Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Criminal record self-stigma and motivation

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Criminal record self-stigma:
How does self-stigma affect the motivation of people with a criminal record to rehabilitate and reintegrate?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Differing from social stigma, self-stigma can be defined as the internalised devaluation of the self due to identification with any particular stigmatised group (Lillis, Luoma, Levin & Hayes, 2010). This means that if an individual considers themselves to be a part of a marginalised group, they may be liable to adopting and internalising the societal attitudes directed towards the group. The theoretical model of self-stigma may offer a clear and concise explanation of self-stigmatisation and demonstrate how self-stigma is formed (Moore, Milam, Folk & Tangney, 2018). Self-stigmatisation is grossly apparent among formerly incarcerated populations, with research consistently reflecting this. This self-stigma negatively impacts the motivation of ex-offenders to rehabilitate and reintegrate into society after release (Gideon, 2009).

Control trial

A randomised controlled trial conducted by Moore and Tangney (2017), examined a sample of 197 male inmates, assessing their anticipated stigma multiple times throughout the longitudinal study. The participants were assessed during incarceration and followed up 12 months after release, with consideration to race as a factor. The study showed those who had anticipated stigma before release, were more likely to socially withdraw post-release, resulting in poor community adjustment and eventually mental health-related issues. Notably, effects were much more prominent in the white participants, as black participants'[grammar?] were believed to have better developed stigmatization coping mechanisms due to exposure to racial stigma.

The nature of studies like the one prior mentioned, have drawn warranted attention to the issue of self-stigma on criminal offenders, and it's role in hindering the rehabilitation and reintegration motivation of those affected. It leaves room to contemplate the following questions:

  1. What is self-stigma?
  2. How does self-stigma influence motivation to rehabilitate and reintegrate?
  3. How can self-stigma affect mental health?
  4. How can those belonging to marginalised groups overcome self-stigma?

Life after prison[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Once the gavel has been dropped and sentencing is in place, the repercussions for criminal offenders are life-long.

Ex-offenders are considered one of the most stigmatised, marginalised social groups in our society (Moore, Milam, Folk & Tangney, 2018). With highly regulated restrictions placed on every facet of their acquit lives, it can be challenging for an ex-offender to find housing, employment, education opportunities or engage in community involvement, generally resulting in an arduous journey to successful rehabilitation and reintegration (Ispa-Landa & Loeffler, 2016). Often, ex-offenders are expected to meet strict parole requirements, have enforced curfews and must agree to be fully transparent to the government regarding their objectives and actions. This can make an individual feel stripped of their identity, posing an extreme threat to one's self-efficacy and often provoking social withdrawal (Moore, Tangney & Stuewig, 2016). It can be argued that perhaps the most detrimental and permanent consequence of prison, is the internal damage to an individual's self-concept and the indisputable difficulty to overcome the self-stigma that is linked with a criminal record (see Figure 1).

Theoretical model of self-stigma[edit | edit source]

The model of self-stigma (see Figure 2.) as introduced by Moore, Milam, Folk and Tangney (2018), suggests that there are four stages in the process of self-stigmatisation. These researchers were influenced by others (Corrigan, Rafacz & Rüsch, 2011), who also contributed towards establishing the terminology and processes associated with self-stigmatisation. The model proposes that the process begins with perceived stigma, moving into stereotype agreement, internalised stigma and then finally anticipated stigma. If each of the steps in the process take place for an individual, self-stigmatisation will occur.

Figure 2. Theoretical Model of Self-Stigma in flow chart as proposed by Moore, Milam, Folk and Tangney.

Perceived stigma[edit | edit source]

Perceived stigma is the first prospective stage of self-stigmatisation and the term refers to the expected perception of a marginalised group. For instance, an ex-offender may perceive that other's[grammar?] will hold a negative stereotype against their 'group' (those with criminal records). Common public stereotypes of criminals may be unintelligent, devious and dangerous. Perceived stigma, even among non-correctional group's members, has been linked with unemployment, depression, poor social functioning, negative coping styles and lower likelihood of seeking treatment (Moore, Stuewig & Tangney, 2013), however, at this stage in the self-stigma process, it is still possible that the effects will not be psychologically detrimental and not always lead into stereotype agreement (Moore, Milam, Folk & Tangney, 2018).

Stereotype agreement[edit | edit source]

This is the second stage of self-stigmatisation and it involves the marginalised group member agreeing with the public judgements of their group, resulting in stereotype agreement. Stereotype agreement still has relatively innocuous effects as one can agree with the stereotype of a group without associating themselves with that group (Moore, Milam, Folk & Tangney, 2018). (i.e., a criminal offender may agree that criminals are dangerous but doesn't consider themselves a 'criminal' as such).

Internalised stigma[edit | edit source]

Internalised stigma is an extension of stereotype agreement, once a person has agreed that the stereotype is an accurate reflection of their group, they then internalise and accept that this is a true reflection of the self. The internalisation of stigma has been researched in many different contexts, including the LGBT community and has proven to have a profound negative impact on mental health. For example, in analysing their gay and lesbian study participants, Longares, Escartín and Rodríguez-Carballeira (2016), found a correlation between high rates of internalised stigma and depression/susceptibility to depressive episodes.

Anticipated stigma[edit | edit source]

Once the stigma has been internalised, anticipated stigma often occurs. Anticipated stigma is the expected perception of social judgement. However, rather than that of the marginalised group as a whole, it focuses on the self. Once the beliefs of societal judgements have been accepted and internalised for an individual's group, it will be accepted on a personal level (Moore, Stuewig & Tangney, 2013). Anticipated stigma has been linked with depression and anxiety, furthermore, it has been closely linked with lack of motivation, inducing the "why try" effect[factual?].

Case Study:

Joanne (19) grew up in an underprivileged household, with a single mother who could barely make enough money to cover their rent. She had never partaken in any illegal activity before and considered criminals to be scary, but in order to help her mother financially, Joanne turned to the illegal act of selling cocaine. She was caught dealing the illicit drug, arrested and subsequently sentenced to 4 years in prison. She had a perceived stigma that criminals were dangerous and untrustworthy, during her time in prison she met many fellow inmates who fit this criteria, provoking her to agree with the common criminal stereotype. Over her 4 year sentence, Joanne began to accept that she belonged to the group of fellow criminals, causing her to internalise this stigma. Once she was nearing the end of her sentence, she began to worry about what the general society were going to think of her outside of prison, anticipating that people would no longer like or trust her. Upon release, Joanne struggled to find work, as prospective employees were not interested in hiring her due to her criminal record. Joanne quickly became unmotivated to continue to seek employment due to her self-stigma and turned back to selling cocaine to earn an income.

Quiz time!

Which of the following options is NOT included in the theoretical model of self-stigma?

Perceived stigma
Stereotype agreement
Internalised stigma
Externalised stigma
Anticipated stigma

Role of motivation in rehabilitation and reintegration[edit | edit source]

As aforementioned, self-stigma has a direct negative impact on motivation to rehabilitate or reintegrate among those affected. This has been researched not only in criminal offender contexts, but also among other marginalised groups such as suicide survivors, where self-stigmatisation directly diminished motivation to recover (Sheehan, Oexle, Dubke, Wan & Corrigan, 2018). The psychological underpinning of motivation can be better explained with theoretical framework such as the "why try" effect.

What is motivation?[edit | edit source]

The word motivation was derived from the Latin word "movere", meaning "to move". The underlying question of motivation is perhaps what makes us move? Jang, Conradi, McKenna and Jones (2015) attributed the following concepts to comprise and affect general motivation:

Concept Practical Application
Attitude What is the attitude towards rehabilitation?
Interest Level of interest in merging back into society
Value Measure of value placed on reintegration into general society
Self-efficacy Perception of ones own capability to successfully reintegrate
Self-concept Question of self worth - do I deserve to be socially accepted?
Goal Have goals been set in place for attempting to achieve rehabilitation?

These factors all play a part in the strength of motivation in individuals and can each be applied when considering ex-offenders desire or perceived ability to reintegrate and rehabilitate.

The "why try" phenomenon[edit | edit source]

The "why try" effect is a term that was coined by Corrigan, Bink, Schmidt, Jones & Rüsch (2015). It is a psychological phenomenon which endeavours to explain the link between self-stigma, self-respect and motivation which found self-stigma to have consequences both emotionally and behaviourally. Self-stigma inflicts an internal domino effect, beginning with self-stigma, inducing low-self esteem, which subsequently causes low confidence, resulting in low self-efficacy. Thus begins an internal dialogue consisting of questions like "am I worthy?", "am I capable?" and "why should I bother trying?".

Quiz time!

Which of the following factors negatively affect motivation to rehabilitate and reintegrate?

Socioeconomic status
Goal making

Increasing motivation to rehabilitate and reintegrate[edit | edit source]

So, now we know what causes ex-offenders to lose motivation to reintegrate back into society, what can be done to overcome it and how can we combat the "why try" effect?

Education in prison[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. a prison education classroom in the US

The power of education must not be overlooked in this context. Education is commonly linked to a successful life beyond release, with plenty of research reflecting that education undertaken whilst in prison lowers criminogenic attitudes and positively influences self-perception (Baranger, Rousseau, Mastrorilli & Matesanz, 2018). A study conducted by Evans, Pelletier and Szkola (2017), investigated education as a resolution to the self-stigma barrier in ex-offenders. The researchers found that education enhanced the prisoner's sense of empowerment and encouraged motivation to combat the negative influence of self-stigma. Whilst not attributing education to be the sole solution to self-stigma in ex-offenders, the researchers certainly conclude that education plays a powerful role in perception of self and provides individuals with the tools necessary to accurately self reflect to overcome self-stigma related issues (see Figure 3). Furthermore, education programs undertaken by individuals whilst in prison have been found to promote lower recidivism rates and higher rates of employment upon release (Mohammed & Mohamed, 2015).

Peer support[edit | edit source]

Separate from education, two other noteworthy approaches to diminishing self-stigma are peer support and disclosure programs (Corrigan, Bink, Schmidt, Jones & Rüsch, 2015). This is referring to prisoners helping one another to overcome possible threats to self-perception and can be achieved through group work both pre and post-release. Research confirms that group therapy forms a supportive environment which will allow it's group members to access to peer support, leading to an increased level of self-esteem, lower self-stigma and eventually, better quality of life (Wu, 2011). Some peer support networks formed in prison have continued outside of incarceration and proven to increase post-release success, providing leadership and coping skills (Collica, 2010).

Quiz time!

Education and peer support pre and post-release, has been found to influence which of the following:

Criminal recidivism rates
Employment rates
Personal empowerment
All of the above

Did you know?

In 1998 Honolulu County enforced a legislation called "Ban the Box", which prohibited employers to do criminal record checks when considering candidates. The law saw a 57% drop in repeat offences (D’Alessio, Stolzenberg & Flexon, 2014).

Support for criminal offenders[edit | edit source]

Figure 4. the Red Cross organisation can help those affected

Whilst support options for criminal offenders are scant, particularly in Australia, there are still some non-for-profit organisations that are working hard to offer help and prompt change. The Red Cross (see Figure 4) organisation in Australia, offers prisoner support programs aiming to help the transition involved in prison release. Additionally, they offer programs to young people believed to be at-risk for imprisonment or detention and offer support groups for families dealing with the stigma of having a loved one incarcerated.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Post-release life for ex-offenders is challenging, complicated and wrought with social and psychological barriers. The theoretical model of self-stigma allows for a better understanding of how perceived stigma can develop, through multiple stages into self-stigma. Self-stigma is proven to have a negative impact on levels of motivation and in worst case scenarios, can provoke the "why try" phenomenon, diminishing motivation within ex-offenders to rehabilitate and reintegrate post-release. In order to prompt change among these communities and reduce criminal recidivism, it is important to offer appropriate support networks to these marginalised groups. Support may include education programs offered in prison and post-release education opportunities. Furthermore, an emphasis must be placed on the importance of group therapy and encouragement of peer support networks among ex-offenders. It is through these means that it may be possible for ex-offenders to combat and decrease effects of self-stigma, positively affecting motivation to rehabilitate and reintegrate port-release.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Baranger, J., Rousseau, D., Mastrorilli, M., & Matesanz, J. (2018). Doing Time Wisely: The Social and Personal Benefits of Higher Education in Prison. The Prison Journal, 98(4), 490-513.

Collica, K. (2010). Surviving Incarceration: Two Prison-Based Peer Programs Build Communities of Support for Female Offenders. Deviant Behavior, 31(4), 314-347.

Corrigan, P., Rafacz, J., & Rüsch, N. (2011). Examining a progressive model of self-stigma and its impact on people with serious mental illness. Psychiatry Research, 189(3), 339-343. doi:

Corrigan, P., Bink, A., Schmidt, A., Jones, N., & Rüsch, N. (2015). What is the impact of self-stigma? Loss of self-respect and the “why try” effect. Journal of Mental Health, 25(1), 10-15.

D’Alessio, S., Stolzenberg, L., & Flexon, J. (2014). The Effect of Hawaii’s Ban The Box Law on Repeat Offending. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 40(2), 336-352.

Evans, D., Pelletier, E., & Szkola, J. (2017). Education in Prison and the Self-Stigma: Empowerment Continuum. Crime & Delinquency, 64(2), 255-280.

Gideon, L. (2009). Drug Offenders’ Perceptions of Motivation. International Journal Of Offender Therapy And Comparative Criminology, 54(4), 597-610.

Ispa-Landa, S. and Loeffler, C. (2016). Indefinite punishment and the criminal record: stigma reports among expungement-seekers in Illinois*. Criminology, 54(3), pp.387-412.

Jang, B., Conradi, K., McKenna, M., & Jones, J. (2015). Motivation. The Reading Teacher, 69(2), 239-247.

Lillis, J., Luoma, J., Levin, M., & Hayes, S. (2010). Measuring Weight Self-stigma: The Weight Self-stigma Questionnaire. Behaviour and Psychology, 18(5), 971-976.

Longares, L., Escartín, J., & Rodríguez-Carballeira, Á. (2016). Collective Self-Esteem and Depressive Symptomatology in Lesbians and Gay Men: A Moderated Mediation Model of Self-Stigma and Psychological Abuse. Journal of Homosexuality, 63(11), 1481-1501.

Mohammed, H., & Mohamed, W. (2015). Reducing Recidivism Rates through Vocational Education and Training. Procedia - Social And Behavioral Sciences, 204, 272-276.

Moore, K., Stuewig, J., & Tangney, J. (2013). Jail Inmates’ Perceived and Anticipated Stigma: Implications for Post-release Functioning. Self and Identity, 12(5), 527-547.

Moore, K., Tangney, J., & Stuewig, J. (2016). The self-stigma process in criminal offenders. Stigma And Health, 1(3), 206-224.

Moore, K. & Tangney, J. (2017). Managing the concealable stigma of criminal justice system involvement: A longitudinal examination of anticipated stigma, social withdrawal, and post-release adjustment. Journal of Social Issues, "73"(2), 322-340.

Moore, K., Milam, K., Folk, J., & Tangney, J. (2018). Self-stigma among criminal offenders: Risk and protective factors. Stigma and Health, 3(3), 241-252.

Sheehan, L., Oexle, N., Dubke, R., Wan, H., & Corrigan, P. (2018). The Self-Stigma of Suicide Attempt Survivors. Archives of Suicide Research, 1-14.

Wu, L. (2011). Group integrative reminiscence therapy on self-esteem, life satisfaction and depressive symptoms in institutionalised older veterans. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 20(15-16), 2195-2203.

External links[edit | edit source]

  • YouTube video - TED Talk on overcoming self-stigma
  • YouTube video - Researcher Devah Pager explaining her field experiment investigating criminal records stigma in employment seeking process
  • YouTube video - Example of prison education program in the US
  • VICE article - Exploring modern technology that puts ex-offenders in touch with willing employers
  • TV show on Netflix - "When They See Us" focuses on wrongly convicted youth and their journey to reintegration post-release