A Longitudinal Model of Internalized Stigma, Coping, and Post-Release Adjustment in Criminal Offenders

Kelly Moore

Major Professor: June P Tangney, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Jerome Short, Eden King

David King Hall, #2013
May 27, 2015, 09:30 AM to 06:30 AM


Upon conviction and incarceration, individuals receive the stigmatizing label “criminal offender.” Criminal offenders are exposed to stigma after being released from jail or prison, with laws that marginalize them from community participation (Pogorzelski et al., 2005) as well as stereotypes/discrimination from community members (Hirschfield & Piquero, 2010). One consequence of this experience is that stereotypes about criminal offenders may be internalized and integrated into the self-concept, a phenomenon known as self- or internalized stigma. In various stigmatized groups, internalized stigma predicts more mental health problems (Livingston & Boyd, 2010), longer duration of alcohol dependence (Schomerus et al., 2011), and poor occupational functioning (Yanos, Lysaker, & Roe, 2010).  It is likely that internalized stigma occurs in criminal offenders and impacts their functioning, but this has yet to be examined. Drawing upon a sample of 111 jail inmates, two studies were conducted to examine a comprehensive model of internalized stigma and its relation to subsequent behavioral problems in the understudied population of criminal offenders.

Study 1 evaluates a theoretical model of how internalized stigma occurs in criminal offenders, drawing upon Corrigan and colleagues’ (2006) mediational process in which perceived stigma leads to stereotype agreement and then to internalized stigma. I extend this process by proposing that anticipated stigma occurs as a result of internalized stigma. Study 2 is an extension of Study 1, examining a theoretical model of how anticipated stigma predicts a range of behavioral outcomes longitudinally. Theory (Link et al., 1989) suggests that anticipated stigma impedes functioning when coped with in maladaptive ways, and research shows that avoidance coping strategies like social withdrawal/alienation predict deterioration in stigmatized individuals (Ilic et al., 2014; Chronister, Chou, & Liao, 2013; Link et al., 2001). I propose that anticipated stigma will predict mental health problems, poor community adjustment, recidivism, and substance use via social withdrawal and alienation from the community at large. Studies 1 and 2 examine theoretically driven moderators of this process.

Results of Study 1 show that perceived stigma is positively related to stereotype agreement, which is positively related to internalized stigma, which is then positively related to anticipated stigma. Perceived stigma had a positive direct effect on anticipated stigma, suggesting that some offenders circumvent internalized stigma altogether and still expect discrimination. Results of Study 2 showed that anticipated stigma during incarceration positively predicted social withdrawal/alienation three months post-release, which predicted more mental health problems one year post-release. Race moderated multiple pathways in both models, suggesting these relationships are more pronounced for White offenders. Results identify avenues of intervention to target criminal offenders’ thoughts about and ways of coping with stigma, which will ultimately enhance post-release community adjustment.