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Status, stigma and stereotype: How drug takers and drug suppliers avoid negative labelling by virtue of their ‘conventional’ and ‘law-abiding’ lives

Askew, R and Salinas-Edwards, MA (2018) Status, stigma and stereotype: How drug takers and drug suppliers avoid negative labelling by virtue of their ‘conventional’ and ‘law-abiding’ lives. Criminology and Criminal Justice. ISSN 1748-8958

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Abstract

© 2018, The Author(s) 2018. A minority of those who consume or supply illegal drugs are detected and subsequently punished for breaching these laws. Thus, only a minority of active ‘drug offenders’ are ever formally subjected to criminal sanctioning, the criminal label, its stigmatizing effects and the resultant collateral consequences. The current article analyses data from two studies on drug offenders – a sample of 26 users and a sample of 25 suppliers – who form part of the ‘silent majority’ of drug offenders whose offending behaviour goes largely unnoticed and unpunished. Both sets of actors are what we consider ‘law-abiding’ criminals insofar as their regular criminal transgressions are not reflected in the ways broader society, their immediate networks, nor they, view themselves. We argue that the perceived risks posed to their conventional commitments and roles ensure their careful management and subversion of behaviour and information that might otherwise be indicative of their drug offending. Yet, at the same time, we argue that these conventional roles provide sufficient protection that their crimes go unnoticed or, if detected, unpunished. Our conclusions support Mohammed and Fritsvold’s notion of the ‘silent majority’ that only a minority of those that use and supply illicit substances drug offenders are subject to the law, and the collateral consequences of a criminal and deviant label. We argue more research needs to be conducted with these hidden groups to help reduce the inequities, stigmas and stereotypes that befall the subsection of those who are routinely policed, sanctioned and studied.

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