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Impacts of Stereotyping on the Criminal Justice System

Shadows of Doubt: Stereotypes, Crime, and the Pursuit of Justice by Brendan O’Flaherty and Rajiv Sethi, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019; pp xi + 372, $27.95.

Labelling theories, which emerged in the 1960s and 1970s in criminological studies, emphasised that deviance is not an inherent category but a socially constructed one, whereby the majority communities or the “social audience” (Becker 1973) label the behaviour of minorities as deviant, which leads to how crime and criminals are defined. Tannenbaum (1938) first spoke about the labelling of criminals through a process of “tagging,” which led to their further criminalisation. Lemert (1951) introduced the concept of primary and secondary deviance. Everyone is a potential or a primary deviant, but the process of labelling, identifying, self-identifying, and “dramatisation of evil” by criminal justice agencies, media, and civil society leads to secondary deviance. Once labelled, the social stigma (Goffman 1963) as a consequence of the institutionalisation process makes it difficult to exit the system, and the person is forced to lead a life of crime. In this context, the stereotyping of communities on the basis of caste, class, gender, or race plays a significant role in the labelling process, and leads to the over-representation of minorities in criminal justice statistics and institutions.

Shadows of Doubt: Stereotypes, Crime, and the Pursuit of Justice, by Brendan O’Flaherty and Rajiv Sethi, makes an important contribution to the understanding of how stereotypes are implicated in the working of the criminal justice system in the United States, and how they have made an impact on social justice. The book makes a deep dive into the decisions made by offenders, victims, police, prosecutors, judges, and jurors on the basis of the limited information they have access to and under severe time constraints. It attempts to demonstrate, and with some degree of success, the role that stereotyping plays in making quick decisions as stakeholders try to commit, prevent, or punish crimes. The book starts with an introduction, followed by 12 chapters and ends with a conclusion chapter titled “Hope.”

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Updated On : 4th May, 2020

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