Chilling Effects: Diminished Political Participation among Partners of Formerly Incarcerated Men


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

Over the past four decades, the criminal justice system has emerged as a key institution structuring social, economic, and political inequalities in the United States. Among individuals with felony records, the lack of political participation resulting from legal and non-legal barriers has likely altered election outcomes and has critical implications for our democratic principles. However, the focus on individuals may underestimate the reverberating consequences of diminished political participation. In this article, I propose that criminal justice contact, and specifically incarceration, diminishes political behavior among not only formerly incarcerated individuals but also their romantic partners. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing survey, I find that partner incarceration is associated with reduced political participation that is not explained by socioeconomic characteristics and is robust to different modeling approaches. Diminished participation is not due to a partner’s influence or a lack of financial resources. It is also not one aspect of broad withdrawal from civic and religious domains. Rather, reduced political participation is a specific retreat from government. I suggest that these findings align with political socialization, where lessons about government are learned through interactions and experiences with the criminal justice system.

Fahs-Beck Scholars

Meet the Scholars

Fahs-Beck Fellows

Meet the Fellows


Our grant programs are changing.


Learn more