A mark of disgrace or a badge of honor? Subjective status among former inmates

Jason Schnittker, Valerio Bacak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Using the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, this study explores the effects of incarceration on the subjective status of men, based on the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Social Status (or the "ladder"). The study makes several crucial distinctions. First, it distinguishes subjective status in one's community and subjective status in the United States generally, thereby exploring differences between the local and global meanings of incarceration. Second, it distinguishes crime, arrest, and incarceration, thereby exploring the added effects of contact with the criminal justice system, apart from offending. The results reveal that contact with the criminal justice system results in progressively lower status: those who committed a crime report lower subjective status than those who did not, those who were arrested report lower status than those who only committed a crime, and those who were incarcerated report lower status than those who were only arrested. Although these differences along the crime-to-sentencing continuum are strong, the effects of crime, arrest, and incarceration are, if anything, even stronger among African Americans than whites. The results also suggest that the effects of incarceration are similar to-if not greater than-those of other stigmatizing statuses, including having spent time in a psychiatric hospital. The effects of arrest and incarceration are not driven entirely by the social or economic consequences of incarceration, although these consequences further deflate subjective status among former inmates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)234-254
Number of pages21
JournalSocial Problems
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Incarceration
  • Ladder
  • Race
  • Stigma
  • Subjective status


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