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Policy Implications of Contemporary Labeling Theory Research



Labeling theory is a criminological theory that contends that formal sanctions amplify, rather than deter, future delinquent and criminal behavior. This paper identifies and describes some of the policies and programs that labeling theorists suggest would be effective at reducing delinquency and crime, or at least mitigate the effects of negative labeling experiences. The findings of contemporary examinations of juvenile delinquency and crime are briefly reviewed to provide the context for a variety of proposed policy implications. Programs such as family counseling, the Inviting Convicts to College Program, and Multisystemic Therapy are highlighted, and the importance of promoting education and employment for labeled individuals is discussed.
Critical Issues in
Justice and Politics
Volume 10 Number 1 August 2017
ISSN 1940-3186
Southern Utah University
Labeling theory is a criminological theory that
contends that formal sanctions amplify, rather than
deter, future delinquent and criminal behavior.
This paper identifies and describes some of the policies
and programs that labeling theorists suggest would be
effective at reducing delinquency and crime, or at least
mitigate the effects of negative labeling experiences.
The findings of contemporary examinations of juvenile
delinquency and crime are briefly reviewed to provide
the context for a variety of proposed policy implications.
Programs such as family counseling, the Inviting
Convicts to College Program, and Multisystemic Therapy
are highlighted, and the importance of promoting
education and employment for labeled individuals is
labeling, delinquency, criminal behavior, recidivism
Policy Implications of
Contemporary Labeling Theory
Dr. Daniel Ryan Kavish
(Corresponding Author)
Visiting Assistant Professor
of Criminal Justice
Department of Political and
Social Sciences
Lander University
Criminological theory guides public policy and
programming discussions. Theory informs policy, policies
are crafted based on empirical evidence, and then policies
are evaluated based on their effectiveness (Adler, Laufer,
& Mueller, 2012; Akers, Sellers, & Jennings, 2016; see also,
Tonry, 2010). Labeling theory, rooted in sociology’s symbolic
interactionism perspective, is no different. Labeling theorists
assert that policies are implemented to address social conditions
collectively defined by society as problems (Blumer, 1971;
Hilgartner & Bosk, 1988). Blumer (1971) argued that social
problems, and their remedies, exist in how they are defined
by society. Juvenile delinquency and crime have long been
viewed as social problems, and “get tough” approaches to
crime-control have dominated public discourse about how
to address these problems (Bernard, 1992; Butts & Mears,
2001). Labeling theory serves as a stark alternative to other
conventional criminological theories in how it defines deviance
and how to address juvenile delinquency and crime from a
policy perspective. Rather than crime-control through formal
social control and “get tough” approaches to punishment,
labeling theory suggests that crime and delinquency are reduced
by stymying secondary involvement in deviance through
reintegration efforts, diversion, de-labeling, promoting pro-
social identities, and nonintervention (Becker, 1963; Farrington
& Murray, 2014; Matsueda, 2014; Walters, 2016).
There was a time when labeling-inspired policies of
diversion were widely implemented by lawmakers and criminal
justice practitioners. The popularity of labeling theory
decreased when diversion attempts seemingly failed to have the
intended effects, and instead lead to net-widening (Akers et al.,
2016). However, net-widening was an unexpected consequence
of how policies and programs were implemented, and should
not be ascribed to labeling theory. Nonetheless, the failure of
diversion in the 1970’s was attributed to labeling theory (Akers
et al., 2016), and highly punitive “get tough” approaches have
dominated criminal justice policy for much of the last few
decades (Andrews & Bonta, 2010; Butts & Mears, 2001).
In this “get tough” era of criminal justice, labeling theory has
been regarded with skepticism and guided largely by its critics
(Matsueda, 2014). This trend continues into contemporary
times. For instance, Akers and colleagues (2016) are extremely
critical of labeling theory, but focus exclusively on original
explications that emphasized identity change as the deviance
amplification mechanism. More recent elaborations of the
labeling perspective argue that labeling amplifies subsequent
deviance through multiple intervening mechanisms, only one
of which is identity, and that this process is conditioned by
a host of potential contingencies such as race and stakes in
conformity (Paternoster & Iovanni, 1989; see also Barrick,
2014). Employment, education, and peer groups all serve as
alternative intervening mechanisms that may influence the
relationship between formal labels and subsequent delinquency
(Barrick, 2014; Bernburg & Krohn, 2003; Bernburg, Krohn, &
Rivera, 2006; Paternoster & Iovanni, 1989).
These theoretical elaborations have noteworthy empirical
support. Restivo and Lanier (2013) found that official criminal
justice intervention leads to an increased deviant identity,
decreased pro-social expectations, and an increased association
with deviant peers. Furthermore, they found that these effects
were significantly associated with an increased likelihood of
engaging in subsequent delinquency. Their findings are similar
to others that have also found relationships between formal
labeling and delinquent peers (Adams, 1996; Bernburg et al.,
2006). Widdowson and colleagues (2016) found that arrests
serve as a “negative turning point” in juveniles’ educational
trajectories (Widdowson, Siennick, & Carter Hay, 2016, p. 621).
Likewise, Bernburg & Krohn (2003) found that formal labeling
increased subsequent delinquency and that the relationship is
mediated by employment and educational success. A multitude
of scholars have found that formal labeling negatively impacts
subsequent education and employment outcomes (Bernburg &
Krohn, 2003; Fields & Emshwiller, 2014; Ispa-Landa & Loeffler,
2016; Lopes, Krohn, Lizotte, Schmidt, Vasquez, & Bernburg,
2012; Pratt, Barnes, Cullen, & Turanovic, 2016; Raphael, 2014;
Sweeten, 2006). Essentially, there is a substantial amount of
empirical support for the proposition that various intervening
mechanisms mediate the relationship between formal labeling
and subsequent delinquency.
The results of many 21st century examinations of juvenile
delinquency and crime have been supportive of labeling theory.
More specifically, contemporary labeling theory research has
found that formal labels significantly amplify subsequent
involvement in delinquency and criminal behavior (Bernburg
& Krohn, 2003; Bernburg et al., 2006; Besemer, Farrington, &
Bijleveld, 2017; Chiricos, Barrick, Bales, & Bontrager, 2007;
Kavish, Mullins, & Soto, 2016; Krohn, Lopes, & Ward, 2014;
Liberman, Kirk, & Kim, 2014; Lopes et al., 2012; Murray,
Blokland, Farrington, & Theobald, 2014; Restivo & Lanier,
2013; Slocum, Wiley, & Esbensen, 2016; Wiley & Esbensen,
2013). Other theorists have also found that official intervention
can have deviance amplifying effects, especially for chronic
offenders (Morris & Piquero, 2013). These studies have
found that official contact with police, arrests, and formal
adjudications all increase future deviant behavior. In fact, Wiley
and Esbensen’s (2013) findings suggest that the influence of
negative labeling becomes more pronounced as the severity of
criminal justice contact increases. While labeling theorists have
primarily focused on formal labeling measured by criminal
convictions, Wiley and Esbensen’s (2013) findings suggest that
even less severe labels, such as an arrest or initial contact with
police, may also carry extreme negative consequences.
Labeling theory has not focused solely on juveniles. The
theory is just as salient for studying younger individuals
transitioning into adulthood (Besemer et al., 2017; Chiricos
et al., 2007; Kavish et al., 2016). For instance, Chiricos and
colleagues (2007), in a sample of adults above the age of
seventeen, found that formal adjudication is more likely than
withholding adjudication to result in deviance amplification
(Chiricos et al., 2007). Likewise, Besemer and colleagues
(2017) examined adult offending using labeling theory and
found that convictions influenced individual’s self-reported
offending afterward. Kavish and colleagues (2016) also did not
limit their sample to individuals legally designated as juveniles.
Contemporary labeling theory research has made it clear
that evidence of deviance amplification extends well beyond
juvenile populations. After all, Mead (1934) argued that the
social construction of the self is an on-going, life-long process.
Therefore, the policy implications of labeling theory should not
be limited to only juvenile populations.
The findings of these recent labeling theory studies provide
the context for a few policy implications. If the goal of policies
is to reduce recidivism and secondary offending, then criminal
justice policies should focus on improving the employment
and educational success of labeled individuals. The majority
of arrested juveniles are referred to courts for further formal
processing (Puzzanchera, 2014). Similarly, about half of those
arrested for crimes as juveniles are convicted in adult criminal
court, thus, arrests serve as a gateway to juvenile delinquent
dispositions and adult criminal convictions. In fact, an arrest
alone is enough to impact future educational and occupational
success (Fields & Emshwiller, 2014; Krohn et al., 2014; Pratt
et al., 2016). If conventional employment and educational
opportunities are blocked, then deviant identities may be
reinforced, and individuals may be more likely to recidivate.
This paper seeks to bridge the gap between the
aforementioned findings of contemporary examinations of
labeling theory and criminal justice policy. Labeling theory is
too often associated with deinstitutionalization, diversion, and
radical nonintervention (see Akers et al., 2016). While Schwalbe
and colleagues’ (Schwalbe, Gearing, MacKenzie, Brewer, &
Ibrahim, 2012) meta-analysis concluded that no intervention
might just be the best intervention for diverted juveniles, policy
discussions rooted in the labeling research must continue to
evolve as theorists continue to elaborate on the perspective.
The following discussion will identify and describe a wide
range of policies and programs that seek to address the
application of formal labels and their ramifications on future
criminal and non-criminal outcomes. The policy implications
of contemporary labeling theory research fall into five distinct
categories: increased education and employment opportunities,
multisystemic therapy, non-judicial processing, deferred
adjudication, and increased public awareness. Answering
Farrington and Murray’s (2014) call for suggestions on how to
reduce offending, these broad categories represent promising
avenues of policy-making and programming that attempt to
minimize the influence of negative formal labels on subsequent
criminal offending.
Policy Discussion
Increased Education and Employment
The stigma associated with formal labeling can have a
multitude of negative consequences for individuals. Formal
labeling can change a person’s self-concept (Cooley, 1902;
Mead, 1934), they may be subjected to more surveillance and
social control than non-labeled individuals (Becker, 1963), and
it can have dramatic impacts on a person’s future employment
success and earnings (Grogger, 1995; Nagin & Waldfogel, 1995;
Pager, 2003; Western, Kling, & Weiman, 2001). The stigma of a
formal label leads many employers to view labeled individuals
as untrustworthy (Holzer, Steven, & Michael, 2007; Schmitt &
Warner, 2010), even though research has found that formally
labeled employees are less likely to engage in workplace crime
than non-labeled employees (Blumstein & Nakamura, 2009).
The influence of negative labels on employment cannot be
ignored when coupled with the fact that minimal employment
earnings and occupational hardships are consistently linked
with involvement in crime and recidivism (D’Alessio,
Stolzenberg, & Eitle, 2013; Gould, Weinberg, & Mustard,
2002; Grogger, 1998; Needels, 1996). Thus, policies should be
implemented that seek to minimize the social stigma associated
with negative formal labels and improve the occupational
success of labeled individuals.
Some policies and programs already exist that attempt to
minimize the impact of formal labeling on the identities, and
subsequent employment and education of individuals. One
example is fair hiring policies such as states with statutes that
“ban the box.” States that “ban the box” prevent employers from
inquiring about the criminal backgrounds of job applicants.
These policies are designed to provide individuals with criminal
backgrounds an equal opportunity for employment. “Ban the
box” policies have not been examined thoroughly enough to say
whether they definitively “work,” but contemporary research
does indicate they hold promise. For instance, Jackson and
Zhao (2017) found that Massachusetts’ “ban the box” reform
resulted in small but significant reductions in criminal
recidivism. Similarly, Denver and colleagues (Denver, Siwach,
& Bushway, 2017) found that formally labeled individuals
cleared to work by the New York Department of Health were
significantly less likely to be rearrested than if they had not
been cleared to work. Finally, and in line with the labeling
perspective, D’Alessio and colleagues (D’Alessio, Stolzenberg,
& Flexon, 2014) found that Hawaii’s “ban the box” law reduced
social stigma during the hiring process and was extremely
successful in reducing recidivism.
There is little to no downside to implementing “ban
the box” policies. They are merely an attempt to minimize
employment discrimination, and at worst, cost employers
a minimal amount of money to run their own background
investigations (Henry & Jacobs, 2007). Employers may not
be able to directly inquire about an applicant’s criminal
background, but they are still free to run background checks
at specified points in the employment process (D’Alessio
et al., 2014). Thus, these policies may limit employment
discrimination to a small degree, but they may only do so
for entry level positions. As the prestige and income of an
occupation increases, the likelihood of a background check
will likely increase too. In sum, any effort to improve the
employment prospects of ex-offenders should be lauded,
and have little downside. However, more research is needed
to determine how successful these policies are at reducing
recidivism and improving the employment prospects for ex-
Another possible reform option would be to expand the
use of federal grants and student loans for ex-offenders.
Currently, drug offenders, certain sex offenders, and those in
a United States federal or state institution are not able to get
student loans or federal grants for education. Furthermore,
many collateral consequences await ex-offenders that may
limit where individuals may study, what individuals may
study, and may also limit their employment prospects even if
their education is completed. This, then, has a chain reaction
of creating difficulties for ex-offenders attempting to repay
student loans. Education is strongly correlated with reduced
levels of offending (Chappell, 2004; Gordon & Weldon, 2003;
Hrabowski & Robbi, 2002; Jenkins, Steurer, & Pendry, 1995;
Mercer, 2009; MacKenzie & Hickman, 1998; Moody, Kruse,
Nagel, & Conlon, 2008; Stevens & Ward, 1997), so the most
obvious reform would be to provide federal funding and
higher education opportunities for individuals while they are
Another option would be to partner community colleges
and local colleges with federal and state institutions to
provide an education for prisoners and also provide teaching
opportunities for undergraduate and graduate teaching
assistants (Richards, Faggiani, Roffers, Hendricksen, &
Krueger, 2008; Rose, Reschenberg, & Richards, 2010). The
Inviting Convicts to College Program (ICCP) designed by the
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh serves as a specific example
of one such educational program that fits these parameters.
The ICCP is an educational program that prepares individuals
for the rigors of academic life so that those individuals will
be more likely to succeed in their educational pursuits upon
release (Rose et al., 2010).
Expanding the availability of federal funds for educating
ex-offenders and implementing local programs such as ICCP
help promote pro-social identities that may replace, or reduce
the importance of, negative formal labels. Chassin, Presson,
Young, and Light (1981) argued that an individual could
possibly adopt a deviant identity in response to society’s labels,
but that the deviant identity may be unimportant in relation
to that individual’s self-concept (Chassin et al., 1981). Another
possible alternative is that other interacting positive labels
play a role in why a deviant label might not lead to secondary
deviance (Kavish et al., 2016). Essentially, positive labels, such
as “student,” might play a role in explaining why someone
labeled as deviant may not re-offend.
Multisystemic Therapy
Another possible alternative to arrest and incarceration
would be to enroll detained juveniles in Multisystemic therapy
(MST). This practice could still have potential labeling effects
in its own right, but the severity of negative labeling would
be limited to lesser labels with little to no legislated collateral
consequences. MST is a type of therapy that is delivered while
an individual is in the community that involves individual
therapy for the client, as well as therapy that involves the
family. Furthermore, therapists should have small caseloads
to allow them to meet with their clients’ families, peers, and
schools. The goal of the therapist is to not only address the
individual’s current problems, but to also address issues that
might arise in the future.
MST may be effective at reducing recidivism because
it incorporates the significant others that are involved in
an individual’s life. Recent research suggests that reflected
appraisals of delinquency from significant others precedes
self-appraisals (Walters, 2016). Thus, how an individual
thinks others view them may play a vital role in how that
individual views himself or herself. Therefore, effective
therapy treatment must target both individuals and their
significant others. In essence, the goal of an MST program
is to promote a pro-social identity (Borduin, Mann, Cone,
Henggeler, Fucci, Blaske, & Williams, 1995; Henggeler,
Melton, & Smith, 1992; Levine, 2007). Research has found
MST programs to be effective at reducing the likelihood of
arrests, violent offending, and effective at promoting family
cohesion and pro-social identities (Borduin et al., 1995;
Curtis, Ronan, & Borduin, 2004; Henggeler et al., 1992; Van
der Stouwe, Asscher, Stams, Dekovic, & Van der Laan, 2014).
In fact, Sawyer and Borduin (2011) found that the effects
of MST last into adulthood suggesting that MST results in
an enduring positive change to individuals’ identities. The
consistent positive findings of MST evaluations suggest that
it is an extremely promising alternative to criminal justice
Non-Judicial Processing
More programs and policies could be implemented to allow
local jurisdictions to process arrested juveniles informally.
Processing juveniles informally allows for the avoidance of
further labeling, stigmatization, and more specifically in
the case of older adolescents, the collateral consequences
of official convictions. Only a small proportion of arrested
juveniles are dealt with in an informal manner such as
restorative justice programs, family counseling programs, or
a transfer to some other social welfare agency (Puzzanchera,
2014). This could be changed with the expansion of local
programs ran by police officials or prosecutors trained
in restorative justice and community policing. Classes or
programs could be established or expanded that inform
juvenile offenders about how their crimes negatively impact
their personal lives, families, and communities. Though
non-judicial processing could trigger negative labeling, the
label would be less formal than official processing, less severe
than official adjudications, and would not be perceived by
the public as radical non-intervention. Furthermore, these
programs could provide opportunities for redemption,
forgiveness, and maybe an opportunity to de-label arrested
One such non-judicial process that is promising is the
practice of issuing civil citations. Civil citation laws provide
local law enforcement with more discretion when dealing
with juvenile offenders by allowing them to issue citations
that provide youthful offenders with a means of disposing
of their offense informally without the involvement of the
juvenile court system. Thus, civil citations are a means for
law enforcement to handle juvenile offenders without arrests
or court referrals (Mears, Kuch, Lindsey, Siennick, Pesta,
Greenwald, & Blomberg, 2016). One recent evaluation of a
local civil citation program found a modest improvement in
outcomes compared to a comparison group of youth processed
through the juvenile justice system (Sullivan, Dollard, Sellers,
& Mayo, 2010). The Miami-Dade County Juvenile Services
Department credits their civil citation program with a 15%
reduction in arrests and cost savings derived from reduced
paperwork, fewer arrests, and less court appearances (Walters,
2008). Thus, civil citation programs appear to result in the
application of fewer negative labels and save local jurisdictions
money associated with the costs of processing juvenile
offenders. More evaluation studies are needed, but non-
judicial processing practices, such as civil citation programs,
appear to be a promising intervention for youthful offenders.
Deferred Adjudication
Widespread implementation of deferred adjudication
programs and other first-time offender programs could have
a profound influence on reducing recidivism and secondary
offending. Deferred adjudication programs allow judges
to sentence offenders to probation, but to withhold official
adjudication until the completion of the sentence. If the
sentence is completed successfully, then the offender can avoid
official adjudication and the collateral consequences that
accompany adjudication (Bontrager, Bales, & Chiricos, 2005;
Chiricos et al., 2007). Not only do these programs provide
individuals with a chance to avoid the collateral consequences
of official adjudications, but the completion of probation could
be perceived as a redemption and de-labeling ritual (Maruna,
2014). The expanded use of deferred adjudication programs
allows for offenders to be punished with probation sentences,
but simultaneously provides offenders with an opportunity to
avoid the collateral consequences typically attached to such
punishments. Chiricos and colleagues (2007) have already
demonstrated the effectiveness of these programs in reducing
recidivism among first-time offenders. The work of Maruna
and colleagues (2001; 2011; 2014; Maruna, LeBel, Mitchell,
& Naples, 2004; Maruna & LeBel, 2010), coupled with the
findings of Chiricos and colleagues (2007), highlights deferred
adjudication as a key practice that should be advocated for by
proponents of labeling theory.
Deferred adjudication is somewhat common for the
handling of juveniles, but the practice must be expanded
for use with young adults and first time non-violent adult
offenders. A constant feedback loop information system must
be created to avoid problems of net-widening. Individuals
must be tracked into the future so their progress can be
evaluated, data must be collected and analyzed, and reports
created that allow policy-makers to make rational and
informed decisions (Gottfredson & Gottfredson, 1987). The
goals of deferred adjudication programs must be clearly stated
and a concerted effort must be made to not simply supply
new clients for the program. Rather, data must be tracked to
ensure that individuals are being funneled from typical forms
of formal processing, thus reducing the amount of offenders
that are typically processed formally and ensuring that the
new program is not simply being used to handle an increased
number of clients.
Increased Public Awareness
Efforts should be made to educate schools and employers
so that society is more receptive to employing and educating
individuals that have been arrested or convicted for their prior
criminal behavior. Individuals with criminal records face a
host of legislated collateral consequences that impede their
employment prospects and must deal with employers hesitant
to employ people with criminal records (Holzer, Raphael,
& Stoll, 2004; Pager, 2003; Pager, Western, & Sugie, 2009;
Raphael, 2014; Solomon, 2012). The exact opportunities that
would allow people to avoid becoming career criminals are
widely restricted to arrested and convicted individuals, which
in turn, increases the allure of and motivation for criminal
behavior. Maruna and colleagues (2004) noted that many
individuals rely on someone to vouch for their moral character
during reintegration. Educating schools and employers of the
hardships labeled people encounter could encourage others
to be more willing to look past criminal pasts and vouch for
labeled individuals. These “personal vouchers” (Maruna et
al., 2004, p. 275; see also Maruna, 2001) provide access to
conventional pro-social peer networks.1
Unfortunately, the opportunities that are blocked
for individuals convicted of crimes are not contained to
occupational and employment circles. The relationship
between education and crime is complex, to say the least, but
more education is routinely related to less participation in
crime and less recidivism (Chappell, 2004; Esperian, 2010;
Lochner, 2007; Stevens & Ward, 1997). Yet, there are many
obstacles that stand in the way of labeled men and women
trying to advance their education. Individuals convicted of
drug-related crimes in the United States face restrictions
when applying for student loans and federal grants; a fact
well known by any student that has applied for financial aid.
People convicted of other crimes can be denied admission to
college, barred from living in college dorms, denied campus
employment, or admission into specific education programs.
Labeled individuals that manage to graduate with four-
year degrees continue to face obstacles in graduate school.
Individuals with criminal records have been denied admission
to graduate school, graduate assistantships, fellowships,
and PhD candidates with criminal records have even been
denied the opportunity to defend their dissertations. These
impediments to increasing levels of education extend into
their future occupations when they might be denied tenure
or an earned promotion because of their criminal pasts
(Richards, 2013). Removing impediments to employment and
education could go a long way towards reducing recidivism
and improving the life-chances of criminally labeled
individuals. Blocked opportunities like the abovementioned
collateral consequences only serve to reinforce deviant
identities, and according to labeling theory, a deviant identity
may lead to subsequent deviant behavior (Becker, 1963).
In general, these policy suggestions are in line with the
work of Maruna (2001; 2011) and colleagues (2004), Rocque
and colleagues (2016), Braithwaite (1989), and Cullen and
Jonson (2014). Their work calls for programs and policies that
effectively aid in labeled individuals reintegrating with their
local communities. They also reject “get tough” approaches to
criminal justice that simply seek to punish and offer no chance
for redemption or forgiveness. Redemption and forgiveness
can go a long way in reinforcing pro-social identities and
stymie the development of deviant identities theorized to
lead to increased criminal involvement (Braithwaite, 1989;
Cullen & Jonson, 2014; Latimer, Dowden, & Muise, 2005;
Maruna & LeBel, 2010). Cullen and Jonson (2014) specifically
argued that punishments that “exclusively” (Cullen & Jonson
2014, p. 79) seek to punish, and do not attempt to change the
risk-factors for criminal offending, should be expected to
have criminogenic effects. Punishments that do not reinforce
pro-social identities, or include some form of evidence-based
effort to rehabilitate and reintegrate individuals, should be
expected to be criminogenic. Indeed, contemporary studies
of juvenile delinquency and crime consistently show that
contact with police, arrests, and formal adjudications increase
subsequent criminal behavior. Therefore, criminal justice
programs and policies must seek to mitigate the criminogenic
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2 Thank you to Christopher W. Mullins and an anonymous
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... Concerning the past decade prison records in Sri Lanka, criminal behaviour (rape, drug trafficking, kidnapping, murder, fraud and theft) has become more serious, and there is a high tendency of criminal recidivism (Prison Statistics of Sri Lanka, 2016;2017;. This seems that high rate of criminal behaviour and recidivism is of great concern to the society, and the rehabilitation programme does not have a highly structured cognitive-behavioural approach. ...
... The labelling theory is a criminological theory that contends formal sanctions amplify, rather than discourage, future criminal behaviour (Blumer, 1971;Kavish, 2017). The theory proclaims that policies are implemented to address social conditions collectively defined by society as problems, where Blumer (1971) argued that social problems, and their remedies, exist in how they are defined by society. ...
... Rather than crimecontrol through "get tough" approaches to punishment, the theory claims that crimes are reduced by stymying secondary involvement in deviance through reintegration efforts, diversion, de-labelling, promoting pro-social identities and non-intervention (Walters, 2016). The results of prior examinations of crime have been supportive of labelling theory (Kavish, 2017). However, the popularity of labelling theory decreased when diversion attempts seemingly failed to obtain expected results (Akers et al., 2016). ...
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Purpose The place of rehabilitation programmes in the reformation and transformation of prison inmates has continued to be on the front burner of professionals such as educators, counsellors, social workers, psychologists and medical doctors. Analysis has taken something of a top-down approach, and consideration has been placed on how the organizational context of individual prisoners interact with those rehabilitation programmes has been neglected. Drawing on interview data, this study aims to add to our understanding how rehabilitation programme affects inmates’ skills and attitudes in Sri Lankan prisons. Design/methodology/approach This study used an inductive qualitative case study approach as it requires a deep understanding of the effect of rehabilitation programme on inmates’ skills and attitudes and how inmates view rehabilitation programmes. Findings The study identified seven views of inmates regarding rehabilitation programmes conducted and understood that rehabilitation programme facilitates inmates to acquire strong self-assurance of future career options and deal with potentially destructive feeling such as anger, frustration and loneliness. However, inmates who showed a strong propensity to suffer injustice and internalized blame have found no substantial impact on their skills and attitude through the programme. Practical implications It is arguable that operation of meaningful prison-based rehabilitation programme is influenced by comprehensive picture of the profile of the prison population, shortages in resources, the attitudes of prison staffs, inability to meet real world settings and network building with a wide range of private, public or voluntary providers. Originality/value This study represents the first prison-based study to understand the inmates view on the rehabilitation programmes in Sri Lanka.
... The labeling perspective has received renewed attention as an increasing amount of contemporary research found negative repercussions of criminal justice contacts and official sanctions on individuals (Bernburg, 2019;Chiricos et al., 2007;Kavish, 2017). Other scholars have documented that labeling and ostracizing from informal social agents, not only official interventions, can lead to similar negative consequences including continued deviance (Adams et al., 1998;Bartusch & Matsueda, 1996;Heimer & Matsueda, 1994;Matsueda, 1992;Triplett & Jarjoura, 1994;Zhang, 1997). ...
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Labeling perspective offers unique insights into the role of social sanctions in increasing the chance of continued deviance. The scholarship on labeling has progressed from confirming the impact of labeling to examining the factors that could potentially mitigate the negative consequences of labeling. We analyze a nationally representative sample of Korean youths (14,564 observations on 2719 respondents) with a series of two-level random effects negative binomial regression models to examine within-individual effects of perceived informal labeling on delinquency and moderators. Results confirmed the impact of perceived informal labeling on youth delinquency among South Korean youths and showed moderating effects of sex and social control factors. Compared to males, female youths were more vulnerable to perceived informal labeling, while attachment to close friends and delinquent friends exacerbated the impact of informal labeling. Attachment to teachers was associated with a reduced effect of perceived informal labeling while attachment to parents increased the positive within-individual effect on delinquency. The results add to our understanding of moderating processes in perceived informal labeling and highlight the importance of addressing within-individual effects in labeling research.
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Labeling theory suggests that criminal justice interventions amplify offending behavior. Theories of intergenerational transmission suggest why children of convicted parents have a higher risk of offending. This paper combines these two perspectives and investigates whether labeling effects might be stronger for children of convicted parents. We first investigated labeling effects within the individual: we examined the impact of a conviction between ages 19–26 on self-reported offending behavior between 27–32 while controlling for self-reported behavior between 15–18. Our results show that a conviction predicted someone's later self-reported offending behavior, even when previous offending behavior was taken into account. Second, we investigated whether having a convicted parent influenced this association. When we added this interaction to the analysis, a labeling effect was only visible among people with convicted parents. This supports the idea of cumulative disadvantage: Labeling seems stronger for people who are already in a disadvantaged situation having a convicted parent.
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Criminal background checks are increasingly being incorporated into hiring decisions by employers. Although originally uncompromising—almost anyone with a criminal record could be denied employment—court rulings and policy changes have forced criminal background checks to become more nuanced. One motivation for allowing more individuals with criminal records to work is to decrease recidivism and encourage desistance. In this article, we estimate the causal impact of receiving a clearance to work on subsequent arrests for individuals with criminal records who have been provisionally hired to work in certain nonlicensed health-care jobs in New York State (N = 6,648). We employ an instrumental variable approach based on a substantive understanding of the state-mandated criminal background check process. We examine age-graded effects within this group of motivated individuals and differential effects by sex in the rapidly growing health-care industry, which is typically dominated by women. Our estimated local average treatment effect indicates a 2.2-percentage-point decrease in the likelihood of a subsequent arrest in 1 year and a 4.2-percentage-point decrease over 3 years. We find meaningful variations by sex; men are 8.4 percentage points less likely to be arrested over the 3-year period when cleared compared with a 2.4-percentage-point (and nonsignificant) effect for women. Older women in particular are driving the nonsignificant results for women.
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Research Summary: The juvenile court was established to help children through the use of punishment and rehabilitation and, in so doing, “save” them from a life of crime and disadvantage. Diversion programs and policies emerged in the 1970s as one way to achieve this goal. Despite concerns about its potential harm, diversion became increasingly popular in subsequent decades. We examine the logic of a prominent contemporary diversion effort, civil citation, to illuminate tensions inherent to traditional and contemporary diversion. We then review extant evidence on traditional diversion efforts, examine civil citation laws, and identify the salience of both traditional and contemporary, police-centered diversion efforts for youth and the juvenile court. The analysis highlights that diversion may help children but that it also may harm them. It highlights that the risk of net-widening for the police and the court is considerable. And it highlights the importance of, and need for, research on the use and effects of diversion and the conditions under which it may produce benefits and avoid harms. Policy Implications: This article recommends a more tempered embrace of diversion and a fuller embrace of research-guided efforts to achieve the juvenile court's ideals. Diversion may be effective under certain conditions, but these conditions need to be identified and then met.
A growing literature suggests that juvenile arrests perpetuate offending and increase the likelihood of future arrests. The effect on subsequent arrests is generally regarded as a product of the perpetuation of criminal offending. However, increased rearrest also may reflect differential law enforcement behavior. Using longitudinal data from the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN) together with official arrest records, the current study estimates the effects of first arrests on both reoffending and rearrest. Propensity score methods were used to control differences between arrestees and nonarrestees and to minimize selection bias. Among 1,249 PHDCN youths, 58 individuals were first arrested during the study period; 43 of these arrestees were successfully matched to 126 control cases that were equivalent on a broad set of individual, family, peer, and neighborhood factors. We find that first arrests increased the likelihood of both subsequent offending and subsequent arrest, through separate processes. The effects on rearrest are substantially greater and are largely independent of the effects on reoffending, which suggests that labels trigger “secondary sanctioning” processes distinct from secondary deviance processes. Attempts to ameliorate deleterious labeling effects should include efforts to dampen their escalating punitive effects on societal responses.
This study draws on labeling theory and education research on the steps to college enrollment to examine 1) whether and for how long arrest reduces the likelihood that high-school graduates will enroll in postsecondary education and 2) whether any observed relationships are mediated by key steps in the college enrollment process. With 17 years of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 (NLSY97) and propensity score matching, we derived matched samples of arrested and nonarrested but equivalent youth (N = 1,761) and conducted logistic regression and survival analyses among the matched samples to examine the short- and long-term postsecondary consequences of arrest. The results revealed that arrest reduced the odds of 4-year college enrollment directly after high school, as well as that high-school grade point average and advanced coursework accounted for 58 percent of this relationship. The results also revealed that arrest had an enduring impact on 4-year college attendance that extended into and beyond emerging adulthood. Two-year college prospects were largely unaffected by arrest. These findings imply that being arrested during high school represents a negative turning point in youths’ educational trajectory that is, in part, a result of having a less competitive college application. Implications are discussed.
Purpose The purpose of this study was to determine whether reflected appraisals of delinquency from parents and friends preceded a delinquent self-view in participants reporting adult criminality. Methods Retrospective accounts of reflected appraisals of delinquency, a delinquent self-view, and adult offending were examined in 791 participants from the original 1942 and 1949 Racine cohorts. Results Mediation analysis revealed the presence of a significant target pathway from reflected appraisals at age 14–17 to self-view at age 18–20 to adult offending at age 21 +. The control pathway, which ran from self-view at age 14–17 to reflected appraisals at age 18–20 to adult offending at age 21 + was not significant. The Preacher–Hayes contrast test revealed a significant difference between the two pathways. Conclusions Consistent with the hypothesis tested in this study, the current results suggest that reflected appraisals of delinquency from others lay the groundwork for an individual's own view of themselves as delinquent.