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The juvenile justice system was created in the belief that young people were less responsible for their actions, and could be rehabilitated if processed through the juvenile court system. Its goal was to help teens turn their lives around, while protecting their identities, so they are not burdened with criminal records in adulthood.
However, lawmakers blame rehabilitation for failing to hold down juvenile delinquency. In order to crack down on juvenile crime many states have passed a variety of measures to send more youths to adult court. For some states these measures include the following: lowering the age at which juveniles can be prosecuted as adults, greatly expanding the categories of crimes, youth are automatically prosecuted in criminal court, giving the prosecutors the exclusive authority to decide which juveniles are charged as adults, and limiting the discretion of judges to overturn decisions by prosecutors and law enforcement officials. In states like Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Nevada youth at any age are sent automatically to adult courts for serious crime. Ultimately, if teens are prosecuted in adult court they may face the following penalties: life in prison without parole, mental health problems, rape, assault, death while incarcerated. They will receive little or no rehabilitation.
Many claim these new measures cast a wide net, sending youth to adult prison for non-violent crimes. The problem is that although prosecution is traditionally set aside for serious crimes, several findings indicate that many cases brought against youth were not serious or strong enough to be waved into adult court. These findings also indicate that Afro-Americans and Latinos were more likely to be affected than Caucasians and those represented by private counsel were less likely to be convicted and transferred back to juvenile court (www.buildingblocksforyouth.org).
History of Labeling Theory
Early labeling theorists Frank Tannenbaum was the first theorist to suggest that an offender's identity is transformed from doers of evil to an evil person (Vandelay, 2002). Labeling theory focuses on the official reaction to crime rather than why deviant acts are committed. In Dramatization of Evil, Tannenbaum focus on two concepts. The first concept dealt with the conflict between the community and the delinquent. Tannnenbaum claimed conflict occurred because community defined the act one-way and the juvenile defined it another way. Because of this conflict juveniles attached themselves to gangs whom share the same attitude, interest and values they do. Tannenbaum believed the problem lied within society or institutions, trying to make everyone fit (Hamlin, 2001). Another concept he argued was the process of making a criminal involved tagging, defining, indentifying, segregating, describing, and emphasizing any individual out for special treatment becomes a way of stimulating, suggesting, and evoking the very traits that are complained of. The individual becomes the very thing they are described as (Tannenbaum, 1938). In order to solve the juvenile delinquency society must focus on the individual instead of the punishment.
Edwin Lemert founder of the societal reaction elaborated on labeling theory by making a distinction between primary and secondary deviance. Primary deviance is the initial rule-breaking behavior where individuals do not see themselves as deviant; during the secondary deviance juveniles are negatively labeled and retaliate by adapting to the primary deviance (Lemert, E, 1963). According to Lemert primary deviance stems from biological, psychological, and sociological reasons. In Wayward Puritans, Erikson claims deviance can serve as a function, group will maintain the deviant person until his or her behavior endangers the group solidarity.
Howard Becker founder of labeling theory focused on Lemert's secondary deviance by observing how someone develops deviant motives and interests. Becker claimed public shaming pushes individuals to a breaking point in which they give up further attempts to conformity. Once conformity is lost, identity change takes place and the deviant self-image is now in place and the pressure to behave as deviant increases. Furthermore, people that are labeled deviant lose contact with people in their community and began to associate with people similarly labeled deviant.
Modern Labeling theory
Today, labeling theory is rarely utilized and many have shifted their focus to the effects of state power (Becker, 1963). Modern labeling theory recognizes that societies create crime by passing laws, and the nature of law should be the main focus. Michael Foucault claimed punishment should not consist of revenge, but individuals should reform to society's norms. Foucault urges that discipline should impose precise norms, not merely judge what is normal and abnormal. In 1989, John Braithwaite introduced social control through the shaming theory (Foucault, 1979). Labeling has theorist focus on the power of the state and how certain the laws are used to control individuals in society. Theories such as control-ology are more interested in the criminal justice agencies such as welfare, unemployment, education and mental health are used by the state to restrain problem population. Foucault claims that some states use various instruments of social control to cover up coercion and power. This theory is useful when society witnesses a high crime or moral panics, which may result to reaction to implement laws. The current laws that are questioned today are DUI laws, felony murder, three-strikes, and Youth Crime, Adult Crime. These impulsive laws have not shown any deterrence or improvement how on society punishes those who break the law.
In 1989, John Braithwaite came along and introduced two types of shaming theory, reintegrative shaming and disintegrative shaming. Reintegrative shaming is the process of bringing the offender back into society by ritual gestures of forgiveness: whereas disintegrative shaming shuns the offender from society. Braithwaite claims offenders that are prevented from bonding back to into society can only become more entrenched in crime as a result of being labeled as a criminal (Braithwaite, 1989).
Labeling theory also known as societal reaction theory claims deviance is defined by social reaction of alleged violation of rules or expectations. To better understand deviance and how it relates to crime we need to know who constitute deviance and how do these behaviors violate the norms of a social group. Erikson (1956), defined deviance as a violation of social norms and norms behavioral are codes that guide an individual through everyday life.
William Summer summed up norms into three categories folkway, mores, and laws. Summers defined folkway as an everyday norms that are based on custom, tradition, and etiquette. For example folkway includes the way we dress, our physical closeness to someone, or eating habits may set us apart from other social groups. In Hawaii is when you invited into someone's home you always take off your shoes as a sign of respect. If you don't remove your shoes it's a sign disrespect them and may never invite you back to their home. Those who break folk norms are not arrested and condemned, but just looked at differently. The second category social norm is mores norms. Mores norms are defined as morals that generate serious social condemnation. Examples include interracial marriage, drug addiction, and gay marriages are morally wrong and threaten social order. Summers claimed that people who violate mores norms are considered wicked and potentially harmful to society. Lastly, law norms are the strongest supported sanctions. As we all know people who violate laws are subject to sanctions, arrests, fines, and imprisonment (William, 1906).
According to Becker (1963), deviance does not lie in the behavior itself, but in the interaction with the person and the those react to it. Becker also introduces two types of deviant behaviors, obedient behavior and rule-breaking behavior. Individuals under obedient behavior conform to society by obeying rules are not perceived as deviant. Whereas individuals that are falsely accused are perceived as deviants. Individuals that are falsely accused normally occur in situation where procedural safeguards are not available. Individuals who break rules fall under rule-breaking behavior and considered to pure deviant or secret deviant. Improper acts that committed and observed are categorized as pure deviant and individuals who fall under this behavior are considered perceived as deviant. And individuals who commit improper acts and no one notice it or does not consider as deviant behavior. Becker claims being caught and being branded as deviant may have important consequences on ones further self-image or social participation.
In order to understand the consequences of deviant identity Hughes (1945), makes a comparison between master and auxiliary status. A master is anyone who that is certified and fulfills certain requirements. For example a lawyer must go to law school and pass the LSAT would be considered a master of his/her field. In the eyes of society a lawyer is considered intelligent, zealous, and can articulate cases. When the lawyer does not fulfill his/her master status then they are considered to be failures. The same process occurs with a person who labeled deviant. Once a person commits a deviant act people automatically consider many more negative traits will come about.
To prove that labeling leads to subsequent crimes theorist borrowed Merton's concept of self-fulfilling prophecy. Merton (1968), claimed the process of "self-fulfilling prophecy is a false definition of the situation inducing a new behavior which makes the original false conception true".
Weakness of the Theory
There are many critic of labeling theory the first is crime and how it affects society. According criminologist's crime was viewed as a violation of law. But criminologist failed to consider the causes and whether it stems from the offender or the environment. In order to further examine the causes of crime criminologist had to abandon their past theories that behaviors were criminal or deviant. (Becker, 1963; Erikson, 1966) claims what makes an act criminal is not the harm that's incurred, but whether the state conferred such label. In Becker (1963), coined term "moral entrepreneur" described individuals who lead campaigns to outlaw criminals. Many people believe that laws are needed to maintain social order, but Becker believes the individual's subsequent behavior is important thing to study is whether the innocent was falsely accused and exactly which individuals are being processed through the criminal justice system.
The second critic is the labeling. According to theorists in order for individual to receive a labeled they must to go through Becker's secondary deviance stage. In this stage the individual goes through a degradation ceremony and receives the label from the audience. But the theory does not take into account crimes that are committed but the individual is never caught. Theorists have found out criminal acts that are unnoticed does take away from act being committed or the person that committed the criminal act does not have to be publicly labeled but may label themselves.
Labeling theory claims to cover all aspects of criminal activity of all people no matter what nationality, ethnicity, social status, religion, and age. Although many research have proven this theory, criminologist fail to explain how each factors altered the effect of labeling theory. "Becker (1963), stated that FBI statistics is useless in measuring how much crime is really out there, but are useful is measuring class, race, and gender bias. Many theorist claimed that the system is only geared toward lower class which is where the majority of arrests and convictions occurs. Current studies only reflected actual behavioral and how each individual react towards the situation.
Strength of the Theory
There are various reasons why juvenile delinquents commit crimes. These crimes stem from poor family structure, poverty, or even peers influence in pursuit of attention or popularity. Other contributing factors include frustration, failure in school, neglect, easy access to guns, and drugs or alcohol. It is said that it takes a whole village to raise a child. Parents, society, the community and the government all play an important role and make an immense impact in a child's life. A recent study of legal stigmas found that individuals who are officially labeled lacked social status and were unable to find employment (https://law.jrank.org/pages/817.crime-causation-sociological-theories-labeling-theoryhtml). Due to these barriers, these individuals were more likely to be involved with law enforcement personnel. In a similar study, individuals with prior criminal records were treated differently, therefore providing more opportunities for them to transform their identities and become career deviants (https://law.jrank.org/pages/817.crime-causation-sociological-theories-labeling-theoryhtml).
According to Braithwaite, 1989, labeling increases crimes in some circumstances and reduces it in others. For instance, labeling increases crime when no effort is made to reintegrate the offender back into society but reduces the crime when the punished offender is reintegrated into society. Reintegrative Shaming Theory (RST) offers alternative outcomes as long as the act is being labeled and not the person.
McGrath (2009) interviewed 206 young offenders using a questionnaire immediately after their sentencing. The questionnaire measured the youth's perception of deterrence and whether they felt stigmatized or reintegrated by the experience of being sentenced. The questionnaire also measured the youth's background, including: their academic record, peer influence, and licit and illicit drug use. Braithwaite (1989) argues that labeling increases subsequent crime when no effort is made to reintegrate offenders back into society. Braithwaite claims labeling reduces crime when offenders are made to feel a sense of shame or guilt for what they have done, but are ultimately forgiven and reintegrated into conventional groups. In this particular setting, RST suggests that labeling inevitably occurs in a courtroom setting; those that are more stigmatized will reoffend and those feeling reintegrated will be less likely reoffend. Unfortunately, the RST had a partial effect because offenders felt that the court hearing and punishment were relatively fair. Researchers found the deterrence model had an effect on offenders future reoffending because of the sentence they might receive but did not find the severe punishment as a deterrent. The labeling theory found that those feeling stigmatized would be more likely to reoffend. In this particular study the deterrence and labeling theory were supported to the extent that the offender felt stigmatized and deterred and was from committing a future offense.
Harris (2006) tested RST and the emotions offenders feel once faced with social disapproval. The study was administered to 720 participants who recently attended a traditional court case or family group conference. Each participant was apprehended for driving over the legal alcohol limit in Australia. The participants were separated into two groups: participants who were required to attend court and participants who volunteered to attend a conference. The traditional court process usually involves a prosecutor reading the facts, a plea on behalf of the defendant, and sentencing.
Participants who were processed in traditional court were likely to be stigmatized because their focus was placed upon deciding and recording guilt as well as the punishment of individuals. Participants who attended the family group conferences included following: the offender, the offender's family, a community representative, and trained police officer to facilitate the process. The conferences discussed the offense, its consequences, and gave information about the dangers of drinking and driving.
The conferences normally last an hour-and half, whereas those processed in traditional courts only took seven minutes. The given study comparison between the court cases and family group conferences were consistent with expectations that restorative justice interventions would be reintegrative. The study concluded the way in which offenders managed feelings of shame would have an important impact on how they react to a future event (Harris, 2009). Ahmed, et al., (2005), indentified stigmatization as shaming by which a wrongdoer is treated disrespectfully as an outcast and as a bad person. Reintegrative shaming means treating the wrongdoer respectfully and empathically as a good person who has done a bad act and making special efforts to show the wrongdoer value after the wrongful act has been confronted. Restorative justice claims individuals who are unable to feel shame or feel remorse for harming others will be at greater risk of repeating the offense.
Ahmed (2003) further examines this by looking at two types of shame management: shame acknowledgement and shame displacement. Shame acknowledgement is an admission that what has happened is wrong and shameful, and involves expressing remorse, while shame displacement takes the form of blaming others for the wrong and expressing anger toward them.
Ahmed & Braithwaite (2005) found that RST did support less bullying in a school setting. Parent's utilization of both reintegrative shaming and shame acknowledgement was associated with less bullying in school. Interestingly the study concluded that parental forgiveness was strongly associated with less bullying than RST. The study concluded prevention measures can be used in certain setting and situations. For example bulling prevention is more associated with forgiveness and restorative justice.
Ttofi &Farrington (2008) tested RST by explaining the bullying of family members and peers in schools. Ttofi & Farrington tested whether parental relationship was related to children's expectations regarding the type of shaming received from their parents and whether the parental relationship was related to the way children manage their feelings. According to Braithwaite (1989), RST is way of communicating the shamefulness of crime without rejecting the person who committed the act. Shaming has a conscience building effect and can be used as powerful regulatory practice. From an early age, through either being the recipient of shaming or disapproving of other people's wrongdoing, the individual learns what is considered right and wrong in society and, hence, internalizes social norms (Braithwaite, 1989, p73). Conversely, disintegrative shaming is when the wrongdoer is not interested in acknowledging their shame or feeling remorse since they have already lost their status in the community. A culture with heavy emphasis on reintegrative shaming establishes a smoother transition between the socialization practices of the family and socialization in the wider society (Braithwaite, 1989, p 82). The RST tested whether parental bonding was related to children's expectations regarding the type of shaming they receive from parents; and whether parental bonding is the way children manage their feelings of shame. As a result, these two types of shaming have different effects on the way children anticipate managing shame. The RST was a great tool for researchers to understand the ways in which family factors are related to children's problem behavior (Ttofi & Farrington, 2008).
Losoncz & Tyson (2007) tested the casual model brought forward by RST (Braithwaite, 1989). The study examined expected delinquency, delinquent peers and familial process. They lacked support from the theory due to the conceptually weak measures of the major concepts of RST in some of the studies. Another weakness identified by Braithwaite was the failure to concentrate on the emotion of shame. Due to the challenges, the study tested the casual model by focusing only on individual level variables using survey methodology. With a recommendation from (Braithwaite & Braithwaite, 2001), researchers treated shaming, reintegration, and stigmatisation as three independent concepts. Measuring selected items led to Braithwaite's definition of shaming: shaming is defined as a societal process of expressing disapproval which the intention or effect of invoking remorse in the person being shamed and/or condemnation by others who become aware of the shaming' (Braithwaite, 1989, p100) In summary, the survey data did not find shaming to be independent of reintegration and stigmatisation as proposed by Braithwaite (2001). The final results support Braithwaite's original theory, which evaluated all shaming as either reintegrative or stigmatic.