secure tenure, the process takes longer than for male academics. Female assistant professors in sociology were less likely to publish in the discipline’s most prestigious journals (e.g. Social Forces, American Sociological Review, and American Journal of Sociology), obtained lower numbers of citations for their publications, and secured promotions in less prestigious departments. 

Overall, productivity differences accounted for approximately 34 percent of the gender gap, while time differences accounted for approximately 20 percent of the gender gap. The largest contributing factor to the gender gap (roughly 40 to 45 percent), however, lies within the assistant professor evaluation process that includes subtle biases and discrimination against women. Thus, increases in women’s individual productivity in the workplace will not likely lead to equal representation in higher occupational positions. Employers must also evaluate the ways in which gender discrimination both explicitly and implicitly hinder women’s promotion opportunities, despite equal rates of productivity.

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Scholars of crime pay extensive attention to how the physical characteristics of neighborhoods, like street lighting and security cameras, might help deter crime in high crime areas. A recent study by Paulo Avarte, Filipe Ortiz Falsete, Felipe Garcia Ribeiro, and André Portela Souza extends this research by assessing the effects of electricity access on violent crime rates in Brazil. Brazil is an important location for a focus on violence reduction, as Brazil — and the whole of Latin America — is home to some of the highest homicide rates in the world.  

The authors examine the impact of a federal program titled Luz Para Todos (LPT), or the Light for All program, which aimed to provide Brazilian households with access to electricity beginning in 2001. The LPT program provided electricity access to ten million households by 2009, focusing specifically on expanding access in impoverished rural areas. The authors use demographic census and mortality data from over 5,000 Brazilian municipalities in 2000 and 2010 to assess the relationship between electricity and homicides, accounting for other characteristics such as education levels, labor market characteristics, unemployment, and police size.

They find that the LPT program resulted in a discernible drop in homicide rates for rural areas, especially in the Northeast region of Brazil, an extremely impoverished area that had minimal electricity access prior to the implementation of the LPT program.This effect appears to be especially pronounced for homicides that occurred on rural roads and urban streets rather than in households and other closed spaces, suggesting that lights in public spaces help to deter violent behavior. 

Another explanation for reduced homicide rates may simply be that electricity access is a marker of numerous social benefits, like increased school enrollment and improved health outcomes. In other words, as quality of life improved in these areas, homicides decreased. Although the LPT program was not intended as a violence reduction policy, it clearly had significant impacts on homicide rates in areas of high need. Avarte and colleagues’ findings suggest that targeting electricity policies in areas that previously had little to no access to electricity can be an essential tool for crime control.

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Originally posted Jan. 31, 2017

While male-dominated jobs are some of the fastest shrinking in the U.S., and female-dominated jobs are some of the fastest growing, many men choose not to enter fields they view as “women’s work” — occupations like home healthcare worker or nurse practitioner. But it is not all men who stay away from female-dominated occupations. You guessed it — it’s white men. Recent research by Jill Yavorsky, Philip Cohen, and Yue Qian shows that racial minority men are more likely than white men to work in female-dominated jobs.

The researchers use 2010-2012 American Community Survey data on working men ages 25 to 54 to statistically analyze the effects of race on the gender composition of jobs. The find that all groups of racial minority men are more likely than white men to work in female-dominated jobs, and this finding remains constant even when considering differences in men’s education levels, with the exception of Asian men with advanced degrees. Notably, black men and white men represent the greatest disparity — black men have the highest probability of working in a female-dominated job, while white men have the lowest probability of doing so. 

While this study can only tell us what is happening — that more minority men work in female-dominated jobs than white men — the “why” remains an open question. For one, this could be a tale of discrimination; minority men may be kept out of male-dominated fields and forced to choose female-dominated occupations. On the other hand, men of color may defy societal norms and place more value on so-called “women’s work,” like caring activities, than white men. Regardless, these findings highlight the important intersection of race and gender in the workplace. 

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We often think that religion is a deeply personal commitment tied to parents and family; research has shown that women tend to be more religious than men, and that starting a family often marks a return to religion as people settle down. But religion is also tied to society in general, and it is easy to forget that many of the religious choices we make are for the sake of belonging to a community of other people. Public religious signals like the way we dress and self-identify are just as much about others’ expectations as our own private beliefs.

For example, the practice of wearing a veil in Islam is part of a personal faith commitment for Muslim women. But new research from Ozan Aksoy shows that this might have more to do with the social expectations that come from having a family than big changes in religious beliefs. Using data from a 2013 Demographic and Health Survey in Turkey and the Pew Research Center’s 2013 World Muslim Survey, Aksoy looked at whether Muslim women with children were more likely to report wearing veils. This analysis matched married women with one child to married women with no children who shared similar demographic characteristics such as age, education, beliefs about family values, and region of residence. This technique, called propensity score matching, allows researchers to focus on the effect of one key difference (having a child or not) on whether women were more likely to wear a veil. 

Two key points emerge. First, having a child significantly increased the probability of wearing the veil, and the effect got stronger with each additional child. Women who had sons first were also more likely to veil than those who had daughters. Second, having one child versus no children did not relate to other measures of religiosity and traditional family values such as attitudes about women’s roles in the home, prayer, and fasting. In other words, women who had children weren’t necessarily more religious, they were only more likely to signal their religiosity to others in public.

This finding fits with other recent research that shows how religious identities in public life work differently from private beliefs and practices. Learning how these differences work around the world can help us better understand what different faith communities share in common in society.

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The mark of a criminal conviction often has a devastating effect on future career opportunities. Black formerly incarcerated individuals have an even harder time finding employment due to employer discrimination. But jobs aren’t only important for economic security. Susila Gurusami’s recent study explores how state agents like probation officers, parole officers, and attorneys determine Black women’s commitment to rehabilitation by assessing if and how their employment is reliable, recognizable, and redemptive. Failure to meet these criteria could mean returning to jail or prison. In doing so, probation and parole officers reinforce “rehabilitation labor,” where formerly incarcerated women must prove that they have successfully transformed from ‘criminals’ to ‘workers.’

Gurusami spent 18 months volunteering as a social work intern with a local organization in a Los Angeles county that assisted formerly incarcerated women find employment, housing, and other rehabilitative needs. During her time there, she worked with 35 women — driving them to doctor’s appointments, guiding them through job applications, and accompanying them to court proceedings. She developed a close relationship with several women by conversing with them in their homes, meeting them at restaurants, accompanying them on daily walks, and speaking with them via phone and text messaging regularly.

The women in Gurusami’s study quickly learned that their probation and parole officers would not simply accept any form of employment. Rather, probation and parole officers emphasized that formerly incarcerated women must find work that state agents deem reliable, recognizable, and redemptive. Reliable employment meant long-term, full-time work. State agents criticized women who found seasonal positions or temp jobs. Some women were even discouraged from seeking education despite its long-term potential to generate greater income.  Those who attempted to earn GEDs, college degrees, or attend trade school were often discouraged by parole and probation officers who did not recognize education as a legitimate means to finding employment. 

Furthermore, parole and probation officers did not recognize traditionally female-dominated forms of work, like braiding hair or assisting with care of relatives, that did not take place in conventional workplace settings as valid employment. Lastly, state agents also tended to push women towards redemptive work — work that they viewed as beneficial to the community, such as counseling and social work. Women who failed to find employment that met these criteria were threatened with prison. While employment is vital to a successful future after incarceration, limiting opportunities for both work and education and forcing Black women to partake in rehabilitation labor reinforces notions that Black women’s actions are in need of constant control and discipline by the state.