Survive vs. Thrive: Ex-Offenders Struggle to Overcome Stigma and Lead Conventional Lives

Tom LeBel, University at Albany
Michelle Naples, University at Albany

Despite the focus on America's massive prison building and incarceration crusade, the barriers that must be overcome by ex-offenders attempting to conform to society and not merely survive but to thrive upon release from prison, has remained largely unaddressed. The plight faced by ex-offenders as they reenter society can be examined within the framework of Goffman's (1963), Stigma: Notes on Management of Spoiled Identity. The current trend indicating a shift to increase the "discrediting" of ex-offenders through the symbolic restatement in legal terms that they are "the enemy" and that the stigma they bear is appropriate, suggests that many ex-offenders will be recycled through the system or at best lead menial and derelict lives. Specific manifestations of stigma, including the recent nationwide increase in civil disabilities (employment, criminal registration, and voting), essentially assign ex-offenders to a permanent subservient citizenship status. To assess the apparent increase in stigmatization, a series of interviews will be completed with recently released ex-offenders and an analysis of their perceptions and experiences conducted.

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Updated 05/20/2006