Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Criminal record stigma and emotion

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Criminal record stigma and emotion:
How does the stigma of having a criminal record affect a person's emotions?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Case study:

Jessica served 9 months in prison for assistance in a small robbery with her friend Kathy. After being released, both faced financial hardship and found it hard to obtain employment due to regular police checks being carried out. Both were discriminated against daily and personally felt feelings of disgrace. While Kathy didn’t cope well with this stigma, seen by falling back into old ways and social groups. Jessica found programs that could help with her situation and push her back on her feet. Now, Kathy has re-offended and will be going back to prison, while Jessica has found a stable job and will be putting her criminal past behind her.

A criminal record can stay with a person throughout their whole life, both physically and emotionally. Many employers carry out rigorous police checks and will not employ someone if they have a criminal record regardless of the crime. Judgement from others can cause feelings of worthlessness and therefore affecting their emotional state. Psychological disorders are abnormally common in current and former inmates, however they often go unchecked or are dismissed as a health consequence of being incarcerated (Schnittker et al., 2012). In particular mood disorders are often dismissed as a consequence of being incarcerated despite being more strongly related to disability than substance abuse and impulse control disorders (Schnittker et al., 2012). Due to the undiagnosed, and often plain neglect, of inmate psychological disorders, reintegration into society after release can be difficult, confusion and stressful (Schnittker et al., 2012).

A criminal offence can be broadly described as an action that is harmful and that warrants the punishment decided when processed through the Australian court system (Lanham, 2006).

Unemployment and crime rates show a distinct relationship, but as to which one effects the other more is still up for discussion. Does unemployment cause people to commit crimes or does having a criminal record and the stigma surrounding it cause unemployment?

This chapter is dedicated to explaining the emotional burden of a criminal record, the stigma surrounding it and, how it can be helped.

Focus questions:
  • Should all people who have committed a criminal act be subject to the same social stigma?
  • Should summary or minor criminal offences be wiped from records after a certain amount of time?
  • Can the stigma from having a criminal record cause people to reoffend,[grammar?] or work harder at rehabilitation?
Figure 1. Lifelong stigma associated with a criminal record.

What are the emotional effects of a criminal record?[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

What is emotion?[edit | edit source]

Where emotions stem from and how they effect our everyday life is a common question among researchers.

In psychology, emotion is often defined as a complex state of feeling, that results in physical and psychological changes that influence thought and behaviour. ("Overview of the 6 Major Theories of Emotion", 2019)

These feelings are responsible for happiness, sadness, anger and any other daily emotions we may experience.

They also determine how we feel when faced with the judgement of others, whether we cope accordingly and move on or crumble under this public scrutiny.

What is stigma?[edit | edit source]

Stigma is common among society and simply defined as “an attribute that is deeply discrediting” (Ahmedani, 2011). It is known as a disgraceful feeling that takes away from a persons character.

There are two prominent types of stigma, these are social and self stigma.

Social Stigma is often known as discrimination or the devaluation of others. It is common among society in regards to Race, Age, Religion and more, but is also commonly seen in the workforce towards ex-offenders.

Self-Stigma refers to the emotional concept of the self and how you devalue yourself. (Moore, Tangney & Stuewig, 2016) offers an explanation for this by implying that there are four stages of self-stigmatisation through a theoretical model:

  • Perceived stigma is the first stage of self-stigmatism which refers to the actions you expect from a group.
  • Stereotype agreement is the second stage and is when a person ‘agrees’ with the judgment made by members of the public.
  • Internalised stigma is the third stage and explains how when a person agrees with this general public judgement, and changes their self concept.
  • Anticipated stigma is the final stage and refers to the expected social judgement from the general public.

These two types of stigma can chip away at a person self esteem and in some cases cause the development of a psychological disorder[factual?].

Psychological disorders related to this stigma[edit | edit source]

Many people who have committed criminal offences suffer from a psychological disorder, but some disorders develop after being released from prison due to public stigma, discrimination within society, or self-stigma

Figure 2. Depressed

Major Depressive Disorder[edit | edit source]

(Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 2013), Symptoms can include:

  • Depressed mood most of day, nearly everyday
  • Diminished interest
  • Psychomotor agitation nearly everyday
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly everyday
  • Feeling of worthlessness or excessive inappropriate guilt
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

All of these symptoms are possible outcomes from public and/or self stigma. As these symptoms develop, the emotional state of mind of a person is damaged.

Substance/Medication Induced Depressive Disorder[edit | edit source]

(Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 2013), Symptoms can include:

  • A prominent and persistent disturbance in mood that is caused by substance use

Substance and alcohol abuse is more prevalent among people with a criminal record than those without ("Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, People in contact with the criminal justice system - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare", 2019), this disorder stems from said abuse and develops into a persistent depressive state.

Social Anxiety Disorder[edit | edit source]

(Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 2013), Symptoms can include:

  • Marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others.
  • Social situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety
  • Social situations are avoided

Social Anxiety can develop after being released from prison and facing the devaluation of others[factual?]. Avoiding social situations stops this disgraced feeling from others, but decreases self esteem at the same time.

Relevant theories[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Social identity theory[edit | edit source]

The social identity theory emphasises how the social group we choose to belong to changes how we see ourselves.

This theory relates to how criminal offenders often reside within a social group with similar members. Remaining in this group causes ‘criminal’ stereotypes and labels that can negatively affect an individuals'[grammar?] psychological well being, and self-concept.

Due to this discrimination towards a particular group, in certain circumstances social groups can be emotionally harmful.

Cruwys, Haslam, Dingle, Haslam and Jetten (2014)[grammar?] proposed that social groups play a crucial role in the development of depression, due to discrimination both within and outside the group.

After being released from prison, changing your social group can have a dramatic positive impact on emotional well being, as discrimination towards the individual is reduced and the risk of reoffending is lowered[factual?].

Appraisal theory of emotion[edit | edit source]

The appraisal theory of emotion explains how our interpretation of an event or stimulus determines how differently people will react. ("Theories of Emotion | Boundless Psychology", 2019)

For example, if a person goes into an event with a negative mindset, the event may result in negative feelings such as, anger, or sadness. The same happens for a positive mindset too.

When an ex-offender experiences social and self-stigma, the likelihood of perceiving events in a negative way increases. When going to either a social event or a job interview, these negative emotions dramatically affect the outcome and can develop into more depressing emotions[factual?].

When living with a criminal record, some everyday activities become much harder than usual (social events or employment). Without a support system, their emotional well being can be damaged.

Evolutionary theory of emotion[edit | edit source]

This theory proposes that emotions serve a purpose, they exist in order to alter how we respond when faced with stimuli in our environment. ("Overview of the 6 Major Theories of Emotion", 2019)

Although this refers to survival, it explains how quick responses are our first instinct, and are often right. For example, if you heard a hissing noise, you would feel fearful and run away from it, as such, if an ex-offender felt discriminated against or devalued they would remove themselves from the situation[say what?].

In this theory, emotions have a protective role and help with survival or in this case a better psychological well being.

Figure 3. Plutchik wheel[Provide more detail]

Other factors affecting emotions[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Self-schemas[edit | edit source]

Self-schemas are the ideas and beliefs we have about ourselves, they form our self-concept, and therefore can be harmed by self-stigma.

When our beliefs and ideas about ourselves are hindered by a feeling of disgrace, our self concept becomes damaged, along with our self esteem.

After being released from prison and ‘marked’ as a ex-offender, the understanding we have about our personality is changed and causes an uncertainty of who we are[factual?].

Stereotypes[edit | edit source]

A stereotype is used to define a group of people or social group with an over generalised term.

It overlooks the differences between individuals which in sum can cause harmful emotional effects.

When a stereotype is used for an ex-offender, such as ‘criminal’, this person may change their self concept and see themselves as a criminal.

A stereotype can easily become a term of devaluation and cause detrimental effects of a person’s psychological well being[factual?].

Discrimination[edit | edit source]

Discrimination refers to how a person is treated and if they are in a way that is less favourable than others.  This can be due to their race, age, disability, or any other personal characteristics. ("Discrimination | Australian Human Rights Commission", 2019)

Discrimination towards an ex-offender is most commonly seen within the workforce, and is a common cause of unemployment.

This inequity reveals how a criminal record is an emotional burden and causes loss of opportunity.

Figure 4. Prisoners.[Provide more detail]

Options after overcoming stigma[edit | edit source]

Case study:

Mr CG applied for a market analyst position in June 2009. He was short-listed for the position and was the preferred candidate. However, he was not ultimately offered the position and was told that he was not offered it because of his convictions: for “middle range” driving offences in 2001 and for a “low range” drink driving offence in 2008. The employer took the view that this record meant that Mr CG could not perform the inherent requirements of the position as market analyst. It should be noted that Mr CG had been employed in another capacity with RailCorp. The offences in 2001 and 2008 were not connected with or did not occur while he was at work, and they did not seem to have an impact on or be a concern to his employment during this previous period of employment. The appointed person under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act (AHRC) investigated Mr CG’s complaint and found: • driving did not form part of the duties of market analyst; • safety matters were not part of the services provided by that position to RailCorp; and • the inherent requirements of the job did not require the applicant to have not committed previous driving offences. Thus RailCorp was held to have discriminated against Mr CG in contravention of the AHRC Act. The recommendations in the AHRC’s comprehensive report were that RailCorp should: • compensate Mr CG by paying $7500 for hurt, humiliation and distress suffered by him; and provide training to staff involved in making employment decisions — that is, human resources and management staff — as prevention against further contraventions of the discrimination legislation in relation to criminal records. (Pittard, 2012)

Relevant Australian laws[edit | edit source]

Discriminating towards an ex-offender is not unlawful, but actions can be taken in order to resolve all complaints civilly and with each parties best interest in mind.

Although this discrimination is not against the law, there are some Act’s[grammar?] in place protect their rights, and privacy.

Australian Human Rights Commission Act[edit | edit source]

  • The Australian Human Rights Commission is where complaints for wrongful discrimination can be resolved.
  • This Act protects the rights of all people who are discriminated against, and decides where unlawful or unethical discrimination is present.

Spent Convictions Act[edit | edit source]

  • This Act aims to minimise the effects of a persons[grammar?] conviction on their life, depending on the offence and period of good behaviour.
  • After a crime free period is reached, this act regards the conviction as ‘spent’ and can be taken of their criminal record.
  • This act helps one time offenders who are facing social and self stigma, unemployment and the damaging effects of a criminal record.

Privacy Act[edit | edit source]

  • This Act aims to protect the privacy of all individuals and can be helpful in certain circumstances when court documents are sealed.
  • Although you must declare you have a criminal offence when applying for a job, this act helps to protect your privacy where it can.

Relevant programs in place[edit | edit source]

There are various programs that specifically help ex-offenders with finding employment in order to minimise discrimination as well as minimise the potential for re offending.

Some of the helpful programs in place are:

  • WISE employment
  • Second step
  • Community Restorative Program
  • Salvation Army Australia

Each program is different but all are aiming for the same goal to help reduce discrimination within the workforce.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

Topic Review: Quiz Time!

1 What psychological disorder is not likely to develop from the social and self-stigma surrounding a criminal record?

Major Depressive Disorder
Bipolar disorder
Substance/Medication induced Depressive Disorder
Social Anxiety Disorder

2 It is illegal to discriminate against a person with a criminal record


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

A criminal record can clearly have detrimental effects on a person psychological well being through both social and self-stigma. This stigma causes feelings of disgrace and can develop into a psychological disorder.

There are many factors affecting an ex-offenders state of mind, including stereotypes, harmful social groups and, self-schemas.

These stereotypes, and discriminatory actions harm a persons[grammar?] self-concept and leads to a damaged emotional well being.

Although it is not illegal to discriminate against an ex-offender due to their offences, there are laws in place to help the transition into society much easier and decrease the risk of re-offending.

When committing a criminal act, the risk of prison time, punishment and discrimination is well known. There are programs, and laws in place to help an ex-offender fully rehabilitate and make decisions for a better future. However, before making this decision, an ex-offender needs to overcome the social and self stigma they experience and mend their damaged psychological well being.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Ahmedani, B. (2011). Mental Health Stigma: Society, Individuals, and the Profession. NCBI. Retrieved from

Alcohol, tobacco & other drugs in Australia, People in contact with the criminal justice system - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2019). Retrieved 19 October 2019, from

American Psychiatric Publishing. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Arlington.

Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986. (2019). Retrieved 19 October 2019, from

Braithwaite, J., Chapman, B., & Kapuscinski, C. (1992). Resolving the Paradox. Unemployment And Crime, 1-57. Retrieved from

Cruwys, T., Haslam, S., Dingle, G., Haslam, C., & Jetten, J. (2014). Depression and Social Identity. Personality And Social Psychology Review, 18(3), 215-238. doi: 10.1177/1088868314523839

Decker, S., Ortiz, N., Spohn, C., & Hedberg, E. (2015). Criminal stigma, race, and ethnicity: The consequences of imprisonment for employment. Journal Of Criminal Justice, 43(2), 108-121. doi: 10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2015.02.002

Discrimination | Australian Human Rights Commission. (2019). Retrieved 19 October 2019, from

Discrimination in Employment on the Basis of Criminal Record | Australian Human Rights Commission. (2019). Retrieved 19 October 2019, from

Help, I Want to Work! Getting a Job After Prison. (2019). Retrieved 19 October 2019, from

Hogg, M. (2006). Contemporary Social Psychological Theories (pp. 111-113). Stanford, California: Stanford university press.

Lanham, D. (2006). Criminal laws in Australia (pp. 1-8). Annandale, N.S.W.: The Federation Press.

Mcleod, S. (2019). Stereotypes | Simply Psychology. Retrieved 19 October 2019, from

Moore, K., Stuewig, J., & Tangney, J. (2015). The Effect of Stigma on Criminal Offenders’ Functioning: A Longitudinal Mediational Model. Deviant Behavior, 37(2), 196-218. doi: 10.1080/01639625.2014.1004035

Moore, K., Tangney, J., & Stuewig, J. (2016). The self-stigma process in criminal offenders. Stigma And Health, 1(3), 206-224. doi: 10.1037/sah0000024

Overview of the 6 Major Theories of Emotion. (2019). Retrieved 19 October 2019, from

Pittard, M. (2012). Discrimination law: constraints on criminal record checks in recruitment. Employment Law, 1-5. Retrieved from

Privacy Act 1988. (2019). Retrieved 19 October 2019, from

Schnittker, Massoglia, M., & Uggen, C. (2012). Out and Down: Incarceration and Psychiatric Disorders. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 53(4), 448–464.

SparkNotes: Emotion: Theories of Emotion. (2019). Retrieved 19 October 2019, from

SPENT CONVICTIONS ACT 2000. (2019). Retrieved 19 October 2019, from

Theories of Emotion | Boundless Psychology. (2019). Retrieved 19 October 2019, from

Understanding Self-Schema in Psychology. (2019). Retrieved 19 October 2019, from

Zieger, A., Mungee, A., Schomerus, G., Ta, T., Dettling, M., Angermeyer, M., & Hahn, E. (2016). Perceived stigma of mental illness: A comparison between two metropolitan cities in India. Indian Journal Of Psychiatry, 58(4), 432. doi: 10.4103/0019-5545.196706

External links[edit | edit source]