Stigmatized among the Stigmatized: Sex Offenders in Canadian Penitentiaries
Rosemary Ricciardelli, Mackenzie Moir
Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice
Convicted sex offenders carry an additional stigma to that of being a criminal, fuelled by their charges. This stigma of an incarcerated sex offender has been studied from the perspective of professionals and paraprofessionals working in corrections, although never before from the position of other prisoners. Via semi-structured interviews with 56 Canadian men on parole, this study investigated how federally incarcerated men stigmatize sex offenders and the shape, scope, and implications of this stigma for the offender. The lived experiences of incarcerated sex offenders were examined empirically, as well the interactions and perceptions of sex offenders by former prisoners who had served time due to non-sex-related convictions. The study was framed by Goffman’s (1963) stigma theory, providing insight into the scope, dynamics, and implications of the sex offender stigma as created by other prisoners. In itself, this stigma shapes the overall prison experience of the sex offender; and, interestingly, the threat of being falsely labelled with such a stigma is real for prisoners without such convictions. Findings also suggest that the sex offender stigma can manifest itself as physical/verbal abuse, social exclusion, and victimization and can become embedded in prison policies and structures. Given the current political climate in Canada and the fact that corrections facilities known by prisoners to house sex offenders are being closed and their prisoner populations relocated, this study is particularly relevant and important – specifically in examining the potential risks that await many sex offenders upon transferring to a new institution in which this stigma may strongly prevail.