Research Platform
Issue Date: August 2016
Published Online: August 01, 2016
Updated: January 01, 2021
Stigma and the Ex-Offender Population: A Qualitative Study
Author Affiliations
  • Thomas Jefferson University
  • Thomas Jefferson University
Article Information
Rehabilitation, Participation, and Disability / Health Services Research and Education
Research Platform   |   August 01, 2016
Stigma and the Ex-Offender Population: A Qualitative Study
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011510183.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011510183.

Date Presented 4/8/2016

The experiences of ex-offenders regarding stigma and its effect on reintegration and occupational engagement were explored. Results inform occupational therapy’s understanding of stigma and areas to further explore for future program development and research aimed at minimizing stigma and facilitating reintegration.

Primary Author and Speaker: Rebecca Sinko

Additional Author and Speaker: Tina DeAngelis

Contributing Author: Janice P. Burke

The primary aim of this study was to understand how stigma is experienced and thus influences occupational engagement, specifically social participation and work/school occupations among the ex-offender population.
Stigma is a significant barrier to successful community reintegration. Although this has been studied in various populations, minimal attention has been given to the perspectives and experiences of ex-offenders related to stigma. Understanding of stigma, as lived by ex-offenders, would assist in the development of more meaningful and effective occupational therapy (OT) intervention programs designed to reduce the ill effects of stigma and thereby promote successful reintegration and facilitate resumption of meaningful roles.
Qualitative methodology, specifically a phenomenological perspective, guided this project because the objective was to understand participants’ lived experiences with stigma in their daily roles.
Ten adults with a history of incarceration were recruited from a nonprofit work rehabilitation program for ex-offenders. Convenience and purposive sampling was used to identify potential participants for their knowledge and experience related to stigma and community reintegration.
Individual interviews and one focus group, for member checking, were conducted, audio recorded, and transcribed. After the initial thematic analysis of the interviews, the focus group was held to confirm the interpretation of the collective interviews and allow for further elaboration. Additionally, field notes were taken during the interviews and the focus group on participants’ nonverbal communication.
A thematic analysis was performed to identify major themes related to stigma. Data analysis consisted of coding the transcriptions, followed by grouping similar quotes and ideas into categories and then reducing into broader themes that describe common ex-offenders’ experiences with stigma. Accuracy of themes was validated through member checking, peer debriefing, and triangulation. Triangulation occurred via interviews with supervisors of the program, field notes from interviews, and literature review.
Four main themes emerged where stigma is enabled to persist. Internal Perceptions was a theme describing how participants personally and internally viewed factors that enable stigma to continue, specific to work. External Perceptions described how participants perceived factors related to external circumstances or situations, specific to work. Family Systems related to families both with a culture of crime and a culture without crime. Community Systems involved friends, neighborhoods, and community programs. Stigma was present throughout these four themes; however, within each theme, there were also experiences or perceptions that might contribute to disabling or minimizing stigma’s impact. The results increase our understanding of stigma specific to ex-offenders and support the need for further work.
This project has improved our understanding of stigma and its impact on occupational participation during reintegration, as lived by ex-offenders. The findings provide valuable information necessary for consideration in future research and OT programming. Future work will be aimed at using these findings to help shift away from factors or situations enabling stigma and move toward those potential factors that could disable or minimize stigma for this population. Results inform OT’s understanding of stigma and can assist in program development aimed at promoting successful reintegration and minimizing stigma’s impact on the ex-offender. Thus this supports the profession’s initiatives for expanding research and practice in innovative settings and community mental health.