The 2021 Jane Addams Article Award was awarded to Josh Pacewicz and John N. Robinson III for their article “Pocketbook Policing: How Race Shapes Municipal Reliance on Punitive Fines and Fees in the Chicago Suburbs.” Published in Socio-Economic Review in 2021, this article draws on both quantitative and qualitative methods to show how municipal reliance on fines and fees varies across race and class lines in the Chicago suburbs. Josh Pacewicz is Associate Professor of Sociology at Brown University, John N. Robinson III is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Princeton University. Andrew Messamore and Benny Witkovsky reached out to John and Josh to discuss their article and an abridged version of that discussion is below. Thanks to John and Josh for participating in our interview series!
Let’s start by talking about this paper. What did you seek to find? What did you ultimately find?
Robinson: We originally wanted to take an exploratory look at the problem of fines and fees, which had become a big topic of dialogue in the aftermath of Ferguson. Once we got into the data, we saw that these monetary punishments were concentrated in many Black suburbs, and especially relatively affluent ones. For context, the financial penalties that we found in these communities (mostly traffic fines, but also things like fines for overgrown weeds) differed from those we would find in much poorer areas (see, for example, Alexes Harris’ pathbreaking work, which focuses on the penalties associated with criminal prosecution). The racialized effect of fines and fees in the lives of poor households and communities is more dramatic and impactful over the long-term. But our findings on these relatively affluent Black areas show that these communities are in some ways more like poorer Black communities than their affluent white counterparts. Importantly, we also found that the places dealing with these penalties also suffered a range of other issues that white affluent communities didn’t, including exorbitantly high property taxes, exploitative tax incentive schemes, deficient public services, etc.Read more