Most of the previous research on the collateral consequences of criminal justice system involvement has focused on incarceration, neglecting the possibility that felony conviction without incarceration also has the potential to disrupt and destabilize the normal life course. For example, previous studies of housing trajectories after exit from the criminal justice system have focused only on the experiences of formerly incarcerated individuals despite the fact that both public housing authorities and private landlords can and do discriminate based on conviction history, not just incarceration. These studies suggest that incarceration leads to increased housing instability, generally finding that prior incarceration is associated with experiencing a higher number of residential moves (Geller and Curtis 2011; Harding, Morenoff, and Herbert 2013; Warner 2015). However, these studies ignore the experiences of the approximately 12 million Americans with felony convictions on their record who have never served time in prison (Shannon et al. Forthcoming).
Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 and a variety of modeling strategies, including sibling fixed effects and gender interactions with criminal justice history, this paper explores whether felony conviction without incarceration leads to housing instability patterns similar to those experienced by former inmates. Results indicate that, like formerly incarcerated individuals, never incarcerated individuals with felony convictions experience an elevated risk of housing instability and residential mobility, and these effects are amplified for women.
As most previous research on the collateral consequences of the criminal justice system has focused on incarceration, this paper makes an important contribution to the literature by highlighting how lesser criminal justice system involvement introduces similar instability into one’s life, specifically with regard to housing. Moreover, by examining housing instability experiences among formerly convicted, but never incarcerated, individuals, this analysis improves our understanding of the mechanisms at work behind previously observed housing instability among the formerly incarcerated. Because the physical removal from one’s community entailed by incarceration affects individuals in so many different ways (e.g., weakened social ties, employment disruption, mental and physical effects of confinement), it is unclear whether greater housing instability is due to the stigma and discrimination that accompany the “mark of a criminal record” or from the incarceration and physical removal itself. By focusing on individuals who have been convicted of a felony but never incarcerated, this paper can set aside the effects of incarceration itself and instead highlight the potential role of housing market discrimination.