Sandra Susan Smith

Sandra Susan Smith

Curriculum Vitae
Research Interests
Urban poverty and joblessness, job search, social capital and social networks, trust and cooperation, and more recently, re-entry and the front end of criminal case processing

I am primarily a qualitative researcher with a longstanding interest in questions of urban poverty and joblessness, social capital and social networks, racial inequality, intraracial dynamics, and trust. In my first book, Lone Pursuit: Distrust and Defensive Individualism among the Black Poor (Russell Sage Foundation), I advanced current and enduring debates about black joblessness, highlighting the role of interpersonal distrust dynamics between low-income black jobholders and their jobseeking relations that make cooperation during the process of finding work a problematic affair. It is in my second book, Want, Need, Fit: Cultural Logics of Job-Matching Assistance, currently under review, I more fully engage questions about the cultural underpinnings of social capital mobilization during the job-matching process, adding to my theoretical and empirical contributions from earlier work. I draw from a ethnoracial and class diverse sample of jobholders at one large public sector employer to investigate the network mechanisms that generate differential access to jobs. I show that variations in referrers' patterns of job-matching assistance can at least in part be attributed to distinct cultural logics of job-matching assistance, which inform the rules of engagement that shape whether, why, how and to whom potential referrers allocate economic resources. My research on this and related topics has also been published in a number of articles in such journals as the American Journal of Sociology, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, the Annual Review of Sociology, The DuBois Review, Racial and Ethnic Studies, Social Science Research, The Sociological Quarterly, and Work and Occupations.

Recently my interests have expanded to include criminal justice issues, with special attention to the front-end of criminal case processing, a direct result of my membership in the Executive Session on Community Corrections at Harvard's Kennedy School and my membership on the National Research Advisory Board on Misdemeanor Justice. Specifically I have been considering the extent to which and how institutional arrangements related to the front end of penal contact contribute to the reproduction of racial and class inequalities. With a generous grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, I have begun a large, four-city qualitative study of the front end of criminal case processing, with a focus on how pretrial detention and diversion effect justice-involved individuals’ future involvement with crime. Defendants who initially appear to be quite similar can have very different criminal justice outcomes, in the short- and long-term. While some go on to engage in new criminal activity and, as a result, cycle in and out of jails and prisons, others abstain from participation in new criminal acts and thus limit further involvement with the penal system. A growing body of research links differing outcomes to experiences related to, among other things, diversion programs and varying lengths of pretrial detention; the former increases the odds of desistance, while the latter increases the odds of recidivism, even among low-risk offenders. To date, however, we know relatively little about how and why these interventions matter for future criminal involvement. The aim of my three-year project is to better understand how justice-involved individuals’ lives are altered in the short- and long-term by these criminal justice interventions, highlighting similarities and differences, across the four contexts (Louisville, Chicago, Houston and San Francisco), in the extent and nature of pretrial diversion and detention procedures and defendants’ experiences.

In the recent past I have also been deeply engaged service to the discipline, as ASA Council member, Deputy Editor of the American Sociological Review and chair of the ASA Section, Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility, among other commitments.


Representative Publications

Books and Edited Volumes

The Criminal Justice System as a Labor Market Institution, co-editor (with Jonathan Simon), RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 6(1), Mar 2020.

    Lone Pursuit: Distrust and Defensive Individualism among the Black Poor. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2007.


Selected Articles and Chapters

“Using Social and Behavioural Science to Support COVID-19 Pandemic Response” (with Van Bavel, J. J., Baicker, K., Boggio, P. S., Capraro, V., Cichocka, A., Cikara, M., Crockett, M. J., Crum, A. J., Douglas, K. M., Druckman, J. N. Drury, J., Dube, O., Ellemers, N., Finkel, E. J., Fowler, J. H., Gelfand, M., Han, S., Haslam, S. A., Jetten, J., Kitayama, S., Mobbs, D., Napper, L. E., Packer, D. J., Pennycook, G., Peters, E., Petty, R. E., Rand, D. G., Reicher, S. D., Schnall, S., Shariff, A., Skitka, L. J., Smith, S. S., Sunstein, C. R., Tabri, N., Tucker, J. A., van der Linden, S., Van Lange, P. A. M., Weeden, K. A., Wohl, M. J. A., Zaki, J., Zion, S. & Willer, R.), Nature Human Behaviour,, 2020.

“Self-Verification, Trust, and Social Capital Mobilization” (with Jasmine Sanders), In Personal Networks: Classic Readings and New Directions, edited by Brea L. Perry, Bernice Pescosolido, Mario L. Small, and Ned Smith, 2020.

“Exclusion and Extraction: Criminal Justice Contact and the Reallocation of Labor” (with Jonathan Simon), RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 6 (1) 1-27, March 2020.

“Searching for Work with a Criminal Record” (with Nora Broege), Social Problems. 0:1-25, 2019.

“‘Change’ Frames and the Mobilization of Social Capital for Formerly Incarcerated Job Seekers.” DuBois Review. 15(2): 387–416, 2018.


Shackled to Debt: Criminal Justice Financial Obligations and the Barriers to Re-Entry They Create. New Thinking in Community Corrections Bulletin(with Karin D. Martin and Wendy Still), Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, 2017. NCJ 249976, 2017.


“Want, Need, Fit: Logics of Assistance and the Job-Matching Process,” (with Kara A. Young), Work and Occupations. 44(2): 171-209, 2016.

“Race and Trust.” Annual Review of Sociology 36: 453-75, 2010.

“‘Don’t put my name on it’: (Dis)Trust and Job-Finding Assistance among the Black Urban Poor.” American Journal of Sociology 111(1):1-57, 2005. Lead Article.