Many exonerees report stigmatizing experiences and difficulties securing gainful employment post-incarceration. Although researchers have begun to investigate public perceptions of wrongful conviction, there remains a dearth of knowledge about public perceptions of exonerees. To provide insight into how the public perceives exonerees, face-to-face interviews were conducted with members (n=30) of a suburban city in South Central Ontario. Data analysis included a constructed grounded approach to reveal emergent themes in the transcripts. All interviewees acknowledged that wrongly convicted individuals are stigmatized by the public and that this can have negative effects in many of their lived experiences. In addition, findings of this exploratory study suggest that some interviewees, indirectly or directly, stigmatize exonerees in their responses while being interviewed—lending insight into how the public views and reacts to exonerees. Findings and policy implications are theoretically framed in Erving Goffman’s (1963) seminal work on stigma. Implications include the potential role of research and education in informing community members, and all levels of government, about wrongful convictions in general, and the negative implications of stigma, in particular.


Public Perception, Stigma, Schematic Framing, Wrongful Conviction, Exonerees, Semi-Structured Interviews, Constructed Grounded Theory

Author Bio(s)

Isabella M. Blandisi received her Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Criminology, Justice and Policy Studies and her Master of Arts in Criminology—both from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Her Master’s thesis looked at public perceptions of wrongful conviction through semi-structured interviews. Blandisi’s research interest in wrongful convictions began during her time as a student case reviewer with the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC). Since then, she has looked to further understand prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, and stigmatization as it relates to the criminal justice system. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: Isabella M. Blandisi at, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, 55 Bond St. East, Oshawa, ON, LIG 0A5; E-mail: isabella.blandisi@uoit.ca.

Kimberley A. Clow joined the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in 2004. She holds a PhD in Social Psychology from Western University (formerly the University of Western Ontario) and is an Associate Professor in the Forensic Psychology program. Her research focuses on stereotypes and prejudice. She is particularly interested in how individuals perceive one another, the consequences of those perceptions, and possible ways of altering perceptions. Currently, her main line of research investigates the stigma of wrongful conviction, looking for ways to decrease the stigma that exonerees experience. She may be contacted at Faculty of Social Sciences, Humanities at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, 55 Bond St. East, Oshawa, ON, L1G 0A5; Email: kimberley.clow@uoit.ca.

Rosemary Ricciardelli is an Assistant Professor and the coordinator of the criminal certification program at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Although involved in a social enterprise project that supports desistance from crime, her primary work at present is in partnership with the RCMP, B Division, and focused on building Extrajudicial Measures in the province within areas policed by the RCMP. Her work with police agencies also includes looking at the paperwork burden, policing of sex offenses, cyber realities, risk and safety, and police roles. Nonetheless, Dr. Ricciardelli remains a gender scholar. Her primary research interests include evolving conceptualizations of masculinity, and experiences and issues within different facets of the criminal justice system. Her work looks at prison culture, desistance, and the coping strategies, risk perception and lived experiences of prisoners, correctional officers and police officers. She may be contacted at Faculty of Arts, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL, A1C 5S7; Email: rricciardell@mun.ca.


The authors would like to thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada for the funding that made this research possible.

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