Criminalization is the act of making something criminal, or making it against the law. When the U.S. Congress made it illegal to consume or sell alcohol in 1920, that criminalization of drinking ushered in a historic period known as Prohibition.

Any activity can be criminalized, or go through a process of criminalization. When Sleeping Beauty's parents banished shuttlecocks and spinning wheels from their fairy tale kingdom, that was the criminalization of spinning. The word can also apply more generally to not just to the outlawed activity, but to people or practices associated with it. Thus, a law making it a crime to eat candy might be called "the criminalization of Halloween." And crime or not, that's just wrong.

Definitions of criminalization
  1. noun
    legislation that makes something illegal
    synonyms: criminalisation
    see moresee less
    decriminalisation, decriminalization
    legislation that makes something legal that was formerly illegal
    type of:
    lawmaking, legislating, legislation
    the act of making or enacting laws
Word Family

Test prep from the experts

Boost your test score with programs developed by’s experts.

  • Proven methods: Learn faster, remember longer with our scientific approach.
  • Personalized plan: We customize your experience to maximize your learning.
  • Strategic studying: Focus on the words that are most crucial for success.


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 8 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 500+
  • Duration: 10 weeks or less
  • Time: 1 hour / week


  • Number of words: 700+
  • Duration: 10 weeks
  • Time: 1 hour / week