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Natasha Frost and Carlos Monteiro
With its long and storied history, solitary confinement has fascinated Americans since the birth of the penitentiary in the late 1700s. Once a practice that loomed large in literary representations of a distant and mysterious institution, solitary confinement has more recently been brought to the forefront of public discourse through its many representations across mediums of popular culture. Today, given popular culture’s global reach, the mystique of solitary confinement has diminished sharply, and conversations about this controversial practice are no longer limited to college classrooms, textbooks, and peer-reviewed journals. What many once referred to as a mysterious hole reserved for the worst of the worst offenders and covered for decades primarily through literary formats, is now commonly discussed in the comment sections of investigative reports and YouTube videos depicting footage from actual solitary confinement cells. The comments accompanying such popular culture representations in many ways reflect current debates about the efficacy of the practice. Today, for example, it is easy to come across representations of solitary confinement that showcase its necessity as an effective prison management tool and it is equally easy to find representations that highlight the anguish and burden of solitary confinement. Today, popular media have become one of the most effective mechanisms for disseminating information regarding important social issues, including solitary confinement.
Carceral geography has emerged as a vibrant and important subdiscipline of human geography, and there is increasing, and productive, dialogue among human geographers concerned with the carceral and disciplinary scholars with longer-standing engagements with incarceration and detention. Although the geographical study of the prison and other confined or closed spaces is relatively new, this dialogue between carceral geography and cognate disciplines of criminology and prison sociology, ensures that carceral geography now speaks directly to issues of contemporary import such as hyperincarceration and the advance of the punitive state.
Carceral geography addresses a diverse audience, with geographical approaches to carceral space being taken up by and developed further within human geography, and in criminology and prison sociology. Carceral geography has emerged in concurrence with the “spatial turn” in criminology, and the spatialization of carceral studies, and the particular ways in which carceral geographers have engaged spaces and practices of incarceration—specifically with concerns for mobility, for multisensory carceral experiences, and for methodology—may offer further, and productive, avenues of collaboration between geographers and criminologists concerned with the carceral.
Sport is a part of our shared global and separate national popular cultures. Understanding of baseball may be low in the United Kingdom and may come from films like Field of Dreams, but the phrase “three strikes and you’re out” has entered English and Welsh Criminal Justice practice. Such mandatory sentencing for repeat offenders are, like “zero tolerance” or “the war on drugs,” often seen as imports from the Unites States. The popularity of baseball in Japan may be known to only a few outside that country. Many will associate Sumo with Japan, fewer will know of corruption and betting scandals (on baseball!) in the sport. The global sports of football and athletics/track and field have seen major corruption scandals. In athletics, that corruption may also involve the covering up the use of performance enhancing drugs. The sport most associated with drugs is cycling. The premier cycling—and popular cultural, event—the Tour de France, has seen occupational drug taking on a considerable scale, with the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong being the only knowledge of the sport that many will have.
All these sports have waged their “war on drugs” or corruption, and these have entered popular culture through books and films. Yet many still believe sport to have noble roots and beneficial outcomes. Projects set up to prevent crime or encourage desistance from it are popular around the world; examples being soccer or rugby for prisoners, car racing for “joyriders,” or challenging adventure trips. Even tennis, golf, and video games have their supporters. Many successful boxers speak of troubled pasts from which their sport (and popularity) has saved them. However, many have found that fame (or loss of fame) and physical prowess have led them into trouble. There are also political and moral objections to sport. Specifically, there are feminist objections to the violence of some sportsmen towards women, as shown by stars of the NBA and NFL, NCAA athletes, and even local college teams. The occasional violence of sportswomen is treated, like women’s crime, as doubly deviant and especially newsworthy.
Gerald Cliff and April Wall-Parker
As far back as the 19th century, statistics on reported crime have been relied upon as a means to understand and explain the nature and prevalence of crime (Friedrichs, 2007). Measurements of crime help us understand how much of it occurs on a yearly basis, where it occurs, and the costs to our society as a whole. Studying crime statistics also helps us understand the effectiveness of efforts to control it by tracking arrests and convictions. Analysts can tell whether it is increasing or decreasing relative to other possible mitigating factors such as the economy or unemployment rates in a community. Politicians can point to crime statistics to define a problem or indicate a success. Sociologists can study the ups and downs of crime rates and any number of other variables in the society such as education, employment rates, ethnic demographics, and a long list of other factors thought to affect the rate at which crime is committed. Property value is affected by the crime rates in a given neighborhood, and insurance rates are said to fluctuate with the ups and downs of crime.
Analyzing any criminal act’s prevalence, cost to society, impact on victims, potential preventive measures, correction strategies, and even the characteristics of perpetrators and victims has provided valuable insights and a wealth of useful information in society’s efforts to combat violent/index crimes. This information has only been possible because there is little disagreement as to exactly what constitutes a criminal act when discussing violent or property crimes or what has come to be grouped under the catch-all heading of “street crime”; this is decidedly not the case with crimes included under the white-collar crime umbrella.
Street culture, the states of being, beliefs, and patterns of behavior associated with the most excluded urban populations, can be observed across the world in numerous varieties. Scholars of “slum” life have noted concerns that bear curious similarities over time and space, speaking to issues of exclusion, crime, and criminalization, and to expressive practices that have come to inspire a range of cultural products that are now heavily marketized. Street cultures are at the apex of different debates and studies. Are street cultures, which emphasize entrepreneurial “hustles” and fierce competition, fundamentally different from mainstream cultures of neoliberal capitalism and consumerism? Studying varieties of street culture and the extent to which individuals adhere to them in different ways highlights the complexities of the relationship between the impoverished self and contemporary social structures: new iterations of racism, patriarchy, and inequality. Examining street expressive practices, such as graffiti art, streetwear, and a variety of musical genres, is far from decorative where it reveals new ways in which the disadvantaged are criminalized while the culture industries are reinvigorated. Included populations are both fearful of and fascinated by the urban poor in a manner that simultaneously supports harsh criminal justice measures and cultural exploitation.
Michelle S. Phelps and Caitlin Curry
Over the past half-century, the number of adults under criminal justice supervision increased precipitously in some Western countries, with carceral control in the United States reaching an unprecedented scale. While much of the scholarly attention has been focused on the development of mass incarceration, new research focuses on the parallel expansion of mass probation and, more broadly, mass supervision. In the United States, the number of adults on probation and parole supervision increased from one million in 1980 to a peak of nearly 5.1 million in 2007, more than double the number of inmates in local, state, and federal jails and prisons. Estimates from Europe in the late 2000s suggest that there were approximately 3.5 million on community sanctions, compared to 2 million incarcerated. Individuals on these sanctions serve out their initial sentences (or remaining time after release from jail or prison) while residing in the community under the supervision of a probation or parole officer.
As scholarship increasingly focuses on the expansion of community supervision, we are learning more about this form of punishment. Probationers and parolees are subject to a variety of conditions, including reporting regularly to their supervising officers, finding and maintaining employment, avoiding drug use and re-arrest, participating in therapeutic programs, and paying fines and fees. Failure to comply with the demands of supervision may result in variety of penalties, up to a return to custody for the entire length of the suspended prison sentence. Thus, while probation and parole are often framed as acts of leniency—allowing individuals to avoid incarceration and/or exit early—they can be experienced as quite punitive. In other words, the official discourses and everyday practices of supervision blend both punitive and rehabilitative elements. The composition of this blend varies significantly across countries, states, local departments, individual officers, and the officer-supervisee relationship. This variation has produced a kaleidoscope of different practices, all under the banner of community supervision.
The survey, a research methodology in which variables are measured through the answers to questions on a data collection tool called a “survey questionnaire,” has been used to investigate several potential relationships between mass media and crime. In almost all studies, the relationship hypothesized is media influence, in which the media images change the consumer’s attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. Most commonly the hypothesized change is behavioral: individuals who consume violent, sexual, or otherwise suspect media images purportedly have a heightened risk of engaging in criminal acts. Other hypothesized effects of media consumption that are studied frequently include racist or otherwise biased attitudes, which could impact decision making during the criminal justice process; inaccurate beliefs about crime, with an impact on fear of crime and resultant changes in public policy; and the CSI Effect, an exaggerated belief in the efficiency of forensic science in identifying criminal offenders, which could sway jury decisions.
Survey-based research studies have rarely found that mass media consumption has a significant impact on criminal behavior or biased attitude, and its impact on beliefs about crime are contingent on many more significant factors. While these poor results may suggest that there is indeed minimal impact, the problem may lie within the methodology itself, in the ability of survey-based questions and answers to adequately measure the independent variable (media consumption) and the various dependent variables. Additionally, the problem may lie within the essential premise of media influence, with its passive, naive viewer and a radical disjunction between media and real life.
Legal discourse is language that people use in a globalizing and multicultural society to negotiate acceptable behaviors and values. We see this played out in popular cultural forums such as judicial television dramas. In the American context, television judge shows are virtually synonymous with reality courtroom television. There have been a few judge shows, but these have been completely overshadowed by the success of reality courtroom television. The first reality courtroom show was The People’s Court, and its history and early success are discussed in the opening section of this article. The next section looks at the television judge show landscape after the first incarnation of The People’s Court up to the present day in the United States. The third section is dedicated to a discussion of television judge shows outside the United States, chiefly in Europe. The focus is on German and Dutch versions and on the ways in which they differ from the original U.S. versions. This section also briefly looks at the effects of modern digital technology on the judicial genre and asks whether enhanced viewer engagement and crowdsourced justice in the near future will force judges to bow to the popular will, on and off the small screen.
The themes of terrorism and counter-terrorism have infused the America media’s cultural production for several decades. These popular culture products were designed first for consumption by domestic audiences but also for export to audiences throughout the world, quickly assuming a role in US cultural imperialism. Much of this production took the form of news reports about political turmoil, sectarian violence and liberation, independence or nationalist movements—almost always occurring “somewhere else” in the world. Still others appeared as fictional narratives embedded within diverse entertainment genres such as political thrillers, war, sci-fi, romance and suspense, sometimes in a lifeworld that paralleled that of the domestic audience. But more often than not this production took the form of lifeworlds mimicking foreign lands, mythical pasts, or dystopian futures. Popular culture’s tales of terrorism and counter-terrorism maintained this relatively stable pattern for much of the last quarter of the 20th century. Al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks against the United States on 11 September 2001 considerably impacted that narrative pattern, and while not fundamentally changing the script, this attack resulted in significant rewrites. To begin, the portrayal of terrorism and the War on Terror, both real and fictionalized, became the central theme in a great deal of popular culture, including television programs, feature films, PC/video games, YouTube videos, advertisements, popular music, and of course, the news. These mediated texts—in essence, stories that the US cultural industries tell about terrorism and the state’s attempts to fight it—reconstituted the social reality of terrorism and counter-terrorism. In the immediate aftermath of al-Qaeda’s attacks, the American cultural industries increasingly served as a conduit for US hegemony, both at home and abroad. While there is a long history of arm’s-length cooperation between the state and the entertainment industry in the production of popular culture products that can be traced back to the early 1930s, the immediate post-9/11 period heralded an era of not only more terrorism and counter-terrorism narratives but also narratives whose content changed incrementally (but ultimately markedly) largely as a result of the state’s direct involvement in crafting them.
Chief among the changes was the streamlining of a narrative that emphasized the growing ubiquity of terrorist threats to the American people on US soil. Indeed, in the lifeworlds created by post-9/11 popular culture, terrorism and counter-terrorism are no longer things that happen primarily or exclusively elsewhere. America’s business interests abroad, its embassies and military installations, are no longer the only likely targets of terrorist activity. These traditional targets have been augmented by many others, including iconic buildings in major cities, national monuments, and critical infrastructure—as well as by more mundane parts of the US landscape, such as schools, sports stadiums, amusement parks, and shopping malls. Like that espoused by the state, the culture industries’ narrative is clear; no one is safe from terrorism.
Predictably, the narrative shift that amplified the danger, barbarism, and proliferation of the terrorist threat was complimented by one which aggrandized the counter-terrorist efforts of the United States. In popular culture’s various lifeworlds counter-terrorism strategies, no matter how extreme, are understood as reasonable and legitimate. The narratives, comprised almost wholly of fetishized presentations of military, national security, and law enforcement agents with state- of-the-art weaponry dispatching terrorists with deadly force, provide virtually no political or socio-historical context and offer no alternative to resolving conflicts other than the unfettered use of state violence.
As such, popular culture’s presentation of terrorism and counter-terrorism serves to provide the resolution that the real-world War on Terror promised but did not deliver, while at the same time contributing to a narrative that demands its continuation.
This article explores what happens to criminal evidence after the conclusion of legal proceedings, described here as the afterlife of evidence. The text investigates the ways that this material proliferates in the shadow of the law, in both cultural and commercial contexts. During the criminal trial, the rules of evidence and criminal procedure operate to tightly regulate the collection, admissibility, and interpretation of evidence. After the criminal trial, these rules no longer control evidence, and this material is sometimes subject to the substantial cultural curiosity associated with true crime and its artifacts. This article sets out some of the new questions that are posed by this material when it is transferred beyond the law’s control.