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Societal Reaction to Deviants: The Case of Criminal Defendants

Ilene Nagel Bernstein, William R. Kelly and Patricia A. Doyle
American Sociological Review
Vol. 42, No. 5 (Oct., 1977), pp. 743-755
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2094863
Page Count: 13
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Societal Reaction to Deviants: The Case of Criminal Defendants
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Abstract

Recent reformulations of the societal reaction theory argue that the thesis is a perspective rather than a theory, and that the perspective is meant to provide a set of sensitizing concepts to those researching deviance. This research examines the degree of congruence between hypotheses deduced from those assertions and a set of real world occurrences. Data for a sample of male defendants charged with felony offenses are examined to estimate the effects of (1) deviants' social attributes, (2) the specific societal reactors, (3) the values placed on certain offenses and (4) the organizational imperatives of the deviance-controlling organization, controlling for the alleged offense, on the probability of being labeled and sanctioned for deviant behavior. Our analyses indicate that characteristics associated with the alleged offense account for more of the explained variance in the labeling decision examined here (full prosecution) than in the sanctioning (sentence severity) decision. Moreover, while we find the deviants' social attributes do have some significant effects, relative to the effects of other variables, these effects are small and not always in the predicted direction. We suggest the interactionist perspective shift its focus toward greater attention to organizational imperatives and the values and expectations of those meting out the societal reaction as key variables explaining the imperfect correlation between deviant acts and the reaction to same.

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