• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

A critical evaluation of labelling theory.

Extracts from this document...


A critical evaluation of labelling theory. It is a common assumption in our society that the function of the criminal justice system is to punish wrong doers and dissuade them from repeating their actions. The result of this is that crime rates are reduced and criminals become rehabilitated back into society as good citizens. However one set of theorists that would contend this assumption strongly are labelling theorists. They believe instead that rather than diminishing criminal activity, the effect of the criminal justice system may have exactly the opposite result, by labelling offenders as 'ex-cons' or 'criminals' they may actually have the consequence of continuing and worsening the behaviour they aim to put a stop to. Labelling theorists argue that the criminal justice system can have a significant influence on causing deviant and criminal behaviour to continue. When people go through the justice system the very fact that they have now been given a label can result in their adherence to criminality, rather than curing them of the problem. Before labelling theory came into being, criminologists usually defined crime as 'behavior that violates criminal laws' (Lilly 2002: 106). However although this definition was useful in providing a rough guideline of what to look for when studying crime, it failed to take into account the many ways in which crime and criminality evolves over time, and the particular social circumstances that determine ...read more.


These stereotypes and false assumptions cause society to treat offenders differently, as if they have poor character (Lilly 2002: 112) or are likely to re-offend at any moment. This behaviour may seem sensible, as it is probably not a good idea to trust convicted thieves with your property, for example, however this type of treatment, according to labelling theorists, may precipitate the formation of the very type of criminal that people were afraid of in the first place. Becker suggests that this prophecy fulfilling process takes place by the negative label, such as 'criminal', 'junkie', 'rapist' becoming the individual's main method of public identification, to the exclusion of all other means. It is the 'master label' and secondary labels, which may even be positive, count for almost nothing. For example if someone is identified as being a 'father', a 'shopkeeper' a 'husband' and a 'murderer' it is perfectly obvious which label sticks in the mind of observers, even though this individual also owns a number of more positive labels they will tend be judged by the one negative 'master' label. (Becker 1963 in Lilly 2002: 112). The result of this labelling is that the individual will feel isolated from society and may turn to further offending as it may be their only option. ...read more.


(Sherman 1992 in Lilly 2002:115). All these critiques and empirical evidence seem to suggest that labelling theory still contains some holes. The mixed batch of results from some of the studies suggest that labelling theory does work in some cases falls short in others. The overall effect of labelling therefore still remains slightly unclear, possibly because researchers have not yet worked out the factors that determine crime levels in relation to state intervention via the criminal justice system. Further research would be invaluable to determine the full effect of other social factors on an individual's susceptibility to labelling, factors such as strength of bond to family and friends, social background and stage in criminal career. Once these have been studied in greater depth and further empirical evidence collected, it may be possible to make more general statements about labelling effects. (Lilly 2002: 115). Labelling theory attempts to deal with the extremely complex process of social reactions, and it appears that with more empirical evidence the effects of labelling could be better understood. There are certainly many other social factors that may be influential which labelling theory fails to take fully into account, and these may be very important in predicting which individuals will fall into criminal careers. It is likely that the criminal justice system and societal reaction do play a role in influencing this, however there are many other outside influences that also need to be taken into account when assessing this social phenomenon. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Machinery of Justice section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Machinery of Justice essays

  1. "If the Constitution is the source of governmental power, and the judiciary interprets the ...

    To do so again outside of exceptional circumstances would be unthinkable. When the executive and the Court came into conflict over the whole New Deal another congressional power was used by Roosevelt to affect a change in the courts thinking.

  2. Court Structure

    Alternatively the appeal may be based on the law, where the defendant argues that the court has misunderstood what the law requires for the offence in question. It is also possible for an appeal to be based on a mixture of fact and law.

  1. The Canadian Justice system towards aboriginal offenders

    only through lawyers and professionals seems very remote, unapproachable, and not connected to the kinship structure of aboriginal communities".6 One of the primary elements of cohesiveness within an aboriginal society is respect for the wisdom and expertise of the 'Elder'.

  2. Describe with the aid of examples, the authorities, representative bodies or persons that exercise ...

    way relating to or affecting the assets or the winding up of the company, on such terms as may be agreed, and take any security for the discharge of any such call, debt, liability or claim and give a complete discharge in respect thereof.

  1. Law - Piercing the corporate veil

    statutes or contracts, the court is not free to disregard the principle of Salomon v Salomon merely because it considers that justice so requires." There are further support from a recent case - Trustor v Smallbone and Introcom. In this case, Mr.

  2. Why do young people join gangs and other subcultures? How does a criminal sub ...

    * members have some common identity (often accomplished through gang names, symbols, colours, hand signs, and graffiti) * The group exhibits stability over time (a year or more) * The group members are involved in criminal activity. Esbensen suggests that the requirement of illegal activity is necessary to distinguish gangs from groups such as school and church clubs.

  1. Expert Testimony and Its Value In the Justice System

    Despite these decisions it remains unclear as to what level of expertise an expert must have and it is left to the judge or jury to decide what evidence is of worth and what isn?t. There are currently numerous different rules regarding the use of expert witnesses yet it is

  2. Policing Using New Technologies

    They were also found to be cheaper to maintain, ?These weapons save lives. We never said they were toys? (Scipione. A., 2012). Adverse effects were also observed with increased incidents of injuries and deaths due to their inappropriate use and the cases of abuses by police of firing them at

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work