DOI: 10.1177/00938548231187419 ISSN: 0093-8548

Reexamining Modified Labeling Theory: A Sample of Incarcerated Women With Mental Illness

Sarah E. King, Hayden P. Smith
  • Law
  • General Psychology
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine

The current study reexamines modified labeling theory with a sample of 15 women incarcerated in two medium-security prisons and who have a diagnosable mental illness. Life history calendars (LHC) were employed to document traumatic histories and a host of risks and needs. Qualitative findings indicate that these women negotiated labels of mental illness and incarceration. The labeling process, particularly self-concept, self-esteem, and stigma, emerged as driving forces for criminal behavior, dysfunctional interpersonal relationships, and decision-making. Participants negotiated the label of mental illness, while making meaning of early and continued trauma. These findings are explained with reference to trauma-informed care (TIC), improved staff training, and the role of language. This study offers evidence that labeling concepts may serve as a language foundation for providing trauma-informed services.

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