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Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Dangers of Labeling, Elizabeth Berenguer Megale

The Dangers of Labeling
Elizabeth Berenguer Megale

            Principles of cognitive psychology teach us that labeling and categorizing objects is natural.  From the time language develops, the left brain tends to dominate right-brained activities and categorizes the world around us.  Children are encouraged to label objects through word-recognition books and exercises requiring them to choose the object that “doesn’t belong.” 

            To a certain extent, labeling and categorization are necessary to our very survival.  Daily, we must make snap decisions about the safety of our choices, and labeling helps us make those decisions quickly.  Labeling, however, can also interfere with our ability to truly live and assess the world around us because in the instant that we categorize something, we cease to “see” that something for what it truly is.  As a fundamental matter, this is why the “-isms” (sexism, racism, and others) are so dangerous and breed senseless hate.

            Let me give you an example of what I mean by “labeling.”  In her book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, Betty Edwards observed art students who struggled to draw a simple object, like an orange, when she placed the object on a table before the students.  One student remarked that she was looking at the orange, but that she could not see the orange.  What Edwards concluded was that the student failed to see the precise orange resting before her, rather the student was relying on a mental image of what an orange should be. 

Based on this conclusion, Edwards developed an exercise in upside-down drawing where students viewed the original drawing upside down and partially-covered.  This technique tricks the left-brain and prevents categorization of the object.  In turn, it permits the right-brain to assess the item for its true value.  In the context of a drawing, this means the artist begins to see the lines and negative space without identifying the object as a whole.  The end result is a nearly perfect and proportional replica of the original piece.

So, what does this mean in the context of criminal law?  If we accept the notion that crime is a construct, we can understand the potential dangers associated with the human tendency to categorize and label.  Basically, the more criminal laws that exist, the more individuals are likely to be caught in the cross-hairs and become labeled criminal.  Once labeled “criminal,” an individual is hard-pressed to overcome the stigma associated with the label because society ceases to see the person as a person; the person is now just a “criminal.”

If we focus on felons alone, we see that most jurisdictions disenfranchise convicted felons.  Thus, once labeled “felon” individuals lose the ability to participate in the political process in any sort of meaningful way.  Additionally, convicted felons often find it difficult to obtain employment because employers do not want a “criminal” working for them.  They also struggle to obtain suitable housing because landowners do not want a “criminal” living on their property. 

Other labels aside from “felon” exist.  In Florida, someone could be a Prison Releasee Reoffender, a Habitual Felony Offender, or a Habitual Violent Felony Offender.  These labels serve as a basis for seeking stricter and more severe punishment against these individuals.  Throughout the nation, anyone convicted of a sex-related crime may be required to register as a sex offender and thereafter labeled sex offender.  To an outsider, though, these labels all mean essentially the same thing: this person is really bad. 

When a society engages in a process of labeling individuals, it should continually question whether the labeling accomplishes any legitimate purpose.  Certainly, members of society as a whole may feel they are “safer” because they “know” who the “bad guys” are.  This premise is likely untrue, though.  First, if we take marginalized members of society who engage in bad behavior, punish that behavior, and later send them back into a society that no longer accepts them, we are necessarily encouraging worse behavior.  The label further marginalizes individuals who likely already struggled to find a place in society.  Therefore the labeling is likely to encourage more criminal behavior rather than less. 

As a society, our efforts would be well-spent studying the numerous causes of crime and potential responses to those causes.  Over time, increased punishment and permanent designation of individuals as criminals has failed to lower our crime rates.  Moreover, separating out individuals who have committed a crime by labeling them “criminal” seems counterproductive to our goals as a society.  Shouldn’t we want individuals to overcome their pasts, obtain gainful employment, and go on to live healthy and productive lives?  If so, we must eliminate any form of continued punishment associated with the label “criminal.”

Elizabeth Berenguer Megale
Assistant Professor of Law
Barry University School of Law
*References available upon request. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Domestic Abuse – “Clare’s Law”, Right to Ask, Right to Know or Not? Helen Grimbleby

Domestic Abuse – “Clare’s Law”, Right to Ask, Right to Know or Not?
 Helen Grimbleby

I have already written about “Clare’s Law” and at that time I was concerned that any implementation should be slow, measured and considered. On the subject of the law itself I was more or less agnostic.

As the Home Office launches its consultation I am writing this blog to consider the merits of the law in more detail by reference to learning from Child Sex Offender Disclosure Schemes here in the UK, “Sarah’s Law” and in the US “Megan’s Law”.

Child Sex Offender Disclosure Schemes

Sarah’s Law is based on the concept of “Right to Ask” which enables members of the public to request information from the police about a person who has contact with a child.

Megan’s Law is based on the concept of “Right to Know” which requires community notification and access to information about convicted sex offenders (generally through sex offender registry websites such as here). This right to know is much wider than Clare’s Law anticipates that the police would proactively disclose information on a potential abuser which is held on police records to the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC), who would then consider whether to disclose the information to a potential victim and other third-parties.


Sarah’s Law was subject to a controversial evaluation (here) examined in detail by David Wilson here whose conclusions are obvious in his StraplineThere is no evidence that the News of the World's 'naming and shaming' campaign protects children from predatory paedophiles.”

The NSPCC Study of 2006 find “Most states have very little evidence on the actual impact of community notification on their jurisdiction. Most of the understood benefits of the laws are based on assumptions about the nature of sexual offending and the behaviour of parents and community members. Such assumptions are rarely supported through research, but continue to legitimise the law for law enforcement workers and members of the public.”

·         There is currently no empirical evidence that community notification has had a positive impact on offender recidivism rates.
·         There is no evidence that community notification has resulted in fewer assaults by strangers on children.
·         There is currently very little monitoring of vigilantism against offenders. Although there are few known incidents of harassment, it is likely that these crimes are under-reported and under-recorded.
·         By focusing on a small number of known offenders, the system may detract attention from more common crimes such as intra-familial abuse, leaving parents and children vulnerable to abuse from people known to them.
·         There are conflicting reports about the extent to which members of the community will take measures to protect family members, and increase the surveillance of known sex offenders.
·         There is some evidence that victims of intra-familial abuse may be deterred from reporting crimes because of fears related to community notification.
·         Practitioners speak of the success of Megan’s Law in terms of increased use of risk assessments, better information-sharing and additional funding for treatment and surveillance. However, these practices are distinct from the community notification element for which there are no evidenced benefits.
·         The financial cost of implementing community notification is high.


The evidence in so much as it can be considered transferrable learning has highlighted for me the following concerns:
·         The risk of false positives for these issued which often remain hidden for years.
·         Risk of adverse impact on people’s willingness to report for fear of “suspected abusers” being put on a list or register
·         Cost – this is a big one. The costs in the US have burgeoned with no demonstrable impact for reducing the number of or harm to victims.

Helen Grimbleby
*Opinions are individual to the author. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Childhood Maltreatment and Difficulty with Peers. A.Smith

Childhood Maltreatment and Difficulty with Peers


In addition to the relationship between early childhood victimization and later violent behaviours, one may hypothesize that these two aspects may also increase the difficulity a person has with peers and adjustment which could further perpetuate stress and violent outbursts. For instance, Dahlberg and Simon (2006) found that youth who reported they had been frequently maltreated during childhood also had significant problems with their peers both during school and within the community. One reason for this peer rejection was because of the fact the rejected youth exhibited extremely antisocial and aggressive behavioural tendezcies. Dahlberg and Simon (2006) suggested that these maltreated youth were not only being rejected by their peers during adolescence, but the presense of a recurring event that has followed them throughout childhood. Being rejected by peers for many years not only increases aggression and the propensity towards violent outbursts, but it also creates difficulities with regards to adjustment.

Furthermore, problems with adjustment amongst youth who have experienced childhood abuse was also discussed years before in a study conducted by Galambos and Dixon (1984; as discussed by Straus, 1988). Galambos and Dixon (1984) found that adolescents who had experienced abuse since childhood exhibited serious adjustment problems when compared to control youth. Straus (1988) argued that youth who experienced abuse over a long period of time not only had difficulities with adjustment to new situations, but they also had ego deficits and demonstrated severe violent emotional and behavioural reactions. The impact early childhood victimization has on violent adjustment problems is important to consider when discussing the various adjustment problems youth have upon entering custody and the outcome of those adjustment problems on their violent behaviour towards other inmates. 

*References available upon request. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Violence in the Workplace and Domestic Abuse Pt1, Helen Grimbleby

Violence in the Workplace and Domestic Abuse Pt1
Helen Grimbleby

According to a joint study by Cardiff and Plymouth Universities published this week and reviewed in the press, 5% of the British workforce experience violence in the workplace with 3.8% being injured.

The reported message is that violence is more common than previously thought, yet these statistics do not surprise me at all.

Why – because 75% of domestic abuse victims are targeted at work.

Using the same workforce numbers as the report one could expect 10% of that number to represent a snapshot of current victims of domestic abuse in the workforce based on Devon County Council consultation 2004-2007 as reported here.

That’s a staggering 2 million victims in the workforce.

 If 75% of those victims are targeted at work then 1.5 million victims of domestic abuse are targeted at work. Not all of these incidents will be violent in nature but it is clear that domestic abuse must be a significant contributor to violence in the workplace.

It is important therefore that any policies on violence in the workplace must consider the particular issues which relate to domestic abuse.

Helen Grimbleby
*Opinions are individual to the author. 


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Childhood Maltreatment Linked to Adolescent Violent Offending, A. Smith

Childhood Maltreatment Linked to Adolescent Violent Offending

A. Smith

With an understanding of the impact of childhood victimization on later behavioural characteristics, it is of value to discuss the connection between these negative behavioural deficits and later adolescent behaviour. We will first discuss the characteristics that increase the potential for an individual to be considered an aggressor or defiant followed by a discussion of how childhood maltreatment can be related to what seems to be compliant characteristics.
As discussed in the piece about “The cycle of violence” Widom (1989,2002) asserted that youth who experienced early childhood maltreatment were not only more likely to be incarcerated earlier in adolescence, but they were more likely to committ twice as many offenses. In addition, she suggested “maltreatment or neglect in childhood increased the likelihood of being imprisoned to about 59% during adolescence and to 25% during adulthood” (as cited in Hosser et al., 2007:319).

With regards to an increased potential for developing delinquent behaviours, negative family dynamics and family violence can increase the manifestation of later delinquent behaviour. While discussing various studies regarding the impact of family dynamics on later delinquent behaviour, Dahlberg and Simon (2008) found that “a number of family characteristics increase the probability of involvement in violent and delinquent behaviour” (p.108). More specifically, they made reference to the Cambridge study by Farrington (2003) who found that poor parenting (including poor supervision, punishment, and authoritarian child-rearing perspectives) was one of the most significant predictors of later violent offending.

Similair to Dahlberg and Simon (2008), Shirk (1998) examinined the impact family violence could have on later violent behaviour and found that families categorized as aggressive, produced children with higher rates of adversive behaviour. Shirk (1998) made special reference to adversive behaviour of high frequency and concluded that “with threatening commands and negative physical behaviours such as hitting others…children were more aggressive and less compliant than control children” (p.72). In addition, Shirk (1998) noted that children who belonged to aggressive families often misbehaved more in their families than the control group.

In a more recent report conducted by Widom (2003), amongst a sample of individuals at the age of 33, the chances of being arrested during adolescence for a violent offence increased 96% with those individuals who reported experiencing childhood maltreatment. In addition, Vandergoot (2006) reported that the type of childhood maltreatment can affect the probability that an individual will committ a violent crime during adolescence. Overall, findings reported by Vandergoot (2006) suggested a combination of physical abuse, neglect, and also verbal abuse had the strongest impact on an individual’s later quality of life, and also propensity towards adolescent violent offending.

Other studies (Vandergoot, 2006; Hosser et al., 2007; Widom, 2003) also paid particular attention to the effect of previous childhood victimization on the development of later violent behaviour. For example, Vandergoot (2006) examined various studies and found within a sample of 11 to 17 year old males that there was a direct link between previous childhood maltreatment and later violent offending. In addition, Hosser et al. (2007) argued that childhood victimization and trauma play a “central role in the development and persistence of violence”  when compared to adolescents who had not experienced childhood victimization (p.318). These findings were supported by Widom (2003) who reported that maltreated children were 30% more likely to committ an act of violence later in life and further by Hosser et al. (2007) whose reults indicated that individuals who experienced frequent childhood victimization had a 33% increased likelihood of becoming frequent violent offenders. These results further strengthened the hypothesis that there is a relationship between early childhood victimization and the later manifestation of violent behaviours.

*References available upon request. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Doc Bonn's "Murder Mystery Challenge" starts now!

Doc Bonn's "Murder Mystery Challenge" starts now!

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