Juvenile Delinquency Social Labeling Theory Research Paper

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Social Labeling Theory: Juvenile Delinquency

Social labeling theory was originally developed by the theorist Howard Becker to explain why certain individuals believe that a path of crime will be more advantageous to them then following social norms. Becker suggested that criminals often internalize the label of deviancy at a young age, believing that since more conventional and positive labels cannot apply to them, celebrating deviancy is the only possible path to happiness and some form of social approval, even if approval only comes from fellow deviants. Labeled criminals come to believe this, not because they are innately wicked or have psychological problem but because people labeled as criminals are often from historically disadvantaged groups, such as discriminated-against minorities, the poor, and those denied the advantages of education (“The Labeling Theory of Crime”).

Labeling theory also suggests that society is unwilling to label certain groups of people who do commit crimes because they come from privileged backgrounds. Although white-collar crime can generate significant social harms, such as when short-selling and other forms of questionable speculation resulted in the stock market crash of 2008, white collar criminals are less likely to be labeled as belonging to a deviant class, particularly if they are affluent, educated, and involved in prestigious professions such as banking. Deviancy, including juvenile delinquency, is thus the result of social labeling. The effects of the crime are less important than the way the crime is viewed. According to Becker himself: “Deviancy is not a quality of the act a person commits, but rather a consequences of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an ‘offender’. Deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label” (“The Labeling Theory of Crime”).

An interesting contrast may be made between financial crimes, which often get relatively minor punishments, and so-called status offences of juveniles, which are often severely punished. Status offenses are crimes which are solely crimes because they are committed by an individual with a certain status—in the case of a juvenile, a certain age-based status. These may include loitering after an imposed curfew, not attending school, drinking alcohol, or running away from home. Individuals who engage in these actions are labeled deviant, even though adults can perform such actions without receiving such a label. Being labeled as such can have a permanent, negative effect on the convicted juvenile’s life; even though juvenile records are expunged, the process of coming into contact with the legal system can result in self-labeling as deviant and ultimately to pursue a life of more serious, non-status based offenses.

Status offenses are also more apt to be prosecuted and prosecuted severely against certain groups of juveniles. “Of these youth in residential placement, 1,060 (47.3%) were White as compared to 736 (32.9%) Black, 228 (10.2%) Hispanic, and 95 (4.2%) American Indian youth” (“Disproportionate Minority Contact and Status Offenses,” 2). Youth of color are disproportionately more likely to be placed in residential treatment, while white youths are more apt to be returned home, based upon the assumption that the crime was simply youthful acting out and a normal part of adolescence. In other words, drinking by a white youth is labeled harmless experimentation, while drinking by an African-American youth is labeled a gateway drug to more serious abuse, even though the crime is the same.

Again, severer punishment, according to labeling theory, is more apt to result in internalizing the deviant label. Regardless of race, “there is significant evidence that some youth charged with status offenses are in the most benign of circumstances, just young people being young people, acting out in ways that are consistent with their age and stage of development,”…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

“Disproportionate Minority Contact and Status Offenses.” Coalition for Juvenile Justice. Web. 7 Apr 2018. http://www.juvjustice.org/sites/default/files/resource- files/DMC%20Emerging%20Issues%20Policy%20Brief%20Final_0.pdf

Fantz, Ashley. “Outrage for six-month sentence for Brock Turner in Stanford rape case.” CNN. 6 Jun 2016. Web. 7 Apr 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2016/06/06/us/sexual-assault-brock-turner-stanford/index.html

“The Labeling Theory of Crime.” Revise Sociology. 20 Aug 2016. Web. 7 Apr 2018. https://revisesociology.com/2016/08/20/labelling-theory-crime-deviance/

Shepherd, Robert. “Plea Bargaining in Juvenile Court.” Criminal Justice, 23 (3): 1-3 Web. 7 Apr 2018. https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/criminal_justice_section_newsl etter/crimjust_cjmag_23_3_shepherd.authcheckdam.pd

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