How Stigmas Affect Reentry

By Erika E. – Criminal Justice Intern

Repeatedly, stigmas surrounding certain people, groups, races, and religions have shaped other’s images of them to be predisposed to prejudice and judgement. Sociology dictionary defines a stigma as “The social phenomenon or process whereby individuals that are taken to be different in some ways are rejected by the greater society in which they live based on that difference.” Individuals with justice involvement face this same disposition from society. This issue of social stigmas is very harmful to the rehabilitation of individuals with justice involvement for many reasons. According to the United States Department of Justice, more than 650,000 ex-offenders are released from prison each year. Before an individual is released from prison, society has already made their mind up about who these people are, and not who they are as individuals.

Everyone has their own story, coming from diverse backgrounds, and because of the stigmas surrounding the term “felon,” they are all categorized as one. Stigmas affect individuality, opportunities of employment and social interactions, as well as one’s mental health. These effects lead to a reluctance to reach out for help/seek treatment, negative feelings about oneself, as well as rejection from close friends/family members and the community. The stigmas surrounding felons leave these individuals fighting for social justice in ways that are out of their control.

Social justice is “the phenomenon whereby an individual with an attribute that is deeply discredited by his/her society, is rejected as a result of the attribute. Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity.” (Goffman, 1963). “Felons” are deprived of opportunities, viewed as less than equal in society, and treated poorly due to the attitudes and values of another person. The way society views and treats ex-felons sets these individuals up for failure.

The criminal justice system is made up of different components that all play a crucial role in the way society functions. Policing, courts, and corrections are the three principal components which carry distinct roles and responsibilities. While these all differ in the way they focus on law and deal with criminals and crime, each part is equally as essential to achieving the goal of justice. Duhaime Law defines justice as, “the paramount obligation to ensure that all persons are treated fairly.” Justice stems from fairness and equality, however there is nothing just, fair, or equal about the treatment of ex-convicts once released from incarceration. If justice is the goal to be achieved in the criminal justice system, why does justice stop for individuals who are trying to become a part of society after being incarcerated?

The United States Department of Justice delineates that over 10,000 ex-prisoners are released from America’s state and federal prisons every week and arrive on the doorsteps of our nation’s communities. Justice stops for those individuals the second they walk out those cell walls. Criminal justice systems are founded on the concept of justice so why leave the individuals who need it most stranded? Biased opinions, being denied equal employment and housing, as well as lack of resources are just a few of the examples of how ex-convicts are not represented in the goal of justice. The stigmas surrounding felons’ affects imperative opportunities to ensure success when reentering society.