Individuals – Klein (1986)

Study Reference:

Klein, M. W. (1986). Labeling theory and delinquency policy: An experimental test. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 13, 47-79.

Location in the Matrix; Methodological Rigor; Outcome:

Individuals; Focused; Reactive; Very rigorous; Backfire effect

What police practice or strategy was examined?

Labeling theory predicts that more formal types of processing and stigmatization in the justice system lead youth to view themselves as delinquents, thus increasing their likelihood of reoffending.

This study tests components of labeling theory in a police diversion project in which juvenile offenders of mid-range seriousness, after being arrested, were assigned to one of four dispositions by police: release, one of two referral conditions (agency referral and referral with purchase of service), or petition. In the two referral conditions, the referrals were carefully followed up by police personnel. Labeling theory was tested by examining the effects of the assigned dispositions on subsequent reoffending by the juveniles.

How was the intervention evaluated?

The study used a randomized design in which referable juveniles were randomly assigned to one of the four conditions. The study then examined the subsequent behavior of the juveniles over a period of 27-months.

What were the key findings?

After 27 months, less than 50% of offenders that were released were rearrested, 75% of petitioned offenders were rearrested, 57% of referred offenders were rearrested, and 62% of referred with purchase of service offenders were rearrested.

What were the implications for law enforcement?

The authors find that more formal arrest processes increase recidivism. In terms of rearrest, diversion is less harmful than further processing into the justice system, but more harmful than release.

Where can I find more information about this intervention, similar types of intervention, or related studies?