Protection or Punishment: Labeling Girls and Correctional Outcomes

Venezia Michalsen, Women's Prison Association

Traditional ideas about sentencing assume that offense severity is the most iimportant factor in predicting sentencing outcomes. This view, however, overlooks the role of labeling in judicial decision making. Labeling theory says that the imposition of an official "delinquent" label and the application of sanctions increases an individual's involvement in delinquent behavior. In addition, we can expect labeling to play an important role int he way that judges view girls who come before them because labeled (secondary) delinquents would be viewed as more deserving of harsher sentences than those (primary) delinquents who come before the judges without the label. This paper addresses the relationship between judges' propensity to label female juvenile offenders and the subsequent sentencing outcomes intheir cases. In particular, the rulings of Family and Supreme Court judges are considered in order to determine if their practices and perspectives involving female juuvenile offenders are influenced by their perception that the girls before them are primary or secondary deviants. Particular attention is paid to assessing whether judges who view girls as secondary deviants limit their consideration for sentencing to the offense and apply more traditional sentences than judges who view girls as primary deviants.

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Updated 05/20/2006