Beyond courtesy stigma: towards a multi-faceted and cumulative model of stigmatisation of families of people in prison

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Colleges, School and Institutes


The stigmatisation of families of people in prison has been well-documented in research which explored the experiences of these families. However there has, to date, been very little theorisation of this phenomenon. This article proposes a model of stigmatisation that brings together social psychological work on opinion formation, sociological work on stigma, and analyses of neoliberalism to construct a theoretical framework for analysing why someone associated to a in prison might experience stigma. It argues that stereotypes play a strong role in demonising both people who offend and their families, which is exacerbated by the fact that many of these families are drawn from marginalised backgrounds. Thus, the proposed model considers both courtesy stigma, but also stigma associated with class, race, and poverty. Moreover, it is argued that neoliberalism as a political and economic project has further weaponised this stigma, turning the socially excluded into deviant “others” to be shunned and feared. The stigma families of people in prison report is thus both multi-faceted and cumulative. It originates from their link to someone in prison and their socially excluded backgrounds, and is magnified by neoliberalism. Understanding this complexity allows us to fully comprehend not only why these families are stigmatised, but also to develop the scholarship on stigma more broadly by drawing on social psychology. Finally, it helps us develop an understanding of how neoliberal punitivism reaches beyond the people in prison and into the lives of those related to them.


Original languageEnglish
Article number100021
Number of pages8
JournalForensic Science International: Mind and Law
Early online date22 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Stigmatisation, Stigma, Families, Social psychology, Evolved heuristics, Prisoners' families