Normalization and legitimation: Modeling stigmatizing attitudes toward ex-offenders

Paul J. Hirschfield, Alex R. Piquero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Scopus citations


Successful community reentry and the criminological impact of incarceration may depend in part on the attitudes (and consequent reactions) that prisoners encounter after release. Theories of social stigma suggest that such attitudes depend, in turn, on the levels of familiarity with the stigmatized group (the normalization thesis) as well as on the credibility and trust they accord to sanctioning agents (the legitimation thesis). To assess these two hypotheses, we present the first multivariate analysis of public attitudes toward ex-offenders. Data from a four-state, random-digit telephone survey of more than 2,000 individuals indicate that, net of controls, personal familiarity with ex-offenders may soften attitudes, whereas confidence in the courts may harden them. As expected, non-Hispanic Whites, conservatives, and southern residents hold more negative views of ex-offenders. Our findings lend indirect support to concerns that incarceration is becoming " normalized" , and we suggest strategies for reducing the stigma of incarceration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-55
Number of pages29
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


  • Ex-offenders
  • Incarceration
  • Prejudice
  • Punitiveness
  • Stigma

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