Free Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys by Victor Rios Essay Sample

The book written by Victor Rios Punished: Policing the lives of Black and Latino boys is an informative and valuable literary piece, as it offers a multi-layered analysis of the lives of policed young people in Oakland, California. The author analyzes the hypercriminalization of Latino and African American young males in the above-mentioned region.

Get a Price Quote:
- +
Total price:

Primary Objective of the Book

The main objective of this book is to eliminate the culture of punishment and generate effective new means of social control, which will offer a viable rehabilitation to delinquent youths and which positively affect youngsters, who have not committed a crime yet. Criminalization stands as a pivotal, penetrating, and omnipresent experience, which affects daily lives of youngsters. In fact, by the time these males formally enter the penal system, most of them have been already caught in a spiral of hypecriminalization, as they were intimidated, harassed, monitored, controlled, and penalized from their childhood, long before they have committed any crimes. Moreover, Rios wants to demonstrate that criminalization left these marginalized youngsters with highly limited assortment of choices. In fact, for these teenagers crime and violence become valuable resources, which can provide them with the feeling of empowerment and dignity.

Research Setting

The author applied ethnographic research methods to analyze interconnected issues concerned with the process of criminalization. In fact, he engaged a sample of 40 Latino and African American males aged between 14 and 18 years old to meet the goal of his research. Author stated that highly limited number of urban ethnographies examined punishment as a system, which affected the lives of youngsters. Moreover, Rios changed the ethnographic analysis, as the major part of researchers typically analyzed the situation from a point of ignorance instead of analyzing it from a point of commonality and understanding. Most study participants (30 out of 40) had been arrested, were on probation, or were socially connected with other males who were arrested. The remaining 10 participants had never been arrested, but they lived in a neighborhood with elevated violent-crime rate or had siblings/friends who were arrested. The main purpose of the study was to gain a sufficient knowledge on how surveillance, punishment, and criminal justice practices influenced the lives of participants. Moreover, it analyzed the influence of the models of punishment on the routine lives of the youngsters and revealed how punitive encounters with police, authority teachers, teachers, probation officers, etc. shaped their self-esteem and their future aspirations.

Read more about Online Research Paper: Five Steps to Perfection with a Summary

Punitive Social Control Impact

Punitive social control is aimed at monitoring, controlling, and adjusting deviant conduct as well as sustaining social order. Rios argues that punitive social control, as a type of hypercriminalization practice, is embedded in everyday lives of marginalized young males, controlling and constantly regulating their actions as well as punitively asserting into various institutions in the community. The study revealed that young people were constantly resisting punitive social control and their deviance was a form of resistance to such constant regulations. As youths that participated in the study experienced the punitive grip of the state, they fought back with the limited amount of tools, which they could find in their social settings, frequently with only weapons of the weak, like crimes of resistance, at their disposal. Thus, instead of remaining passive and allowing the system to shame, criminalize, and exclude them, these youngsters continued to produce scattered acts of resistance. Hence, males got engaged in resistance practices not only to cope with what was imposed on them, but also to reclaim their dignity.

The Issue of Labelling

In addition, Rios believes that labelling is not merely a process whereby schools, police, probation officers and families stigmatize the boys, in turn, their delinquency persists or elevates. The author shows that in time of mass incarceration, labelling also appears to be a process by which agencies of social control further stigmatize and mark the youngsters in response to their original label. This actually creates a vicious cycle that multiplies the experiences of youngsters with criminalization, resulting in a labelling hype. In addition, labels are imposed on individuals who belong to a group of unfavorable individuals, having no criminal record.

Moreover, institutions became involved in a spiral of criminalization, which started as informal and trivial labels, for example, this child comes from a bad family and is at risk. However, such labelling actually transformed into detrimental labels, similar to: this child is delinquent, and he is a risk. Thus, even schools as non-criminal justice institutions have been viewed by participants as another place that criminalizes them for their style and culture. Furthermore, males interviewed by Rios also perceived themselves are being criminalized by their parents. Police, probation officers, and school personnel all provided their parents with courtesy stigmas, which have actually been developed as a consequence of being connected to an individual with a stigma. Hence, the conversations that school personnel, police and probation officers had with one another about troubled youngsters almost always followed the analogous trajectory, such as their parent need to learn how to discipline their children; its no surprise that theyre this way look at their parents; its their parents fault for letting them do whatever they want, etc. These examples vividly demonstrate how authority figures attempt to intervene and teach parents the right way to raise their children. For instance, probation officer periodically visited one participants mother in order to influence her parenting style. Such actions actually brand young males, making their single criminal act into a constant and enduring criminal activity. Therefore, despite the fact this mother empathized with negative treatment that her son was receiving, she continuously reminded him that he might end up in jail if he misbehaved, and she utilized such threats as a method of disciplining her child.

Our features

300 words per page instead of 280

Free revision (on demand)

Discount system

Affiliate program

VIP services

Round-the-clock support

Youth Control Complex

All of these arguments lead to the discussion on youth control complex, which stands for ubiquitous system of criminalization. The complex stands for agglomerated effect of the web made of institutions, schools, families, media, community, etc, and criminal justice system, which collectively punish, stigmatize, monitor, and criminalize young people with intention to control them. In addition, it is important to mention that this complex is composed of symbolic and material criminalization. Material criminalization encompasses police harassment, exclusion from public recreation spaces and businesses, and enforcement of zero-tolerance policies, resulting in school suspensions, incarceration, etc. On the other hand, symbolic criminalization includes monitoring, imposed stigma, degrading attitude, etc., which youngsters continuously endure. Thus, different institutions of social control have a combined influence on young males, forcing them to understand their social world, as place, where everyone systematically criminalizes them.

It is obvious why youngsters who have been arrested and committed crimes are influenced by punitive social control and youth control complex. However, these agents also influence non-delinquent boys, who merely live in poor neighborhoods. For example, J.T., who have never committed a crime or been arrested believed that he was treated worse than his delinquent peers were only because he had a brother, who has been arrested several times. Even despite the fact that he attempted to stay away from troubles, authority figures frequently implicated him with deviance and crimes, which his friends committed. Another example described Jaime, a 16 year old Latino, who received As and Bs at school and had one brother incarcerated for attempted murder and another brother in gang. It was highly complicated for him to study at school, as teachers neglected the fact that he did not commit any crimes and treated him similarly to arrested or suspended delinquent peers. Such criminalization actually intensifies the boys conflicts over manhood, and they encounter collision with the criminal justice systems demand of passivity, compliance, and conformity to subjugated, racialized social status. Participants encountered constant interrogations regarding their manhood on the streets in a form of such questions as is he really a homey? or I he really a man? which made them feel incessant necessity to prove their manhood. In fact, crime can be viewed as one of the avenues that males utilize to evolve, demonstrate, and communicate their manhood. Thus, the fact that criminal justice system threatens and confuses young males masculinity actually encourages hypermasculinity.

Critique of the Book

The author believes that despite the fact that punitive social control has a debilitating influence on numerous participants of his study, there is a way of short-circuiting such system. Rios assumes that building of a youth support complex is an alternative form of social control, which will allow embracing positive facets of their resistance, while teaching youngsters how to utilize it to navigate in mainstream institutions. Such efforts will have consequences that are more effective for young males who break the law. The author makes a notable contribution by proposing to use a strategic mixture of critical criminology and urban ethnography for enhanced comprehending of complicated, power-laden processes from the perspective of marginalized youths. The arguments connected to the critics of punitive social control are very strong, as the author vividly reveals the connection between hypercriminalization and potentially transformative forms of defiance and resistance. Rios discloses that this reliance should be garnered and utilized specifically for the cultivation of a more positive image of adulthood. In addition, the author provides strong arguments for analyzing the reciprocity between teachers, schooling practices and school-to-prison pipeline. I totally agree with the argument that educators have the responsibility of supporting youth. In fact, they have to find creative ways to educate youngsters even despite the fact that these children have made some mistakes. This makes a basis of Rioss youth support complex idea. Each individual should be given a chance, even when he/she has made mistakes, even serious ones. Moreover, no one should be viewed through the narrow and single-minded prism of poor neighborhood or unfavorable family, as rules always have exceptions. Therefore, I totally support the argument that teachers should strive to connect with marginalized youth in meaningful and nurturing manner, which sustains their reintegration and restores their dignity, instead of absorbing the stigma based on their environment. Nevertheless, I cannot completely agree with the idea that all youngsters who encounter less punitive forms of control are capable of overcoming the youth control complex. Alternative forms of social control, meaning informal, decentralized, inclusive, etc. might provide support to those who already attempt to overcome their criminalization via accepting the support offered by those who acknowledge and embrace them. Nevertheless, the major part of youths has a tendency to overcome criminalization by resisting, neglecting and ignoring the second chances and all support provided to them. Moreover, the situation requires a global change, as the use of alternative forms of support requires the reformation of philosophy, policies, and programs. In reality, society establishes zero-tolerance policies, leading to the world, where social institutions, including family and school, reinforce the labelling hype together with systematic, ubiquitous punishment practices. In addition, I also believe that the argument concerning manhood also appears to be weak. The connection between youth control complex and hypermasculinity is a bit vague, presenting the issue merely from the viewpoint of resistance. Moreover, this argument could be developed further in order to analyze socio-cultural discrepancies between Latino and African American males.


Nevertheless, most arguments are very strong; they are supported by numerous examples from authors personal life and individual experiences of his participants. This book engages the reader by showing the paradox within the punitive social control, which actually stimulates young males to commit crimes and not to resist them, as this is the only option they have under the pressure of public opinion. The book helps to understand that leaving the currently used approaches will only worsen the situation. Each person deserves a second chance, and youngsters from unfavorable settings need to experience trust in order to be capable of breaking the vicious cycle and becoming productive citizens.


Have NO Inspiration
to write your essay?

Ask for Professional help