Labeling Theory

Topics: Sociology, Criminology, Crime Pages: 5 (1707 words) Published: November 21, 2012
Running Head:| Labeling Theory |

Labeling Theory

Stacie O'Reilly
Lisa Bruno
October 20, 2012

According to the works of Frank Tannenbaum, Howard Becker, Edwin Lemert and the Labeling Theory, career criminals are often created by our juvenile justice system and by our society and their labeling of juveniles who have been convicted of committing a deviant act. These youngsters are often labeled as 'juvenile delinquents'. The Labeling, not the juvenile's characteristics, can create a habitual offender.

Labeling Theory

Frank Tannenbaum, also known as the "Grandfather of the Labeling Theory", in 1938, wrote against popular beliefs that juvenile delinquents were different in many ways than non-delinquents and that they were people who fit into where they were placed by society and the juvenile justice system. This concept is the beginning of the Labeling Theory in criminology and sociology, known as "Dramatizing Evil". Tannenbaum’s argument was that: 0 When they first break the law, the juvenile is a little or no different in characteristics than his peers. 1 Youths who are labeled "bad" will be treated differently than their peers who are not labeled as "bad". 2 They may believe their label and behave as they believe they should. As the youths are labeled, they may no longer be accepted by their peers but will gladly be accepted by other outcasts. This is the beginnings of the labeling theory. Edwin Lemert, sociologist, contributed to the Labeling Theory by arguing that all people conduct deviant behavior occasionally and if caught any person could, by reaction of society and the criminal justice system, be labeled as a delinquent. Lemert studied and recorded the series of events that can result from the one incident. To better explain the labeling process he uses Primary and Secondary deviation. Primary Deviation is the first delinquent act the person gets caught performing. Secondary Deviance is described by Lemert as any deviant act committed as a result of the labeling of the person due to the Primary Deviance. Howard Becker in the 1960’s championed the Labeling Theory, explaining: " groups create deviance by making rules whose infraction creates deviance, and by applying those roles to particular people and labeling them as outsiders. From this point of view, deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by other of rules and sanctions to an 'offender.' The deviant is one to whom that label has been successfully applied; deviant behavior is behavior that people so label."[Becker] In today's society, labeling can be as harmful as ever and can happen to a juvenile who has not even been convicted of any wrong doing. Before a defendant has a chance to face his accuser, society is developing a label for him/her. In our criminal justice system, a person can be arrested if it is thought, by the authorities, that the accused had committed a crime. The accused is taken into custody, finger printed and a photo taken as part of the arrest process. Today's media and technology help the labeling process along, often pre-maturely. There are safeguards to protect juveniles from the exposure, but these protections stop at the tender age of 18, just as these young people are trying to find their way. Once someone is arrested, his/her mug shot, along with the crime they are charged with becomes public, often in the local newspaper and on the internet. This information also becomes part of the accused's background check. I have surveyed average citizens and businesses to understand what effects this exposure can have on young people applying for work and in general, in other words, the effects of labeling on decisions of people interacting with the persons who are labeled, which will affect the way the labeled person will begin to view himself/herself. In the mug shot survey, the labeled are not labeled officially and...
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