Is Stigma a form of Social Injustice for Young Offenders?

Social justice is about the distribution of resources and opportunities within a society. Whilst many of you may think that there nothing you can do to stop social injustice, it is both the responsibility of society and individuals to contribute to a fair and just way of life (National Pro Bono Resource Centre 2011). One way you can promote social justice is through reducing the negative stigmatisation of young offenders.

Stigmatisation is a form of social injustice, occurring on both a societal and individual level. It is known as invisible stereotyping, which impacts all of us, whether you are black, white, male or female, each aspect of your intersectionality brings labels and assumptions. Goffman (1963) states that these labels are primarily used to discount a person’s credibility through highlighting their undesirable characteristics. Stigma not only impacts a person’s image, but impacts the likelihood of them living up to the label.

Figure 1:

“Hello, I am what you label me”

Labeling theory is a sociological approach, which explores the correlation between social labeling and crime (Bernburg 2010). This theory states that once individuals have been labelled criminals they are likely to live up to the label and take on a career in criminal acts (Australian Institute of Criminology 2011). This behaviour stems from the individuals new understanding of self and negative stigma from others (Bernburg 2010). Therefore, this theory states consistently calling someone a criminal greatly increases the likelihood of them becoming a criminal.
So , if we as a society stopped these labels, would crimes reduce?
I guess we’ll never know? However, the Australian Institute of Criminology (2011) has has stated that avoiding stigmatisation and labelling is a key principle in juvenile justice prevention in Australia.

Overall, stigmatisation is a social justice issue which starts with us, us as individuals and society. Stigmatisation of young offenders perpetuates a life of crime and other social injustices, such as the likelihood of obtaining employment, which will be discussed in my next blog post.


Australian Institute of Criminology. 2011. ‘Trends and issues in crime and criminal justice’, Australian Government Research and Knowledge Centre. No. 406. February 2011

Bernburg, J.G. 2010. ‘Labelling Theory’, in Handbook on Crime and Deviance, Springer Science and Business Media

Goffman, E. 1963. ‘Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity’, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall

National Pro Bono Resource Centre. 2011. ‘What is social justice?’, Occasional paper 1, Sydney: UNSW, pp. 2-15

Figure 1:

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