Organizational processing, whether in the criminal justice or health care systems, tends to produce some taken-for-granted assumptions about all of the people processed. These assumptions are frequently held just as often by lay people as by professionals. It is believed that persons processed by these systems share a set of common characteristics. They are alike, not only in the offenses they have committed, but in other significant social respects as well. And, in turn, they are markedly dissimilar from all members of conventional society.
William J. Chambliss, in a study of two different high school gangs, finds variations in social responses to deviance that attest to the power and consequences of social reputation. Reputation is made up of one's past of alleged performance, social responses, and expectations for future performance. Although both of the gangs studied engaged in the same frequency of deviance, one gang received considerable official social control attention while the other one did not. In time, members of the two gangs lived up to the community's differential predictions about their future after graduation from high school. In this case study, the subsequent careers of both gangs turned out to be examples of a self-fulfilling prophecy-what people believe to be real will be real in its consequences.
Eight promising young men-children of good, stable, white upper-middle-class families, active in school affairs, good pre-college students-were some of the most delinquent boys at Hanibal High School. While community residents and parents knew that these boys occasionally sowed a few wild oats, they were totally unaware that sowing wild oats completely occupied the daily routine of these young men. The Saints were constantly occupied with truancy, drinking, wild driving, petty theft and vandalism. Yet not one was officially arrested for any misdeed during the two years I observed them.