Kristen’s community-engaged scholarship interrogates methods to understand and influence attitudes towards anti-carceral policies in majority-white communities. This research focus arose directly from her experience working as a community organizer and recognizing a need to develop and assess effective strategies to influence the political attitudes that uphold structural racism. She has used multiple methods (i.e., quantitative, qualitative, theoretical, community-engaged) to develop, implement, and evaluate political interventions to advance racial justice policy goals. Overall, Kristen’s scholarship fills a gap in social work: we will not achieve our grand challenge of eliminating racism without targeting the dominant attitudes responsible for the creation and reproduction of structural oppression.


Brock-Petroshius, K., Wray-Lake, L. Organizing through Stories: The Role of Emotions in Increasing Support for Decarceration. Journal of Community Practice (2022): 1-21. doi:

Brock-Petroshius, K., Garcia Perez, J., Gross, M., Abrams, A. (2022). Colorblind Attitudes, Empathy, and Shame: Preparing White Students for Anti-Racist Social Work Practice. Journal of Social Work Education, 1-15. doi:

Brock-Petroshius, K., Mikell, D., Washington, Sr., D.M., James, K. (2022). From Social Justice to Abolition: Living Up to Social Work’s Grand Challenge of Eliminating Racism. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 1-15. doi:

Abrams, A., Garcia Perez, J., Brock-Petroshius, K., Applegarth, M. Racism, Colorblindness, and Social Work Education: An Exploratory Study of California MSW Student Beliefs and Experiences. Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research. (2021) doi: 10.1086/714830

Under Review

Carceral Justification Scale: Construction and Initial Validation (with Brian Keum)

[Invited to Resubmit] Recently Black-led social movements have called on government to make sweeping changes to the criminal legal system. There is a need for research that examines the underlying carceral logics people use to bolster support for existing carceral institutions, as a means to assess influences on such attitudes. Applying System Justification Theory and a framework of carceral logics, we developed the Carceral Justification Scale (CJS) using data collected from 1,394 Alameda County, California registered voters. Items were developed via literature review, qualitative analysis of canvasser conversations, and expert review. Exploratory (N = 461) and confirmatory (N = 463) factor analyses suggested an oblique 2-factor structure and produced 6-items with the following factors: (a) System Works, and (b) Lesser Bad. Internal consistency estimates were .71 and above and the scales accounted for 28% and 27% of variance, respectively. Initial construct validity was established as CJS scores were associated with racial resentment, system justification, political ideology, and anti-Black bias awareness in ways consistent with theory. Implications for research and practice are discussed.

Dangerous, Deserving, or Harmed: Understanding the Formation of Anti-Carceral Policy Attitudes Among Urban, Liberal Voters

Why do many liberal voters in diverse, urban areas express racially egalitarian values but oppose anti-carceral policies that would weaken structural racism? How does this manifest particularly among people whose racial groups and neighborhoods experience the omission of targeting by the carceral state––voters in majority-white neighborhoods? Based on 28 canvassing interviews conducted in 2019 in Los Angeles County, this study shows one way that the omission of carceral state targeting produces ideological schema that bolster structural racism. Specifically, I demonstrate that non-Republican voters typically use four predispositions to make sense of their opinions on a proposed jail decarceration policy: 1) conceptions of criminalized people, 2) beliefs about the purpose and effects of the criminal legal system, 3) understandings of structural racism in the criminal legal system, and 4) racialized emotions. In the absence of carceral state targeting and coherent partisan ideology, these predispositions work together to structure three commonly used schema to formulate opinions towards an anti-carceral policy. The geographically racialized omission of carceral state targeting thus allows for the use of schemas which bolster the continued reproduction of structural racism through carceral institutions.

Current Projects

Changing Dominant Carceral Attitudes: A Community Organizing Field Experiment

[Dissertation] Kristen’s dissertation examines deep canvass organizing––a form of canvassing that focuses on sharing personal narratives about political issues––within the context of an anti-carceral policy proposal in Los Angeles County. Through a randomized, placebo-controlled action research field experiment, a community organization is implementing the intervention with a sample of registered voters in majority-white neighborhoods. This project assesses the extent to which deep canvassing changes anti-carceral policy opinions and associated racialized attitudes. To assess if and how explicitly discussing racism may impact these conversations, she is comparing the effects of a racism-explicit conversation model with that of a race-absent approach. She is further examining if effects are heterogeneous and if they persist over time. The knowledge gained from this study will further develop theory, practice, and research on carceral and racialized attitude change.

Carceral Reform: Understanding Influences on the Attitudes of Angelenos (with Martin Gilens)

This study extends prior public opinion and experimental research within the context of policing and incarceration reform proposals in Los Angeles County. Specifically, it aims to understand public opinion on anti-carceral policies and what influences these opinions. This study will first examine carceral policy opinions among a representative, highly racially and ethnically diverse sample of Angelenos, allowing for comparisons between White, Black, Latinx, and Asian American voters. Next, it probes what Angelenos know about policing and incarceration and uses a survey experiment to examine how accurate information and linking issues with racial inequality change preferences towards anti-carceral policy proposals. This study builds significant knowledge to help scholars, elected officials, policy advocates, and community organizers understand influences on new policy attitude formation broadly and on anti-carceral policy attitudes specifically. Left unaddressed, a lack of support for the adoption and implementation of innovative public policies can cause backlash––undermining what would have otherwise been effective public policy.

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