Labeling and Discrimination

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Victoria Wright
Intro to Criminal Justice
Term Paper
Fall 2012

Labeling and Discrimination

The focus of the Labeling Theory is the criminal process. It is the way people and actions are defined as criminal. The one definite thing that all “criminals” share is the negative social reaction as being labeled as ‘bad”. Law-abiding society often shuns the offender causing them to be stigmatized and stereotyped. The negative label applied to an offender often shapes their self-image and often leads them to live up to their newfound identity by committing acts that are more criminal. Edwin Lemert described this as being secondary deviance caused by primary deviance.

The self-concept identifies two major theoretical perspectives. The first concept being that deviant labeling may subsequently influence deviance by altering a person’s self-worth. The role of self-dynamics and symbolic reaction amplifies negative expectations of society. The second concept focuses on social structure aspects of exclusion of offender’s by blocked access to structural opportunities. (Matsudo, 1992) This ultimately becomes discrimination for people labeled by society as “criminals”.

“Felon” is a label that is given to ex-offenders by society that confirms the degrading status that accompanies conviction. This is labeling. An offender is discriminated against because society views them as being “bad”. In short, a “felon” is a legal outlaw and social outcast. Not all the good that a person may have done previously suddenly matters and society assumes that there is nothing but despicable traits left in this person’s character. Their integrity is lost forever. Society assumes that “felons” cannot change and it becomes a struggle to be given a second chance to prove that people can, and do change, if the will to do so is there coupled with the tools needed to achieve a crime free life are also. The stigma attached to “felons” is so great that most opportunities for education, employment, and housing are not easy to obtain. These opportunities (tools) are often blocked because the offender has a criminal conviction. If society wants a lower crime rate then it seems that these opportunities should be available to individuals in this category. In order to rehabilitate individuals there must be a way for them to raise their self-image and seek out a crime free life. A sense of self-pride and achievement for many offenders could be the turning point in life needed for them. In turn, the crime rate would decrease. (Bodwitch, 1993, Freeman, 1991, Hagan, 1991, Link, 1982, Sullivan, 1989) These peoples are no less human or equal than any other except that they have made a mistake. Our society has somehow decided it to be acceptable to treat this group of people, and there are more than two million in the United States, as outcasts, undeserving of housing, employment, or education. Society has decided that “felons” should not only serve the sentence given as punishment for their crime, they should be punished for the rest of their lives. This seems very unfair and cruel. In my opinion, we as a nation should be not be discriminating against this group of people, but instead should be giving them equal opportunity to be educated so that they can obtain employment to support themselves and their families. They should have the same opportunity to live in adequate housing just as the rest of society does. This would be a step in the right direction to help increase the self- image that has been shattered by labeling and possibly deter any behavior by responding to this labeling by continued criminal activity as a means of defense, adaptation, or by attacking back at society. (Bernberg)

Education is the first step to rehabilitating an offender. Many offenders do not even have a high school education. Some cannot read or write. In order to obtain gainful employment sufficient to support one's self or a family, they must...
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