Ecological Context, Criminal Propensity, and Recidivism

AuthorSusan McNeeley
Published date01 December 2018
Date01 December 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Ecological Context, Criminal
Propensity, and Recidivism:
An Examination of Moderating
Influences at the Census
Tract Level
Susan McNeeley
This study examines whether the relationship between individual-level risk and recidivism varies
according to ecological context, measured at the census tract level. It is hypothesized that high-risk
offenders—as measured by Minnesota Screening Tool Assessing Recidivism Risk (MnSTARR) 2.0
and Level of Service Inventory–Revised (LSI-R)—will have elevated risk of recidivism when living in
disadvantaged neighborhoods and lower risk of recidivism when living in affluent neighborhoods.
These hypotheses are tested with hierarchical logistic models predicting rearrest and revocation for
a technical violation among a sample of approximately 3,000 offenders released from Minnesota
state prisons in 2009. Rearrest was positively related to neighborhood disadvantage and negatively
related to neighborhood affluence, while revocation was positively related to neighborhood
urbanism. Further, neighborhood disadvantage moderated the association between LSI-R and
rearrest; however, this interaction was not in the hypothesized direction. The results contradict
prior literature examining similar relationships at the county level.
corrections, ecology and crime, quantitative methods
Research shows that recidivism is linked to many individual characteristics such as prior criminal
history, offense severity, drug use, education, and supervision type during parole (Benedict & Huff-
Corzine, 1997; Gainey, Payne, & O’Toole, 2000; Gendreau, Little, & Goggin, 1996; Spohn &
Holleran, 2002). In the past decade, scholars have also examined neighborhood influences on
recidivism. The results of this work suggest that recidivism is higher when offenders move into
disorganized neighborhoods (Clark, 2016; Hipp, Petersilia, & Turner, 2010; Kubrin & Stewart,
2006; McNeeley, 2017; Miller, Caplan, & Ostermann, 2016; Tillyer & Vose, 2011; Wallace,
Minnesota Department of Corrections, Saint Paul, MN, USA
Corresponding Author:
Susan McNeeley, Minnesota Department of Corrections, 1450 Energy Park Drive, Suite 200, Saint Paul, MN 55108, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
2018, Vol. 43(4) 494-511
ª2018 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016818776725
2015; Wolff, Baglivio, Intravia, & Piquero, 2015) and that community affluence or service avail-
ability is protective against recidivism (Hipp et al., 2010; Kubrin & Stewart, 2006).
In addition to studying main ecological effects, prior research has examined whether individual
criminal propensity may contribute more greatly to recidivism in certain ecological contexts. There
is some evidence that the effects of individual characteristics (such as prior criminal history) have
stronger associations with recidivism when offenders move into disorganized areas (Wang, Hay,
Todak, & Bales, 2014). However, other studies examining these relationships have not found a
significant interaction (Tillyer & Vose, 2011). Notably, previous research on the interaction between
ecological context and individual risk factors has focused on the county level. However, because
criminal opportunity may vary more greatly across smaller geographical units, the effects of indi-
vidual characteristics on recidivism may be more dependent upon characteristics of neighborhoods
than on counties.
This study buildsupon prior literature by testing hypotheses based on this body of earlierwork with
a sample of offenders released from Minnesota state prisons. In addition, this study contributes to the
literatureby examining these relationshipsusing census tract, ratherthan county, as the unit of analysis.
This relationship is tested using twoindicators of individual criminalpropensity: the Level of Service
Inventory–Revised (LSI-R; Andrews & Bonta, 1995) and the Minnesota Screening Tool Assessing
RecidivismRisk (MnSTARR; Duwe,2014). This study also examineswhether neighborhoodaffluence
acts as a protective buffer by weakening the relationship between individual risk and recidivism.
Ecological Context and Recidivism
Social disorganization theory explains that communities characterized by poverty, residential
instability, and racial diversity suffer from higher crime rates (Shaw & McKay, 1942). Shaw and
McKay (1942) explained these community differences by combining elements from several crim-
inological traditions such as control, culture, and strain. Later interpretations of social disorganiza-
tion theory explain that crime flourishes in disorganized neighborhoods because community
members are less able to work together to reduce crime (Kornhauser, 1978; Sampson, Raudenbush,
& Earls, 1997). Community networks that protect against crime are made up of three types of social
ties: private ties between neighbors, public ties with community organizations such as religious
organizations or community centers, and parochial ties between the community and government
entities such as the police department or other government-funded resources (Bursik & Grasmick,
1993; Hunter, 1985). Neighborhood characteristics associated with social disorganization are related
to higher levels of neighborhood crime and victimization (Lowenkamp, Cullen, & Pratt, 2003; Pratt
& Cullen, 2005; Sampson & Groves, 1989; Sampson & Wooldredge, 1987).
More recently, scholars have also suggested that ecological context has a role in shaping reci-
divism among ex-prisoners (Clear, 2007). In addition to simply creating an environment conducive
to crime, as posited by social disorganization theory, neighborhood context can present particular
obstacles against successful reentry. Scholars explain that because disadvantaged communities often
lack features that promote desistance—such as employment prospects, conventional social n et-
works, and social services such as treatment programs—recidivism is more likely when offenders
move into these areas (Travis & Petersilia, 2001; Visher & Travis, 2003; Wright, Pratt, Lowenkamp,
& Latessa, 2013). For this reason, Kubrin and Stewart (2006) argued that ex-prisoners are partic-
ularly susceptible to neighborhood context because they must rely on social networks and commu-
nity resources for success after release from prison.
In line with this argument, several characteristics related to social disorganization—including
concentrated disadvantage (Clark, 2016; Hipp et al., 2010; Kubrin & Stewart, 2006; McNeeley,
2017; Wallace, 2015; Wolff et al., 2015), inequality (Wright, Tu ranovic, & Rodriguez, 2016),
disorder (Hipp et al., 2010), residential stability (Tillyer & Vose, 2011), and racial heterogeneity
McNeeley 495

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