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Crimcast is a virtual resource devoted to critical conversations about criminology and criminal justice issues. Our blogposts, twitter feeds, podcasts and other content provide an overview of trends, research, commentary and events of interest to criminal justice practitioners, academics and the general public. CrimCast is sponsored by The Center for Crime and Popular Culture, St. Francis College, Brooklyn, NY.

Filtering by Tag: punishment

Notable Criminal Justice Docs at Tribeca Film Festival

Nickie Phillips

When the most powerful lobbyist in Florida discovers that the nanny has sexually abused his daughter, he harnesses his extraordinary political power to pass the toughest sex offender laws in the nation. UNTOUCHABLE chronicles his crusade, and its impact on the lives of several of the 800,000 people forced to live under the kinds of laws he has championed.
— Untouchablefilm.com
 
In 2012, California amended its ‘Three Strikes’ law—one of the harshest criminal sentencing policies in the country. The passage of Prop. 36 marked the first time in U.S. history that citizens voted to shorten sentences of those currently incarcerated. Within days, the reintegration of thousands of ‘lifers’ was underway. The Return examines this unprecedented reform through the eyes of those on the front lines—prisoners suddenly freed, families turned upside down, reentry providers helping navigate complex transitions, and attorneys and judges wrestling with an untested law.
— The Return Project
Do Not Resist is an urgent and powerful exploration of the rapid militarization of the police in the United States. Opening on startling on-the-scene footage in Ferguson, Missouri, the film then broadens its scope to present scenes from across the country—a conference presentation where the value of high-end weapons technologies is presented to potential police buyers, a community that has just received its very own military-grade tank, and a SWAT team arriving at a home to execute a warrant. The cumulative effect of these vignettes paints a startling picture of the direction our local law enforcement is headed.
— Do Not Resist, Deborah Rudolph
Solitary investigates an invisible part of the American justice system: the use of isolation and segregation in US prisons, commonly known as solitary confinement.
— Tribeca Film Institute

Exclusive clip of Solitary at Deadline.

Randy Williams Speaks Out about Wrongful Conviction

Nickie Phillips

The ripple effect of wrongful convictions resonates throughout families and communities. Randy Williams’ time behind bars can never be returned, nor his time away from his family and the promise of his future.
— Private Investigations by Management Resources Limited of NY

Randy Williams and Bob Rahn

Randy Williams served nine years of a 22 years-to-life prison sentence as a result of a wrongful conviction. He was released in 2016.

On April 14, 2016, Randy and his mom, Rosie, spoke with students at St. Francis College to share their story. They discussed how Bob Rahn and Kim Anklin, of Private Investigations by Management Resources Ltd of NY, worked tirelessly on behalf of Randy uncovering false eyewitness testimony and police misconduct.

Criminologist Nickie Phillips, Rosie Benjamin, Randy Williams, and Bob Rahn

Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2015 - Protecting Our Kids: How Sex Offender Laws are Failing Us

Nickie Phillips

Protecting Our Kids: How Sex Offender Laws Are Failing Us by Professor Emily Horowitz has been named among the Outstanding Academic Titles of 2015 by Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries.

"Dr. Horowitz makes a persuasive case for why the current rash of draconian sex offender laws in the United States violate civil liberties, create an entire class of pariahs and outcasts, and above all, fail to protect children. Her interviews with offenders bring reality, insight, and clarity to a subject usually blurred by panic and hysteria." - Gavin de Becker, bestselling author of The Gift of Fear

Interview with Prof. Emily Horowitz on Sex Offender Legislation

Nickie Phillips

Leon Neyfakh of Slateinterviewed Prof. Emily Horowitz, on sex offender legislation.

Prof. Horowitz is the director of the Institute for Peace and Justice and founder and director of the Post-Prison College Opportunity Program at St. Francis College.

How do the studies you read show the registry’s effectiveness, or lack thereof?

If the registry was effective, you’d want to see that, after 1996, when Megan’s Law was implemented, there was a big drop in sex offense cases. But the rates didn’t change, or they’d already started going down before Megan’s Law was implemented. Rates of sexual abuse neither increased nor decreased as a result of the registry.

Why?

Because more than 90 percent of child sexual abuse cases—some say 96 percent—involve the family. And the registry only targets stranger danger. It prohibits people from going to parks and malls—whereas most child sexual abuse takes place in the home. Also, most people on the registry have adult victims. It’s just all the rhetoric around the registry is about children.
— Prof. Emily Horowitz

Continuing Efforts to Exonerate Jesse Friedman

Nickie Phillips

Jesse Friedman will be back in court this week arguing for the release of documents that he believes prove his innocence. The New York Times reports on the continuing efforts to exonerate Jesse Friedman:

From the beginning, the case was deeply flawed. The only evidence that Jesse and his father, Arnold, had abused anyone consisted of statements to the police by children and one of Jesse’s friends. Many of the statements were made after repeated or hourslong visits from detectives who would not leave until they heard what they wanted. None of the children had previously complained to anyone of any abuse.
— New York Times

In the following clip, Jesse Friedman and attorney Ron Kuby discuss Jesse's case and explain his innocence.

Keeping Children Safe: ‘Disqualification by Association’

Terry Thomas

Everybody would agree that we need to ensure safe environments for children in our nurseries and schools. Unsuitable people should not be allowed to work in them. In the UK concerns have been raised that the authorities may have gone too far in their aim to keep children safe.

The policy of ‘disqualification by association’ now means you could be prevented from working with children not because of any misconduct on your part but because of the misconduct of others. If you already have a job working with children you could find yourself suspended from that work even if your work record has been exemplary and you have no criminal record.

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‘Disqualification by association’ comes into play if any one you live with has been convicted of a serious offence or is otherwise disqualified from working with children. The policy has been in place for a few years but was recently highlighted in the case of a teacher who lost his job following conviction for having sexual relations with one of his students; under UK law he was guilty of the offence of ‘abusing a position of trust’ (Sexual Offences Act 2003 s16). But then the headlines followed that his wife, who worked in another school, was to be suspended from her job working with children.

The ‘disqualification by association’ Regulations have been a matter of concern in some quarters ever since their introduction by the Childcare Act 2006 s75 (4) and the Childcare (Disqualification) Regulations 2009 (SI 2009: 1547). The Regulations only apply to people registered to work with children under eight and Regulation 9 clearly states that:

  1. > Subject to regulation 10, a person who lives –

    (a) in the same household as another person who is disqualified from registration; or (b) in a household in which any such person is employed, is disqualified from registration.

Regulation 10 refers to the possibility of getting this suspension waived by applying to the Chief Inspector of Schools office – Ofsted.

At first the Regulations were applied only to people caring for children under eight in their own home as child-minders and in that context the Regulations made some sense. But then they were extended to anyone working in a school which had children under the age of eight attending.

It took some time for people to realise the consequences of this extension but slowly the truth has dawned (see e.g. ‘Teachers to be barred for living with offenders under new rules’ and ‘Schools suspend staff in child protection confusion’. The question is raised as to why someone with no convictions or other form of disbarment from working with children should be suspended simply because they live in the same house as someone who is. Surely this amounts to a disproportionate response to child protection? Further Department of Education guidance explains the thinking behind the law which:

‘guards against an individual working with young children who may be under the influence of a person who lives with them and where that person may pose a risk to children i.e. by association’ (DfE (2014) Keeping children safe in education: childcare disqualification requirements – supplementary advice, October).

What exactly ‘under the influence’ means is not elaborated on.

The campaign group UNLOCK for ex-offenders calls the arrangements ‘ridiculous’: ‘The regulations have clearly come as a surprise to thousands of people working in primary schools. Schools themselves seem unclear of how the regulations work, with many asking existing staff and new employees to make very broad declarations about not only their criminal record, but also of those that they live with. This has led to hundreds of people making declarations and being suspended as a result, where they have otherwise been working for many years with no problems’ (UNLOCK (2015) Charity for people with convictions calls for “ridiculous” ‘disqualification’ regulations for primary schools to be urgently reviewed 20 January (press release)) ‘Disqualification by association’ seems to have slipped in while no one was looking but its chickens are now coming home to roost.

Terry Thomas is Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice Studies, Leeds Beckett University U.K. and a Crimcast correspondent.

Changes in the UK law to contain sex offenders

Terry Thomas

 
 

There are noticeable difference between the way the USA and the UK try to protect the public from sex offenders who are living in the community. Both countries have a sex offender register but thereafter there is a departure in the way the register is used and how each try to contain the offender in the interests of public protection.

 
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In the USA the register is publicly available to anyone who wants to consult it including availability on the internet. This ‘universal’ approach of ‘community notification’ is in contrast to the more ‘selective’ approach of the UK where only certain people are allowed to know information about a person’s sexual convictions and their registration status.

The USA has blanket residency restrictions with geographic zones that sex offenders are not allowed to live in. The UK has targeted restrictions on a person’s lifestyle and where they might want to live using individualised preventive civil orders. Another example of the ‘universal’ and ‘selective’ approaches taken by the respective countries.

But is the UK slowly moving towards a wider interpretation of the conditions the state can impose on a sex offender in the interests of public protection?

A recent case heard in the UK Court of Appeal [Richards, R (on the application of) v Teesside Magistrates' Court & Another [2015] EWCA Civ 7] involved a registered sex offender being ‘contained’ by a Sexual Offences Prevention Order (SOPO) – one of the preventive civil orders introduced by the Sexual Offences Act 2003. These Orders are applied for by the police on certain qualifying individuals and they allow the courts to impose various negative restrictions on a person’s behaviour.

The appeal in this case was against the court’s decision to require the sex offender to wear an electronic tag to monitor his movements. He argued that (a) there was nothing in the law on SOPO’s that said anything about electronic tags being worn unlike all other legal references to tags which were in the statute book, and (b) the requirement to wear a tag was a ‘positive’ when all other restrictions by SOPO’s were ‘negative’ as the law suggested they should be.

The case was lost and the presiding judges ruled that:

The only restrictions to what may be placed in a SOPO are … that it must be ‘necessary’ to impose the prohibition in order to protect the public or particular members of the public from serious sexual harm from the defendant …[and] Parliament did not restrict or limit the prohibitions which may be included in a SOPO. Given the myriad ways in which such harm may be caused, the absence of a list of permitted prohibitions is understandable (para.29)

But SOPOs themselves are about to disappear. The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 Part 9 replaces them with Sexual Risk Orders and Sexual Harm Prevention Orders. Exactly when these new Orders will become active is as yet still unknown. What we do know is that they are going to be even more widely drawn than the existing SOPO (see e.g. ‘New Home Office Rules give police sweeping powers to curb sex offenders’ The Independent 9 October 2013). If we thought the SOPO was vague wait till we see what comes next.

Terry Thomas is Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice Studies, Leeds Beckett University UK – for a longer account of the changes in the UK law about to take place see Thomas T and Thompson D (2014) New Civil Orders to contain Sexually Harmful Behaviour in the Community British Journal of Community Justice 12 (3): 19-33.

When Punishment Was a New and Remarkable Thing: Medieval Anglo-Saxon Responses to Crime

Staci Strobl

Crimcast caught up with Dr. Jay Paul Gates (John Jay College of Criminal Justice) to discuss his and co-editor Dr. Nicole Marafioti's (Trinity University) edited volume Capital and Corporal Punishment in Anglo-Saxon England (2014, Boydell & Brewer). In the Middle Ages, Anglo-Saxon authorities often punished lawbreakers with harsh corporal penalties, such as execution, mutilation, and imprisonment. Despite their severity, however, these penalties were not arbitrary exercises of power. Rather, they were informed by nuanced philosophies of punishment which sought to resolve conflict, keep the peace, and enforce Christian morality. The ten essays in this volume engage legal, literary, historical, and archaeological evidence to investigate the role of punishment in Anglo-Saxon society. 

What prompted your interest in Anglo-Saxon punishment and how did this volume come about? 

Our interest in the topic of capital and corporal punishment grew out of basic questions concerning how the Anglo-Saxons – who inhabited and ruled England from the fifth century through the eleventh – thought about bodies in a legal context and how the body came to carry and convey meaning. We both love Wulfstan, that quirky eleventh-century Archbishop of York. His assertion that mutilation was a merciful alternative to execution—that the law must be concerned with the soul rather than the body—kept nagging us for attention. From here, we found contributors whose interests coalesced around Anglo-Saxon England. Yet the essays in the volume go well beyond the limits of England and the Anglo-Saxon period. Early Germanic and ‘barbarian’ law provide foundations; Mosaic, Irish, and Frisian law offer sources and analogues; and post- Conquest views of Anglo-Saxon England and Anglo-Saxon history show that the Anglo-Saxons continued to have relevance and meaning well beyond 1066.

One of the most interesting ideas to come out of the volume is that the Anglo-Saxons, at least initially, didn’t have much of a concept of punishment. There were systems of law, compensation, and vengeance, but these were all concerned with the maintenance of social order and stability rather than with the desire to punish unacceptable behavior. And when we came to think about it, the very concept of punishment itself seemed odd. After all, what does it do? For example, if Nicole lops off my arm, I am far better off if she pays me compensation for it than if she is punished. I might even forego compensation to get the satisfaction of vengeance. But punishment would leave me seeming weak and certainly unsatisfied: knowing she is in prison or doing back-breaking labor on a chain-gang is not going to satisfy me the way retaliation would. I’d also be short both an arm and a cash payment.

So, how did notions of punishment develop in Anglo-Saxon societies? 

Punishment seems to have developed under the influence of two major forces, the systematization of ecclesiastical penance and the centralization of royal authority. Christian responses to wrongdoing were surprisingly consistent with secular ideas of compensation. The penance known as “sick-maintenance,” for instance, required a perpetrator to do his victim’s work for him until he recovered—regardless of whether the injury was intentional or accidental. This was certainly good for social stability (the injury is compensated, the attacker shows he’s sorry, and no one needs to take vengeance), but there was also a real incentive to perform penance because it was good for the soul. The centralization of royal power also aimed to discourage vengeance and socially destabilizing actions. In fact, the earliest Anglo-Saxon punishments were designed to give people a chance to cool off and accept compensation in place of vengeance. Punishment becomes a new and remarkable thing, and kings only gradually assumed the right and responsibility of fixing other people’s injuries. It was only toward the end of the Anglo-Saxon period that kings claimed the authority to act on the body of a subject—a development that would have an important impact on post-Conquest English law.

 

 
Jay Paul Gates, John Jay College of Criminal Justice   

Jay Paul Gates, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

 

What ideas about punishment described in the volume appear to be persisting into modern Anglo-Saxon-influenced societies?  

The first point to note is that Anglo-American law, at least through the twentieth century, was very much influenced by the laws penned by Archbishop Wulfstan in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. They were first taken up by the Danish conqueror king, Cnut, and then by the Normans after the 1066 Conquest. In those early laws we see a real tension between the need for the threat of punishment as a means of deterrence and penitential punishment as a means of rehabilitating the criminal, except in the most extreme cases. Such attitudes toward the role of punishment in the criminal justice system seem still to be hotly debated. Similarly, the restrictions on felons in modern American law, even after they have served their sentences, recalls the Anglo-Saxon notion of the guilty as being permanently marked, whether through the elimination of their legal status (oath-worthiness) or through mutilation. However, what seems to have slipped into the background in the modern discussion, and which is very much worth foregrounding again, is the medieval concern not just with punishing the perpetrator but making whole the victim.

What can this volume, grounded in the humanities, teach social scientists and criminologists about approaching studies of contemporary punishment? 

As we hear the modern debate, there are three main functions of punishment: deterrence, vengeance, and rehabilitation. To the medieval mind, I don’t know that there was quite so great a distance between these functions as there is for us, and it is perhaps worth returning to the mutually supporting roles of these functions in modern discussions. An example of this may come in the form of compensation laws and “sick-maintenance.” These two related legal categories are fundamentally concerned with how to make whole a victim. That is, after one person wounded another, he had to pay compensation for the injury to the victim (the compensation tariffs of Anglo-Saxon law remain the foundation for workers’ compensation tables) and then do the work that the injured person was unable to do until he had healed sufficiently. Certainly there is a sense of vengeance enacted on the man who must do the work of the person he injured—it must be a slight to one’s honor and sense of self to serve someone whom he had wanted badly enough to attack. Yet there is a process for the injured party to see his attacker work for his benefit and make good the injury. Through such a process there is a real possibility of the cooling of tempers, of reconciliation between the two parties, and of rehabilitating the public peace that was broken as well. Something like this has been tried in the restorative justice after the genocidal violence in Rwanda. But perhaps looking to the medieval understandings of punishment would bring punishment and restorative justice into more regular discourse within less extraordinary criminal justice processes.

What avenues of future research will this volume open?

At least one suggestion has been that the idea of crime might need to be re-thought. After all, if penance is concerned with sin and if vengeance and compensation are concerned with injury, what defines crime? What makes crime its own category of wrong and how might it be punished? 

Additionally, there is a focus on men in this volume, simply because so many of our sources represent injury as a predominantly masculine concern. However, it is also important to consider women’s roles in punishment. How involved were women in imposing or mitigating punishment? How were they punished for offenses they committed, and what exactly were those offenses? Although evidence for female misconduct is more elusive, there is valuable work to be done in this area. 

Contributors to the volume include Valerie Allen, Jo Buckberry, Daniela Fruscione, Jay Paul Gates, Stefan Jurasinski, Nicole Marafioti, Daniel O'Gorman, Lisi Oliver, Andrew Rabin, and Daniel Thomas.

Rehabilitation and Good Eats: London's The Clink Restaurant

Nickie Phillips

By Staci Strobl

bef9f1d8e41b68cca9651a9a80803c0c

I like to eat and I support the ideal of the rehabilitation of offenders.  So what could be more perfect that The Clink Restaurant at Brixton Prison in South London?  I immediately made a reservation (in this case, well in advance because the prison must do its security checks on guests) for my husband and I to enjoy high-class dining, complements of inmates training as chefs, sous-chefs, and waiters.  I'll be perfectly honest: the concept is so grand that I was going to love it even if the food was bad.  But it most certainly was not.  Seared tuna on a bed of sesame oil and greens, Hake and mackerel fried medallions and thrice-fried chips, apple crumble, and fair-trade coffee.  Simply delicious.

The Clink is the third such restaurant opened in the United Kingdom in recent years.  The brainchild of Chef Alberto Crisci, and founder of the The Clink Charities, the prisoners work a 40-hour week, training towards the national certifications they need to enter the restaurant and hotel industries upon release.  Thereafter, they receive additional mentoring not only in securing job placement, but also with social and psychological issues that may trigger re-offending.

Anyone who has been keeping up with the rehabilitation literature knows that no one program fits all, but that in general, job training programs are the most likely to succeed with the biggest proportion of offenders.  And, according to the statistics provided by The Clink, and verified by an independent examiner, since its founding in 2009, the recidivism rates after one year of release are between 12.5% and 14%.  Compare this to the national average of 49% and it appears the program is a winner.  Granted, these inmates are selected for the program because they have the potential for success (and in that sense may not be typical of most U.K. prisoners), nonetheless, the success rates are quite suggestive that the program makes a real difference in prisoners' lives.

Could the model be imported to the U.S.?  Given the cultural emphasis on consumerism and work-- as in, there is something wrong with you if you can't consume because you don't have a job-- it would seem that the program would resonate for American prisoners as well, providing them an avenue for returning to mainstream society in a dignified way.  Unfortunately, the political buy-in from the public for such a program would certainly be harder to come by.  In the U.K., though there are strains and pockets of retributivism, they aren't as deeply engrained as they are in the U.S.  The British couple sitting next to us at The Clink speculated that at least half of Britons have a compassionate stance toward prisoner-integration programs, more so in an urban environment like London.  Alas, I am not sure half of the American population would be inclined to support such an intensive program which may provide better job training than that  to which the law-abiding citizen has access.

As a criminologist, I hope for a quality social science study of The Clink in order to glean out more clearly what works and how much it works.  I would do it myself, if I could ever find the time with my ten other projects in the fire.  But if anyone reading this needs a dissertation topic, it's up for grabs.

Sex in Prison: Myths and Realities

Nickie Phillips

Prison_Life_by_sultan_f

Crimcast welcomes Tammy L. Castle, co-editor along with Catherine D. Marcum of Sex in Prison: Myths and Realities (2014), to discuss issues surrounding sexual behavior, sexuality, and policies regarding sex in prison. Dr. Castle’s book brings together work from experts covering a variety of topics such as sexual assault, health issues, challenges facing LGBT inmates, and the implications of incarcerating millions of people in institutions that prohibit sexual intimacy.

How did you become interested in the topic of sex in prison?

I began writing about sexual behavior in prison while working as a research assistant for a professor in my graduate program. He had recently finished interviews with inmates about the topic, and I worked with him on several manuscripts that were published using that data. I also contributed a chapter to his book, which explored the contemporary practice of and policies related to sexual behavior in prison. The research at that time was dated, in part due to the stigma associated with researching such a topic both inside and outside the academy. It was because of my prior research in this area that Dr. Marcum contacted me to contribute a chapter and serve as co-editor of the book.

Your book reports that collecting accurate statistics on the extent of rape and sexual assault of men and women in prison is extremely difficult. Catherine Marcum, in her chapter “Examining Prison Sex Culture,” reports that sexual assault rates vary from 1 to 41 percent. How can we make sense of such a disparity?

The first issue to consider is the difficulty of collecting this type of data in prison/jail. Although the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) signed in 2003 requires the Bureau of Justice Statistics to report sexual assault rates, they can only report incidents that come to the attention of prison/jail staff. As noted in the book, inmates are hesitant to report for a variety of reasons including the stigma of being assaulted, fear of retribution by other inmates or staff (if a staff member was the perpetrator), and the desire to avoid the negative consequences of reporting (e.g. removal from general population).

Also, the number of sexual assaults reported varies from facility to facility. In some institutions, sexual coercion through manipulation is much more common. The institutions vary in what behavior gets defined as a sexual assault.

Your book addresses an overlooked area of research, that of consensual sex in prison. Kristine Levan points out that, aside from the obvious power imbalance between guards and inmates, some researchers have found that most sexual activity that occurs in prison is consensual. Why do you think that the myth persists among the general public that nearly all prison sex is coercive?

Photo: Jelle Vancoppenolle

Prisons are closed institutions—secure and often located in rural areas—and it is difficult for the general public to find information on the realities of prison life. For that reason, most of what they know comes from the media. The depictions of prison sex in the media are almost always sensational, whether it is being romanticized (as in the TV show ‘Orange is the New Black’) or portrayed only as a violent act (e.g. gang rape). The commonly held myth that prison rape occurs frequently, and is a natural consequence of living in prison, is found in most films that depict prison life.

Given that many members of the public are opposed to any perceived “amenities” or activities that prisoners might find pleasurable, why might a policy of conjugal visitation be worthwhile for both the inmates and society-at-large?

It is difficult to influence public opinion on attitudes toward inmates and amenities. Even with sexual assault, the public is often less than sympathetic to a “deserving” population. However, conjugal visitation in several states represents one component of a larger program aimed at family preservation. In other countries, specifically in Latin America, family preservation programs are more much common and accepted. Surveys on inmate amenities find stronger support for family visitation programs among the general public, who view the family members as “undeserving” of the negative impact of incarceration on the family unit.

These programs have been found to impact adjustment both during and after incarceration. Studies have shown that increased visitation results in fewer infractions while in prison, and provides participants with incentives to behave. Maintaining the connection with family also lowers recidivism rates and produces a “normalizing effect” on the inmates. Finally, states with conjugal visitation programs report lower rates of sexual assault. Some prison staff argue that programs such as these lower tension and hostility in the institutions overall.

What are the most overlooked health issues with regard to sex in prison?

As Potter and Rosky discussed in their chapter on health issues, disease transmission among inmates is the most pressing health concern. Some inmates enter prison with bacterial STDs or HIV, and then spread it via sexual contact. However because most correctional health data is not published it is difficult to estimate the rates of transmission. Most prison sex policies are prohibitive rather than preventative, although correctional facilities can decide whether to support harm reduction measures in an effort to reduce transmission.

Tell us about your current research and let us know if we can expect future work from you in this area.

This book culminates several years I spent working on the topic, and given the access to data provided by the PREA, I do feel that there is more work to be done by scholars who wish to explore this taboo subject. My other research interests include comparative justice and media, including my recent article Achieving Justice through the International Criminal Court in Northern Uganda: Is Indigneous/Restorative Justice a Better Approach? that examines the dimensions of justice and role of the International Criminal Court in Northern Uganda.

Tammy L. Castle

Tammy L. Castle is an Associate Professor in the Department of Justice Studies at James Madison University. She has published broadly in the areas of sexual violence and prisons, although her current research focuses on hate propaganda. For further information or discussion about the book, please contact her at: castletl@jmu.edu.

Pull of Gravity Screening, NYC

Nickie Phillips

Pull of Gravity-Documentary Trailer from Jon Kaufman on Vimeo.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office – Eastern District of New York, the U.S. Department of Probation – Eastern District of New York, The Center for Court Innovation and St. Francis College are pleased to bring a screening of the documentary film PULL OF GRAVITY to Brooklyn, NY on May 5th. The film will be followed by a panel discussion with the film’s director and others involved in reintegration.

Monday May 5. 2014 St. Francis College 180 Remsen Street Brooklyn, NY 11201

Go here to RSVP and for more information.

Paintings from the Inside: Art by Offenders

Nickie Phillips

dinner  

These five remarkable paintings greet visitors of Leeds Metropolitan University School of Social, Psychological and Communication Sciences. The paintings are part of the Koestler Trust exhibitions that feature artworks by offenders, secure patients, and detainees.

Koestler Trust is described as "the UK's best-known prison arts charity" and operates as "…a charity which celebrates the best achievements of people who have made grave mistakes in life…."

The Trust operates on donations and income from the sales of the artworks, with 50% profits going to the artist and 25% of all sales going to victim support.

Koestler offers annual awards that cover a variety of artforms including, writing, painting, performance, and crafts with a selection of the entries featured at the annual UK exhibition held in London. For more information on the exhibitions, go here.

To support Koestler Trust, go here. You may purchase art here.

 

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Bastoy Prison in Norway: A Humane Example of Incarceration

Nickie Phillips

Ana Luisa Crivorot, Guest Blogger

bastoy-prison-island

Imagine being on a beautiful island, in a bungalow where you have your own room with a laptop and television. You can sunbathe, jog, ride your bike, or take care of the farm animals. If you so wish, you may attend class, visit a well-stocked library, or earn any degree you desire. It sounds pretty idyllic, doesn’t it? To many it may actually sound like the perfect vacation. This all can be found in Bastoy an island in Norway. But Bastoy is not a college campus or a vacation resort, it is actually a prison.

Norwegian prisons are very humane and follow a high standard of living. Inmates have their own rooms, and have multiple opportunities to work, learn, or simply relax. Their accommodations are much nicer than most New York City apartments and their living standard infinitely times better than that of an average citizen in some developing nations. Your instinct may be that this all sounds too nice for someone serving a prison sentence, after all, this doesn’t sound too punishing does it? Even Anders Breivik, who massacred 77 individuals, mostly youths, in the summer of 2011, is eligible to move there after a portion of his sentence is completed. But, he must show repentance and a desire to rehabilitate himself in order to have that option. At the current moment Brevik has a three room suite in prison, equipped with his own small gym.

The official policy of the corrections system in Norway is that the only punishment to inmates should be the loss of liberty. Their day-to-day lives are supposed to be as close to the outside as possible and human rights are also a priority. Norway’s maximum prison sentence is twenty-one years, so it is understandable why preventing recidivism is a priority. Norway has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world, 20%, comparable only to a few other Scandinavian countries. Bastoy’s recidivism rate is even lower, at 16%. Its residents include murderers and rapists, but prison officials insist that they are being taught responsibility and to care for themselves and others. Norway’s incredible recidivism rate should be enough to convince many of the merits of such a system.

This is the second of two Crimcast blog posts exploring prisons in Norway.  See also Valeriy Kipelov's post on Norway's approach to prisons and punishment here.

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Ana Luisa Crivorot is currently pursuing a Master's in International Crime Justice at John Jay College in New York City. She graduated from New York University with a double major in Psychology and Politics and hopes to pursue a career in Law Enforcement. Ana is originally from Brazil and is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish.

"It's Probably Nothing, But...": How Governments Make Us Responsible For Our Own Security

Nickie Phillips

NTAS

Part 4 of 5 in a series on Risk-Logic and the War on Terror

Aditi Gupta, Guest Blogger

Following on from last week’s post, this week I’ll be discussing Selchow’s third dynamic that is engendered by the Dispositif of Precautionary Risk (DPR), a pre-emptory risk –based mode of governance: the internalization of security issues and the process of ‘responsibilization’. As touched upon last week, the creation of an archetypal Muslim terrorist figure in the U.K. has essentially depoliticized the issue of the governance of terrorism for the majority of the population, while the blame for the root of terrorism has been placed firmly on Islamic extremism and the British Muslim community by association. Thus, it’s evident that the dynamics of depoliticization and responsibilization are intimately linked. Through the governmentality approach, the DPR mode of governance shows that its assemblages of surveillance and risk discourse both work to construct sectors of society that are ‘dreamt up, marginalized and put under suspicion’; and ‘normalize’ the rest of the population, thereby ‘inviting citizens to become security guards, spies and informants’ on the ‘risky’ Muslim community (Mythen and Walklate 2006:390-392). This means that the Muslim community is not only blamed for the problem of terrorism, but are ultimately pressured to provide the solution to the problem by looking inwardly at themselves; effectively, the Muslim community has to internalize the problem of national security in this way, taking it on their own shoulders while simultaneously easing the responsibility of the government to engage fully with the problem.

Those who do not fall under the ‘suspect community’ are responsibilitized in a way that not only allows the continued allocation of blame on the ‘suspect community’, but also places the onus on them to report on anything ‘abnormal’. This dynamic is most clearly seen in government campaigns such as the recent one by the Metropolitan Police emphasizing that it is the Londoners’ responsibility ‘to be vigilant’ for anything ‘out of place in normal day to day lives’.

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Mythen et. al. (2012:394) thus articulate the core of this politics of normalcy: ‘this requirement to present an outwardly safe identity…reveals the coercive social pressures that a pervasive climate of suspicion has engendered’. Indeed, this has led to ‘checking behaviors’ such as selective use of dialect, clothing and curbing of outward behavior in the public sphere (p. 391). As the 7/7 bombers were ‘home-grown’ from the Muslim community in Yorkshire, the onus of protecting society has fallen hardest on the Muslim communities in the U.K. The consequences of this element of responsibilization via the allocation of blame has led to the targeted surveillance of Muslim communities through stop and search policies, questioning at ports under Schedule 7 of the Terrorist Act, pre-emptory raids, and the pressure to spy on their own communities through the creation of Muslim Community Units through the PREVENT strategy. Notably, even though these pre-emptory actions are based entirely on suspicion of intent, the person who is targeted has barely any rights in place to protect them from the effects of human error in judging their ‘riskiness’. A corollary to this is the 600% increase in Islamophobia since 2001 and its associated increase in violence on Muslim people and mosques (Spalek, 2008:420).

How this dynamic effects resistance: power dynamics

The dynamic of responsibilization can be seen as directly related to the discourses of power surrounding the ‘battle for truth’ regarding justice. Amnesty International United Kingdom (AIUK) iterates that this dynamic makes HRO work safeguarding human rights standards all the more significant: ‘the stuff that is most unpopular is some of the most important…because it’s the issues that others won’t pick up on…that don’t have public support’. As Liberty (2007:16) articulate, it is unlikely that the majority of Britons ‘upon waking up…felt more subject to surveillance than they did yesterday’; however, targeted surveillance over the Muslim community means that they truly feel the interlinked dynamics in Burchell’s (1991) sense of having to change the way they see themselves as governed subjects, due to the way they are governed. CagePrisoners explains, ‘the way the government speaks, the way the media speaks and the way the average person on the street speaks all perpetuate this cycle of fear’, thus responsibilitizing society wholesale through the DPR’s rationalities of zero-risk and shifting of the burden of proof.

However, from CagePrisoners’ personalized responses in interview, we can see that governance through the DPR and the social dynamics it engenders has a much sharper effect on the ‘suspect community’ of Muslims. CagePrisoners explains that this suspicion has a chilling effect on the politics of the community as a whole: ‘if we stick our heads above the parapet, they’re going to come after us next’. It is thus evident that CagePrisoners feels the four interrelated dynamics engendered by DPR in a way that cuts right to the social core of what the application of risk does to society. As CagePrisoners says, ‘wherever you see a threat coming from a community which goes against the norm of understanding of criminal behavior, you will see a disproportionate response to those threats’. CagePrisoners’ responses emphasize that the key role of the organization is to empower the Muslim community to break away from inactivity and submission to the prevailing rationalities of zero-risk and the shift of the burden of proof.

Due to its unique vantage-point as a Muslim organization, CagePrisoners engages in this ‘battle for truth’ on a level that has a much more personal tone than any of the other human rights organizations (HROs) interviewed. For example, in a CagePrisoners article (Balaratnam, 2012) regarding United Kingdom BorderAgency  (UKBA) policy of detaining people at the border for questioning under Schedule 7, the article speaks directly to a Muslim audience and is presented as a Muslim voice. Although not articulated in the terminology of risk, the article essentially asks Muslims to break through the dynamic of responsibilization whereby the allocation of blame on the Muslim community is legitimized through the reflexive internalization of blame. The article asserts it point by provocatively asserting that if the reader is stopped at the border, they have to concede ‘it’s my fault I got stopped today – my fault for being brown’. The form of resistance encouraged by CagePrisoners, therefore, is one that is very different to collective action. It is essentially micro-resistance whereby the individual only resists what affects them on an individual, direct level. Thus, if the affected community itself does not even question the rationalities that legitimize racially-prejudiced forms of profiling and surveillance, CagePrisoners warns that no one will, therefore undermining any lobbying conducted by HROs at the state-level.

This insight is even more powerful when one considers the recent uproar over the detention of David Miranda under Schedule 7 – only when one of the majority non-Muslim population was affected did the media question it, let alone campaign against it. Ultimately, it was only picked up by the media because Schedule 7 affected a Guardian journalist’s partner (Greenwald, 2013). This relation epitomizes the importance of the ‘micro’ level of resistance in countering what is essentially a cultural shift to living through risk, when faced with the multitude of arguments that focus on the global erosion of rights and the need for macro-analyses of power.

Whilst Liberty, AIUK and Reprieve revealed their primary state-level focus by identifying the depoliticization dynamics of secrecy and the narrative of fear as the greatest obstacles to checking government overreach, CagePrisoners stated ‘misunderstanding and blind ignorance’. For them, the social impact of society not understanding the Muslim community, ‘what they’re about and their belief system’ is a major factor in the way government policy is formed. His responses suggest that the government construction of a ‘paradigm of who we are and the way that we engage’ has completely neglected the crucial importance of micro power dynamics. In a reflection of the multitudinal networks of Foucauldian power relations, Asim Qureshi, Executive Director of Cageprisoners, outlines that ‘our identity is not just an identity; it’s a multitude of identities that superimpose themselves one on top of the other’. It may seem logical and practical for the UK government to ask the Muslim community to report on ‘bad’ Muslims through policies such as PREVENT; however, the top-down engagement with only the archetypal ‘good’ Muslim that has been created in the political imagination effectively renders the policy counter-productive and end up pushing away the majority of Muslims who feel they do not fit that rigid definition. CagePrisoners gave the example of Muslims being targeted by the government for simply disagreeing with government policies such as going to war with Iraq. At a recent lecture, CagePrisoners’ founder, Moazzam Begg, spoke of a teenage girl arrested for writing poetry that was seen as ‘extremist’. In their view, the government-led counter-terror policy is ‘dictated by people who are not willing to engage in a way that is useful’, thus simultaneously legitimizing more and more extreme measures against ordinary people in order to secure the state, while creating resentment and isolation among communities who would be willing to engage on their own terms.

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This insight cuts to the social core of the combined dynamics of risk engendered by the DPR; ultimately, as asserted by CagePrisoners, this ‘criminalization of people based on an assumption of what you think they are’ takes away Muslim agency. It says, ‘you’re not capable of making up your own mind…you’re not capable of engaging with society…and so we’re going to put you all in the same tub and treat you all in the same way’. This is why the policy shift from targeting violent actions to ‘extremist’ thoughts dictated by UK counter-terror policy worries CagePrisoners so much; it is inherently disenfranchising and disempowering.

Indeed, this micro-level understanding of power dynamics in the context of risk-governance and the need to resist them is also demonstrated by Reprieve in a way that connects the global, macro-level power dynamics inherent in the War on Terror; apart from the macro-issues of the rendition program and Guantánamo, they acknowledge that it is ‘Life After Guantánamo’ (LAG) that poses a big social problem (Reprieve, 2009). Their LAG program thus attempts to overcome the social and psychological difficulties experienced by ex-detainees that result from absorbing all four dynamics of risk via pre-emptory policies and the way that society treats them when they are finally released.

The U.K. government’s perpetuation of what CagePrisoners calls a discourse of ‘misunderstanding’ ultimately produces a Muslim identity that is inherently perceived as ‘risky’. Not only does this dynamic force the Muslim community as a whole to feel responsible for the devastation created by terrorist attacks they had no connection with, the government’s attempts to use this community as an intelligence source ends up actually isolating them further. The rest of society, meanwhile, sinks further into a cycle of constant vigilance and suspicion: is the neighbor with the blinds constantly down up to no good? The perpetuation of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and ‘suspicious’ and ‘normal’ labels within UK security practice mean that it is likely that majority society will accept – even crave – extension of security measures and further curtailments on the rights of socially constructed ‘bad people’. The state of constant readiness for the next attack that is physically taken on by the U.K. population thus leads to the dynamic I will be focusing on next week: the expansion of ‘securitization’.

Aditi Gupta

Aditi Gupta graduated with an MSc in Global Politics (Civil Society) from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Autumn 2013.  She has previously worked at Soul Rebel Films and Reprieve and has co-authored reports based on depth interviews conducted for the Indian development NGO, CHIRAG. Aditi has volunteered for refugee and homeless organizations in the UK and is developing a career in the human rights field. This is the fourth installment in her five-part series on Crimcast which began on January 3, 2014.

An Exploration into How Risk-Based Security Policy Depoliticizes Counter-Terrorism Measures

Nickie Phillips

NTAS

Part 3 of 5 in a series on Risk-Logic and the War on Terror

Aditi Gupta, Guest Blogger

The impact of the dynamic outlined in last week’s post (decoupling of political decision-making from actuality) is linked to the second dynamic put in motion by the application of risk-logic to govern terrorism in the UK: depoliticization. The governance of terrorism is essentially stripped of any politicized concern from the public as the interlinked rationalities that drive the Dispositif of Precautionary Risk (pre-emptory mode of governance) enable policy-makers to present security issues as something that needs immediate attention, leaving no time for reasoned debate.

Furedi (2005) explains that this presentation of issues is inextricably linked to a ‘politics of fear’ that overshadows informed debate, thus depoliticizing security issues. De Londras (2011) shows that in the aftermath of an attack, the desires of both the state and the people come together to create a politico-legal space where repression is possible. In the UK this process was triggered by fear following the traumatic attack on London underground transport on 7th July 2005 (7/7) by Yorkshire-born suicide bombers. This legitimized the DPR’s (mode of risk based precautionary governance) central rationalities of worst-case-scenario-thinking and risk of serious and irreversible damage and thus justified the deployment of technologies of zero-risk.

Handwritten letter of condolence after the 7/7 attacks (Photo: Stephen Hird— Reuters/Corbis)

As Johnston (2005) notes, many of the raft of new powers that were introduced after 7/7 were previously sought by the police. However, it was the aftermath of the attack that ‘changed the political environment within which they debated’, allowing for the acceptance of new anti-terror measures to inflate police and executive power. Thus, the ‘politics of fear’ that underlies the dynamic of depoliticization engendered by this risk-based governance can be argued to be a major force in the acceptance of policies that require unprecedented levels of government intervention.

The rationality of zero-risk, however, is one that is self-perpetuating as it drives the imperative to act, to present the terrorist threat as controllable. However, this threat is incalculable according to traditional statistical models of risk based on what is ‘abnormal’. Thus, the fetishization of control that emerges of out the DPR mode of governance's combined rationalities is based on an imagined creation of the terrorist ‘other’. This has translated itself in the UK in two interlinked social constructions that set in motion the dynamic of depoliticization: that of the afore-mentioned panoptic screening process for potential terrorists presented as fair and objective; and the creation of a calculable, controllable Muslim ‘terrorist’ to create a visible target of control.

Amnesty International United Kingdom (AIUK) argues that the extreme circumstances presented by 7/7 allow governments to depoliticize mass surveillance by claiming it ‘treats all citizens the same’, and ‘if everyone does the right thing…then they have nothing to worry about’. However, as outlined in my first post, this front of objectivity obscures fundamentally value-laden choices. The introduction of RIPA in 2000 saw mass surveillance with nearly 444,000 authorizations for communications data between 2005-2006, and techniques such as data mining, cross-department sharing or ‘profiling’ that allow seemingly innocuous data to suggest tendencies that might target the individual for suspicion. The Information Commissioner regarded this practice so depoliticized that we are ‘sleepwalking into a surveillance society’ (Crossman, 2007). Indeed, even after the vast reach of the NSA PRISM scandal and revelations of TEMPURA (mass surveillance databases laundered between the UK and the US) were exposed, polls indicated that the majority of Britons still valued the protection that they felt surveillance afforded them. Thus the dynamic of depoliticization hides the penetrating nature of these surveillance policies through a front of objectivity.

The construction of the Muslim ‘terrorist’ is propagated by the UK Counter-terror strategy’s unambiguous identification of the ‘new’ threat of terrorism coming from Islamists, thereby explicitly linking Islamists and terrorism (HM Government 2006:1). This has been supplemented by a discursive construction of the Muslim community as suspect: ‘few terrorist movements could have lasted for long without a supportive community’ (cited in McGhee 2008:69). This discursive creation by its very nature depoliticizes every single policy, strategy and risk technique deployed within the DPR because, in targeting a minority, it has ensured that the majority of the population does not feel politically or socially threatened by this form of governance.

How this dynamic effects resistance: power dynamics

Through Foucault’s governmentality framework we can see the constant flux not only in the dynamics of power, but in the technologies that are deployed as part of the DPR mode of governance. O’Malley (2008:69) argues that ‘resistances shape existing risk techniques and practices’. Thus, Selchow’s dynamics engendered by the DPR are not simply an effect of a mode of governance through risk but articulations of the constant negotiations between the multiple networks of power active within the state’s journey to its goal of zero-risk. This dialogue is most clearly seen by the deployment of the technology of secrecy in order to safeguard the discourses and technologies of the DPR. For example, Reprieve points to the introduction of the Justice and Security Act (JSA) as a ‘response to the efforts of human rights groups to hold the UK to account’ for its complicity in rendition and torture cases.

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The JSA pulls together all three areas of UK pre-emptive counter-terror policy: detention, surveillance and complicity in extraordinary rendition. It stipulates that cases involving ‘sensitive’ information pertaining to security need to be tried in secret, using closed evidence that the defendant is not allowed to see. Therefore, those suspected in the War on Terror are stripped of their right to fair trial (Bowcott & Cobain, 2012). It is thus revealing that the JSA came into being due to the legal action of Binyam Mohammed against the UK Government, backed by Reprieve, for their complicity in his rendition and torture. As CagePrisoners asserts, ‘independence and transparency are the key to dealing with problems within society – the JSA is the perfect example of how the government is going in a reverse trend to this’. In general, abuses are very difficult ‘to get the slightest information about’ (Reprieve Interview). This evidence-gathering strategy is thus essentially emasculated if it is not possible to obtain evidence, or even to challenge the evidence put forward by the government in security cases as access to it is now blocked by the JSA.

The failure of the human rights organizations  (HROs)to challenge the JSA reveals the powerful depoliticizing force that the construction of the Muslim ‘terrorist’ represents. All of the HROs interviewed acknowledged that a significant factor in their failure to defeat the JSA was the fact that people ‘don’t think it will affect them’ (Reprieve Interview). Reprieve detailed that Ken Clarke, the U.K. Justice Secretary, argued that the closed evidence mechanism would only have ‘narrow’ use, and that ‘people accept that’. This is because the non-Muslim majority have not felt negatively affected by any of the counter-terror policies that have been rolled out.

This narrow focus is seen by all four HROs as a barrier to reaching the non-Muslim population; in the ‘battle for truth’ regarding the JSA, AIUK laments that the government ‘put forward a very compelling narrative’ that argued that this bill ‘will make things fairer’. Both Liberty and AIUK illustrate that this depoliticized narrative was much harder to challenge as the political argument against it now had to use very technical legal concepts to explain why it was actually inherently unfair. If the majority of cases affect only Muslims, then this explains why the profound social impact of giving up the guaranteed right to a fair trial has not gained traction as a wider societal issue.

This disproportionate effect on Muslims is compounded by the dehumanization of this suspect community, thus legitimizing these measures. As AIUK indicates, the depoliticization engendered by the DPR allows for exceptions for a discursively created ‘bad’ people who do ‘bad’ things. Indeed, CagePrisoners sees the legitimization of these measures as a by-product of the ‘demonization’ of Muslims. He sees the essential criminalization of the Muslim community as based ‘on an assumption of what [the government] thinks we are’ due to a paranoia of ‘who we are’ and ‘what we believe in’. CagePrisoners’ impassioned response was given a sharper edge in their example of a government list of children ‘at risk of extremism’ with one child less than three years old. It is assumptions like these that feed back into the DPR technology of surveillance assemblages that submerge individual cases into types, creating new risk assessed identities based on these broad categories. Thus, in the UK, depoliticization follows Krassman’s (2007) observation that it is no longer necessary to actually see the person one judges. Indeed, from the perspective of power-relations one can see that HRO attempts to humanize policies results in aggressive response. As Reprieve states, ‘they do turn around and come after you’ if you break ‘the unwritten rule of “never make the prisoner human”. In Reprieve’s case, aggression was precipitated by the level of success they had achieved in showing the human costs of Guantánamo by publicizing the hunger strike. Reprieve’s viral video that showed rapper, MosDef, being force-fed in a Guantánamo jumpsuit brought the brutal human impact home to thousands of viewers.

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Therefore, the main effect of the dynamic of depoliticization is that the majority of the population does not feel affected by counter-terror security policy due to the dual construction of a terrorist Muslim ‘other’ and seemingly objective screening process. Burchell (1991:146) argues that individuals only feel affected when ‘the way they are governed requires them to alter how they see themselves as governed subjects’; it is only then that we become aware of the ways the political power of the state impinges on our lives, that ‘we feel it’. Ultimately this means that the counter-arguments to security policies engendered by risk-logic are not just forced to prophesize the future, but due to their narrow focus, have to campaign in the realm of the social imagination.

Aditi Gupta

Aditi Gupta graduated with an MSc in Global Politics (Civil Society) from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Autumn 2013.  She has previously worked at Soul Rebel Films and Reprieve and has co-authored reports based on depth interviews conducted for the Indian development NGO, CHIRAG. Aditi has volunteered for refugee and homeless organizations in the UK and is developing a career in the human rights field. This is the third in her five-part series on Crimcast which began in early January, 2014.

What Introductory Criminal Justice Students Need to Know About the Media and Crime

Nickie Phillips

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At the start of a new semester, criminal justice professors face the daunting task of demystifying media myths

Danielle Reynolds, Crimcast Correspondent

The media, through various means, has become the primary source of news and entertainment for many Americans. Each day the media reaches millions of viewers, listeners and readers throughout the world and provides a rapid broadcast of knowledge and information. Although the ability to have “the world at our fingertips” is beneficial, the inaccuracies and rash portrayals of current events can lead to inadvertent consequences.

Crime in the news

Crime is portrayed in the media on a daily basis, whether it is in the newspapers, on television, via video or written blogs, among other means. As criminologist Ray Surette explains, news regarding crime may be general, referring to broad trends and issues, or specific, in reference to a particular crime incident. The media has one objective, to sell stories. Therefore, it chooses which crimes, victims and court cases merit attention, often choosing to expose the most sensational, emotional, and significant crime stories. Unfortunately, the media does not always broadcast information in an objective or accurate manner, which can lead to unintended consequences.

How the media portrays crime

The media increases crime salience through agenda setting, priming and framing the “best-selling” stories. The public is exposed to certain crime issues and then primed to believe that those issues warrant more political attention. The media chooses which social problems merit greater attention and relies on the government and experts to interpret and contextualize these problems to the public. As viewers, we rely on the government and experts to frame the news for us and determine the criteria by which we judge public policies or crime related issues. Lastly, the media encourages its audience to arrive at certain conclusions by promoting a particular treatment recommendation or moral evaluation to the problem. It often focuses blame on a particular individual or larger social or political institution, which ultimately affects punitiveness and future policy preferences.

Representations of the police in the media are often overdramatized and romanticized. Research has shown that police are often presented favorably in television and movies; as fictional television dramas show the majority of cases solved and criminal suspects successfully apprehended. Unfortunately, crime presented as entertainment distorts viewers understanding of criminal investigations. Subsequently, the public develops unrealistic expectations regarding the investigation process, police use of force and forensic evidence. Such portrayal reinforces traditional law enforcement tactics including increased police presence, harsh penalties and increasing police power.

The effect on viewers

It has been argued that heavy television viewers have an altered perception of the “real world”, shaped by the media. Therefore, these viewers feel a greater threat from crime and believe that crime is more prevalent than statistics indicate. Violent crime is disproportionately broadcast and portrayed as more violent, random and dangerous than in the “real world”. Subsequently, viewers internalize these crime stories and develop a “scary” image of reality. Unfortunately, this threatening perception of society initiates fear, mistrust, and alienation, causing viewers to support more “quick-fix” solutions against crime.

Leading to punitive policies

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Misinformation dispersed by the media heightens public sensitivity to the crime problem, reinforcing public sense of immediate and inescapable danger. Subsequently, fear and anxiety develop as the public pressures politicians for a “quick-fix” and extreme solution to the crime problem. These “quick-fix” solutions focus on short-term crime relief, resulting in more punitive rather than preventative polices and encourage more policing, arrests and longer sentences.

The media coverage of minorities and crime demonstrates the disproportionate portrayal of minorities shown in menacing contexts. Blacks are more likely than whites to be shown in mug shots, in physical custody of the police and victimizing strangers and members of different races. Media representations of minorities result in exaggerations of crime statistics including the number of blacks arrested for crimes and the likelihood that the public will be victimized by minorities. This ultimately attributes the crime problem to blacks as a group. This false depiction of minority criminals leads to public fear and mistrust of minorities, allowing for the expansion of punitive policies based on race.

This culpability was demonstrated by the media’s coverage of the “War on Drugs”. The media exposed an imminent and threatening national crisis and recommended the use of power and mobilization of massive resources to curb the threat and vanquish the “enemy”. Images and stereotypes of the “enemy”, exposed by the media, included young, inner-city, minority males in gangs terrorizing communities and innocent citizens while conducting illegal drug deals and committing various crimes. Subsequently, the public became fearful and began to alienate themselves from the community, while pressuring politicians for an immediate “quick-fix” solution. Consequently, the police crackdown on street-level drug dealers and harsher sentences resulted in additional arrests and longer prison sentences. However, the underlying conditions leading to the drug problem remained unidentified and unaffected. In addition, the punitive “quick-fix” solution lead to unintended consequences, including angry and hardened attitudes towards offenders, increased costs of the criminal justice system and intensified racial tensions, resulting from targeting minorities. Concerns about constitutional and civil rights waned, citing more immediate concerns for public safety. Respect for the law eroded, as the public encouraged more aggressive policing strategies, exposing citizens to expanded discretion of law enforcement and infringements of their Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

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Danielle Reynolds, Crimcast contributor, teaches Criminal Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Danielle earned her Master’s degree in Criminal Justice in 2011 from John Jay College where she was awarded the Claude Hawley Medal and Graduate Scholarship. She currently lives in New York City.