In the 1840s, cheap mass-marketed newspapers raised the relationship among the media, crime, and criminal justice to a new level. The intervening history has only strengthened the bonds, and comprehending the nature of the media, crime, and justice relationship has become necessary for understanding contemporary crime and criminal justice policies. The backward law of media crime and criminal justice content, where the rarest real-world events become the most common media content, continues to operate. In the 21st century, the media present backward snapshots of crime and justice in dramatic, reshaped, and marketed narrow slices of the world. Media portraits emphasize rare crimes like homicide, rare courtroom procedures like trials, rare forensic evidence, and rare correctional events like riots and escapes to present a heavily skewed, unrealistic picture. Significantly exacerbating this long-term tendency are new social media.
When the evolution of the media is examined, the trend has been toward the creation of a mediated experience that is indistinguishable from a real-world experience. Each step in the evolution of media brought the mediated experience and the actual personally experienced event closer. The world today is the most media-immersed age in history. The shift to new social media from the legacy media of the 20th century was a crucial turning point. The emergence of social media platforms has sped up what had been a slow evolutionary process. The technological ability of media to gather, recycle, and disseminate information has never been faster, and more crime-related media content is available to more people via more venues and in more formats than ever before.
In this new mediated world, everyone is wedded to media in some fashion. Whether through the Internet, television, movies, music, video games, or multipurpose social media devices, exposure to media content is ubiquitous. Media provide a broadly shared, common knowledge of society that is independent of occupation, education, ethnicity, and social class. The cumulative result of this ongoing media evolution is that society has become a multimedia environment where content, particularly images, is ubiquitous in the media. Mediated events blot out actual ones, so that media renditions often supplant and conflict with what actually happened. This trend is particularly powerful in crime and justice, where news, entertainment, and advertising combine with new media to construct a largely unchallenged mediated crime and criminal justice reality.
The most significant result is that, in this mediated reality, criminal justice policies are generated. What we believe about criminal justice and what we think ought to be done about crime are based on content that has been parsed, filtered, recast, and refined through electronic, digital, visually dominated, multimedia entities. Ironically, while the media are geared toward narrowcasting and the targeting of small, homogenous audiences, media content is constantly reformatted and looped to ultimately reach wide, multiple, and varied audiences.
In the end, the media’s criminal justice role cannot be ignored. Until the linkages between media, crime, and justice are acknowledged and better understood, myopic and punitive criminal justice policies will be the norm.
Margaret Colgate Love
Executive clemency has a rich history in the United States, both as an agent of justice and as a tool of politics. A presidential power to pardon was included in Article II of the Constitution, and all but one of the state constitutions provides for a clemency mechanism. States have established a variety of ways to manage and sometimes limit a governor’s exercise of the constitutional pardoning power, but the president’s power has remained unlimited by law. Until quite recently, clemency played a fully operational part in both federal and state justice systems, and the pardoning power was used regularly and generously to temper the harsh results of a criminal prosecution. Presidents also used their power to calm and unify the country after a period of strife, and to further policy goals when legislative solutions fell short.
But in modern times unruly clemency’s justice-enhancing role has been severely diminished, initially because reforms in the legal system made it less necessary, but later because of theoretical and practical objections to its regular use. A reluctance on the part of elected officials to take political risks, as well as clemency-related controversies, have further eroded clemency’s legitimacy. As a result, in most U.S. jurisdictions clemency now plays a limited role, and the public regards its exercise with suspicion. There are only about a dozen states in which clemency operates as an integral part of the justice system, in large part because its exercise is protected from political pressures by constitutional design. At the same time, the need for an effective clemency mechanism has never been greater, particularly in the federal system, because of lengthy mandatory prison sentences and the lifelong collateral civil consequences of conviction. It appears unlikely that an unregulated and unrestrained executive power will ever be restored to its former justice-enhancing role, so that those concerned about fairness and proportionality in criminal punishments must engage in the more demanding work of democratic reform.
As we begin to think about the United States as a carceral state, this means that the scale of incarceration practices have grown so great within it that they have a determining effect on the shape of the the society as a whole. In addition to the budgets, routines, and technologies used is the culture of that carceral state, where relationships form between elements of its culture and its politics. In terms of its visual culture, that relationship forms a visuality, a culture and politics of vision that both reflects the state’s carceral qualities and, in turn, helps to structure and organize the society in a carceral manner. Images, architecture, light, presentation and camouflage, surveillance, and the play of sight between groups of people and the world are all materials through which the ideas of a society are worked out, its politics played out, its technology implemented, its rationality or common sense and identities forming. They also shape the politics of freedom and control, where what might be a free, privileged expression to one person could be a dangerous exposure to another, where invisibility or inscrutability may be a resource. In this article, these questions are asked in relation to the history of prison architecture, from premodern times to the present, while considering the multiple discourses that overlap throughout that history: war, enslavement, civil punishment, and freedom struggle, but also a discourse of agency, where subordinated peoples can or cannot resist, or remain hostile to or in difference from the control placed upon them.
A discussion of feminist perspectives on crime and criminal justice in popular culture has to begin by pointing out that pop culture itself has traditionally been gendered as feminine. As epitomized by abstract visual art, nonnarrative poetry, and auteur cinema, high culture is still regarded in some critical circles as the opposite of popular culture, which is associated with the seductive and immersive qualities of mass media. Resulting from a masculinist aesthetic that privileged difficulty and abstraction as in Modernist poetics, so-called feminine forms have traditionally been considered to be less valuable than ones associated with masculinity. Media vehicles associated most readily and negatively with popular culture are those directed primarily at women audiences, such as daytime television, romance novels, and women’s magazines. Associated with the domestic space, leisure time, and unemployment, television itself was until recently viewed as a less-valuable, feminine medium.
For these reasons, and because of television’s preoccupation with crime, this article concentrates on television as a formally feminized medium that has for technological and social reasons now become more highly valued. Critiquing the conjoining of masculinity and cultural value is a feminist task. As viewers watch their favorite series in public spaces on handheld devices, and certain series are considered novelistic and complex enough to supersede other cultural forums, television has gained new cultural credence and is a premier space in which to relate popular images about women and criminal justice.
Chris Cunneen and Sophie Russell
The pervasiveness and prominence of mass media are key features of contemporary societies. Nowhere is this more relevant than when we look at the ubiquity of social media. In recent years, anticrime Facebook pages have appeared across all states and territories in Australia, and as our social spaces increasingly shift from the physical to the virtual realm, different forms of online cybervigilantism have emerged. This article explores the ways in which community justice and vigilantism in Australia are exercised through social media in the wider context of the racialized criminalization of Indigenous young people. We also discuss how new forms of media are used to produce and reproduce a racialized narrative of crime, which at the same time has the effect of legitimating violence against young Indigenous Australians. The text draws on a number of anticrime Facebook pages and finds that the very presence of these sites legitimates the beliefs of its members, while providing details about potential targets, most of whom are young people. We contend that the views expressed on these sites mirror, in more prosaic language, sentiments that are expressed in sections of the old media and among a number of ultraright politicians and groups. Further, these sites do little to question the broader ideological and political frameworks that present crime and disorder as being divorced from structural and historical conditions. There is, then, an assumed social consensus around what is being presented on these Facebook sites: namely, that overt racism and calls to vigilante violence are socially and politically acceptable. While there appears to be a direct link between the Facebook groups and incidents of violence in some cases, on a broader level, it is the constant reinforcement of an environment of racist violence that is most troubling.
The origins of “narrative criminology”—meaning not so much the utilization of the narratives of (and on) criminals as the awareness of the importance of the narratives themselves and how they can become a focus of criminological research—are framed within the so-called narrative wave in the field of human sciences; but a deeper look into the history of the discipline allows us to discover that the interest in the narrations of crime dates back to the dawn of criminology and has influenced the development of the science ever since the time of Lombroso. Moreover, it has influenced the various traditions that have characterized criminology itself. The emergence of narrative criminology can thus be traced to narrative psychology, from which it has inherited the search for coherence and consistency in offenders’ narratives (with a view to producing an unified self-narrative); to the work of Goffman and to ethnomethodology, with regard to the view of narratives as self-presentations; to structuralism, for what concerns the presence of “pre-written” narratives, which are available in the broader sociocultural context; and finally, to the postmodern visions of social sciences and literature.
In developing its distinctive approach, narrative criminology has focused on narratives as motivators and producers of crime, discovering that crime narratives often do not appear centered around a unitary conception of a self: they are multidimensional, fluctuating, fragmented, and disarticulated. Moreover, narratives depend on the situation of the narrator, or his or her positioning in the social structure and determination by the cultural or social fields. Sometimes the narrator is not in control of these fields and is pushed by forces he or she does know nothing about.
Crime narratives are full of references to other texts, and their interpretation is complex. Sometimes they are elliptical, concise, short, and refer to what everyone knows and must be simply hinted at: they sign the emergence from the not-said, the not-knowable, anticipating or following an act that often does not find words, or taking its place. It follows that, since its inception, narrative criminology has revealed itself to be interested in the analysis of singular cases (“one is enough”).
Narrative criminology, in sum, positions itself in a space previously not occupied and connects with other new exciting developments in the field (cultural criminology, visual criminology, constitutive criminology), contributing to the study of the relation between individual and social narratives on one side, and among not easily defined individual, structural, and cultural dimensions on the other.
Miscarriages of justice, also called wrongful convictions and errors of justice (Forst, 2004), have long been a subject of popular interest. Traditional ballads and stories recounted the plight of the poor man facing execution for poaching to feed his family (“Geordie,” Child Ballad #209), the wife or sister who attempts to gain his release by surrendering her virtue to the cruel judge (“In his golden bed at midnight/There she heard the gallows groaning …”), and the outlaws, rebel leaders, and condemned men who told their stories from the scaffold (“Roddy McCorley”). These traditional stories focus on the contrast between good and evil, the implacability of the judge, and the imminence of death, while the theme of injustice is hinted at but never spoken. It is only in the final third of the 20th century that it becomes possible to speak of wrongful conviction as a topic of academic study and to explore it scientifically, trying to determine how often it occurs, and whether it is the result of human error.
This article first provides a brief history of wrongful convictions, beginning with the Salem witch trials, and then turns to the discovery and crisis of forensic evidence in the 20th century. By the end of the 20th century, forensic evidence techniques, from fingerprint identification to hair analysis, to interrogation techniques, had been called into question by the DNA revolution and the Supreme Court’s holding that expert witnesses in federal courts must be able to show the scientific basis for their testimony. Then we will turn to the psychological research that suggests that our current investigative techniques can provide false or misleading results. Causation can be divided into proximate and ultimate causation, and in the latter category, we will describe a social psychological theory which seeks to understand why, for example, it is so often the poor man (or, in the United States, the man of color) who faces execution for a crime he did not commit. Throughout, we will note the role of popular entertainment and news media in establishing a social understanding of wrongful convictions and assumptions as to its causes. We will close with considering three recent true crime documentaries whose success predicts similar efforts down the road.
Throughout the history of journalism the notion of a mother killing her infant child—committing an act of infanticide—has always been high on the news values scale. In the 19th century, sensational news reports of illicit sexual liaisons, of childbirth and grisly murder, appeared regularly in the press, naming and shaming transgressive unmarried women and framing them as a danger to society. These lurid stories were published in broadsheets and the popular press as well as in respectable newspapers, including the most influential English newspaper of the century, The Times of London. In 19th-century England, The Times played a powerful role in influencing public opinion on the issue of infanticide using lurid reports of infanticide trials and coronial inquests as evidence in stirring editorials as part of their political campaign to reform the 1834 New Poor Law and repeal its pernicious Bastardy Clause, which had led to a large increase in rates of infanticide. News texts, because of their ability to capture one view of a society at a given moment in time, are a valuable historical resource and can also provide insight into journalism practices and the creation of public opinion. Infanticide court and coronial news reports provided details of the desperate murderous actions of young women and also furnished potent evidence of legal and government policy failures. The use of critical discourse analysis (CDA) in studying infanticide reports in The Times provides insight into the ways in which infanticide news stories worked as ideological texts and how journalists created understandings about illegitimacy, the “fallen woman,” infanticide, social injustice, and discriminatory gendered laws through news discourse.
This article analyzes the tension created between the lack of images and the imagination of alternative justice from the particular perspective of “restorative justice.” The most sustained justice discourse to propose significant differences to the criminal justice system, restorative justice nevertheless has not proposed differences necessarily on the “battleground of images,” but, as argued in the article, mainly on the subterrain of “imagination.” It does not, therefore, offer an image of alternative justice, but rather an alternative of justice that belongs to the realm of imagination, pointing simultaneously at the limits of representation and the necessity of developing new forms of imagination that go beyond images to incorporate alternatives at the levels of metaphors, language, architecture, and practices. Using a few exemplary cases, the text argues overall for the primacy of imagination over images of alternative justice.
Bill McClanahan, Avi Brisman, and Nigel South
Since first proposed by Brisman and South, green cultural criminology has sought to interrogate human-environment interactions in order to locate meaning. Within the broad framework of green cultural criminology, work has emerged that follows visual criminology in looking to the visual cultural register for insights into the intersections of crime, harm, justice, culture and the natural environment. This article turns the green cultural criminological gaze towards motion pictures, by considering how cinema can serve as a central and essential site of the cultural production and communication of knowledge and meaning(s) that inform human interactions with the natural environment. Indeed, environmental crimes, harms, and disasters are constructed and imagined and represented in cinema, and the films discussed in this article illustrate the ways in which the environment-culture connection in the contemporary cinematic mediascape has influenced public discourses concerning environmental change and harm. This article begins by examining the capacity of documentary film to raise public awareness and generate shifts in public consciousness about environmental harms. From here, it explores cinematic science fiction representations of apocalyptic climate disaster, noting the power of the medium in communicating contemporary anxieties surrounding climate change. Finally, filmic communications of a central category of interest for green cultural criminology—resistance to environmental harm—are described, in addition to the various ways that resistance by environmentalists has recently been represented in popular cinema. The films discussed throughout—including An Inconvenient Truth, Cowspiracy, The East, If A Tree Falls, Night Moves, and Snowpiercer—are not an exhaustive sampling of contemporary representations of environmental issues in cinema. Rather, they represent the most salient—and are among the most popular—moments of contemporary cinematic engagement with the nexus of environmental harm and culture. This article concludes by contending that a green cultural criminology should continue to look to the visual register because sites of cultural production often overlooked by criminology (e.g., cinema, literature) can reveal significant and essential information about the moments in which environmental harm, justice, and culture intersect and collide.