Do negative labels cause crime?  Or do people who commit crime become negatively labeled?  Are labels a cause of crime or a result?



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Posted on (Answer #1)

Both of these causal explanations have truth to them.

It is certainly true that people who commit crimes (and groups whose members are more likely to commit crimes) become negatively labeled.  For example, young men (particularly those who dress in certain ways) have been given negative labels because many of them do commit deviant acts.

On the other hand, for some individuals, the negative labels lead to the criminal activity.  Some individuals will get tired of being treated as criminals and will lash out against society by engaging in criminal behavior.  Others might be driven to crime if the labels assigned to their group make it hard for them to get good legitimate jobs.

For these reasons, we cannot say that the causation works in only one of these ways.  Both are actually true in some cases.

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