Document Type

Honors Project

First Advisor

Dr. Timothy Brazill

Degree Award Date

Fall 4-29-2023


Criminology | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


When a person is convicted of a crime, they are assigned the label of being a criminal. After their conviction, felons are punished for their actions, often through prison sentences, and once these sentences are completed, they are expected to reenter society. However, as described in Labeling Theory, the criminal label carries a social stigma that poses many challenges to successful community reentry. Society’s negative attitudes toward released felons are perpetuated by misguided policies based on the principles of incapacitation and retribution. As a result, criminal offenders are permanently marginalized and face restrictions on housing, employment, and other aspects of community involvement. These restrictions provide a barrier to successful community reentry, which many cannot overcome, leading to the high rates of recidivism and reincarceration of released felons that the recent crime statistics reflect. To assess the effects of labeling theory on a local population, a study was conducted in which 14 residents of Gemeinschaft Home, a local therapeutic transitional housing program in Harrisonburg, were interviewed. These individuals' responses indicated that they experienced the barriers to successful community reentry associated with the criminal label in a pattern similar to those that the criminological theories predict. These results indicate that, while large-scale reform is necessary to destigmatize the criminal label, smaller-scale efforts are possible and necessary to improve the chances of successful reentry and reduce the risk of recidivism.

Force Open Access


Included in

Criminology Commons