Stigma is implicated as a major barrier to the successful reintegration of criminal offenders into the community. However, research has yet to examine stigma from offenders'perspectives, and the mechanisms by which stigma leads to negative consequences for offenders are unknown. Research with other stigmatized populations shows that individuals'perceived stigma toward their group is linked to consequences such as poor mental health, unemployment, and poor community functioning through psychological processes (i.e. internalized stigma) and coping strategies (e.g. withdrawal, alienation). Further, research is beginning to show a link between perceived stigma and risk behaviors such as substance abuse and increased risk for HIV. Research and theory suggest that people vary in how they respond to stigma, creating variability in psychological and behavioral consequences of stigma. This project aims to test a comprehensive model of offenders'subjective experiences with stigma to determine how perceived stigma predicts post-release behavior including substance dependence, recidivism, mental health, employment, and community functioning. The proposed models are drawn directly from conceptual theories of stigma found in psychological research. This project will draw upon two existing longitudinal studies with jail inmates;one dataset has already been collected (N = 168) and the other is currently being collected (N 100). Inmates'perceived stigma prior to their release will be analyzed in relation to post-release variables. Several theoretically-driven mediators and moderators of this relationship will be analyzed. Specifically, this project will test the hypothess that perceived stigma predicts post-release outcomes through anticipated stigma;post-release outcomes are hypothesized to be negative when inmates think and cope in maladaptive ways after their release (e.g. social withdrawal), and positive when inmates think and cope in adaptive ways (e.g. stigma resistance). Additionally, this project will test the hypothesis that inmates come to anticipate stigma when they internalize their perceptions of stigma. This project will test whether this process varies as a function of inmates'race, optimism, shame-proneness, and social identity as a criminal. Findings from this study will identify multiple emotional and cognitive avenues of intervention that can be addressed in treatment services for offenders. These findings will not only identify how to prevent negative responses to perceived stigma (e.g. internalized stigma) and negative outcomes (e.g. substance abuse, recidivism, unemployment), but it will identify how to enhance positive responses to stigma (optimism, stigma resistance) and increase positive outcomes (e.g. psychological health, sobriety, prosocial community functioning). Ultimately, these findings will fill a substantial gap in the scientific literature o stigma, and will focus on offenders as an understudied, high-risk, stigmatized population. By identifying malleable variables that can inform correctional treatment and reentry services for offenders, this project's primary goal is to decrease criminal behavior and improve general community well-being.

Public Health Relevance

This project will investigate how offenders'perceived stigma predicts post-release drug use, crime, mental health, employment, and community functioning. By identifying stigma-related treatment targets, this project aims to enhance the community integration of offenders and reduce the burden of crime on society.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F31)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F16-L (20))
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Kahana, Shoshana Y
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George Mason University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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