Cumulative Disadvantage and Shifting Norms: The Effects of Criminal Justice Involvement on Mental Health

Heili Pals, Texas A&M University
Richard Abel, Texas A&M University
Xavier Serna, Sam Houston State University
Alma Trevino-Garza, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
Kimberly Harvey

This study explores how one’s socio-criminal background moderates the long-term effect of criminal justice involvement on self-feelings in young adulthood. We test two competing hypotheses: 1) the cumulative disadvantage hypothesis that predicts that the harmful effects of criminal justice involvement are stronger with additional disadvantage present (socio-criminal background), and 2) the normalizing hypothesis that predicts having a socio-criminal background normalizes, and thus, weakens the effect of criminal justice involvement on negative self-feelings. We use multigenerational, longitudinal data (KLAMS) that follows the respondents from their adolescence (11-14 years old) into young adulthood (20-24 years old). We find that both neighborhood criminality and personal network criminality moderate the effect of criminal justice involvement on negative self-feelings, but not on college attendance. Partial support for a normalizing effect for arrests and for convictions is also found. However, police contact’s effect on self-derogation is best explained by the cumulative disadvantage hypothesis.

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 Presented in Session 26. Flash Session: Neighborhood Processes in Health