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- Criminology and Criminal Justice x
Documentary films have significant appeal because of their claim to represent truth and authenticity. Within the criminal justice system, they are important not only because of the public fascination with crime and punishment, but also because the everyday workings of the criminal justice system often remain outside of the direct experience or sight of most people.
There have been major stages in the technical and institutional development of documentary film. In its early years, actualités, short shots of realistic events, illustrated the new technology. As rudimentary narrative forms emerged, real events, including crimes, were recreated on film for paying audiences. Fiction films soon came to dominate and documentary was relegated to a supporting role, particularly in the form of newsreels that offered news and features prior to movie presentations. It was during the late 1920s and 1930s that the potential for film, including documentary, came to be recognized as a potential medium of state power. This was most notoriously seen in Nazi Germany, but also more benevolently in New Deal America. In the United Kingdom, John Grierson’s documentary movement spearheaded the use of documentary in workplaces, professional clubs and institutions as a means of promoting state sponsored social improvement. State control remained important during the Second World War and the subsequent period of reconstruction. The growth of television and the development of portable cameras and sound equipment opened up a new approach in the late 1950s and 1960s. Cinéma-vérité and direct cinema not only brought about stylistic innovations, such as hand held camerawork, but also took the filming into new spaces and offered a voice to previously unheard people, reflecting the social upheavals of the age. This approach became more widespread as a stylistic trope, but its original political purposes waned. Since the 1980s, the documentary field has become more diverse and fragmented, as a result of deregulation and the expansion of media markets, and the greater accessibility of equipment. Popular documentary on large network channels has often focused on entertainment, leading to new forms of infotainment. In contrast, there has been more opportunity for critical voices to be heard that contest dominant ideas. Throughout these eras, documentary has featured and responded to crime and criminal justice within the context of broader social change.
The evolution in documentaries about crime and criminal justice has, in particular, been shaped by three factors. The first is the role of individual agents, such as prominent filmmakers whose work has stood the test of time or has influenced the field. Second, there have been institutional factors, including the technology of film, notably the development of more portable and affordable equipment, but also there have been changes in the production process including sources of funding and distribution. The third factor is ideology. Cultural products, including documentaries about criminal justice, are created and consumed within a contested ideological context, and their meanings or significance can only be understood by reference to that context. As a result, these documentaries are important means of understanding the criminal justice system and the wider social context in which they are situated.
Dimitri A. Bogazianos
While criminological analyses of drugs and popular culture often focus on media constructions of drug scares and epidemics, they also draw from a wide range of interrelated influences, including critical theory, cultural studies, feminism, and critical race theory, among many others. Given that current trajectories of hypermediated cultural production in a post-crack drug landscape is unlikely to change anytime soon, ever more fine-grained analyses will be needed in order to make sense of the inextricable links between drug-related representations, crime policy, and social justice. Future scholarship in this area will continue to draw from its rich heritage as well as innovate new methodological and theoretical emphases that pay closer attention to the nontextual elements of popular cultural forms.
Carole Gibbs and Rachel Boratto
Environmental crime is a complex and ambiguous term for several reasons. It is sometimes used as an umbrella term for crimes related to biodiversity, wildlife, animals, natural resources, hazardous waste, banned substances, and environmental quality, but scholars have also developed typologies to capture the unique dimensions of each form of environmental crime. Disagreements regarding whether to distinguish violations of environmental laws (addressed via civil prosecution or administrative actions) from environmental crimes (criminally prosecuted), and whether to also consider environmental harms (legal activities that harm the environment) or environmental risks produce further confusion. The range of offenders also complicates this concept, as individuals, groups/networks, and powerful organizations commit environmental crimes. The degree of harm created by each actor may, or may not, be equivalent.
Given the complexities of this area of study, scholars have developed and/or tested a wide range of theoretical perspectives on and interventions to address environmental crime. Consistent with conceptual disagreements, these theoretical frameworks and corresponding interventions vary (arguably the most) based on whether the dependent variable is environmental crime (as defined by law), or environmental harm or risk defined using other criteria. However, multiple theoretical perspectives/interventions are also examined within research on these broad categories of environmental crime, harm, and risk. In order to capture the breadth of research on environmental crime, we narrow the focus of this article to pollution related crimes (e.g., hazardous waste, banned substances, environmental quality). In the following article, we offer further detail regarding conceptual discussions, legal complexities, types of offenders, types of crime, and research on this subset of environmental crimes.
Stories involving false confessions can be emotional and moving, as they appeal to our innate desire for justice. As such, stories of false confessions can be powerful tools in books, films, and televisions shows. The way that a false confession is framed, and the context in which it is introduced to consumers (whether as readers or viewers) makes a big difference in how a false confession will be perceived.
In fictional stories in print or on screen, typically the viewer (or reader) has some sense of a person’s true innocence or guilt. In a television show, the viewer may have already seen a clip of the crime with the true criminal. Other musical or visual cues may also give viewers clues as to the true guilt or innocence of an individual offering a confession to a crime. Because viewers know, or will know, the true identity of the person who committed the crime in question, the use of an interrogation or a false confession (or both) can be used to demonstrate the moral character of the confessor. In exactly the same way, the use of a false confession in a fictional story can be used to demonstrate the morality of a police officer or even a whole police department. For example, a scene depicting the interrogation of a suspect that viewers know is not guilty may be used to demonstrate the use of immoral, coercive interrogation techniques by television detectives.
In nonfiction, the exploration of false confessions is often used to demonstrate the fallibility of the justice system. Because the idea that an innocent person would confess falsely to a crime that they did not commit seems incredibly counterintuitive to the average person, in-depth explorations (whether in documentaries, podcast series, newspaper or magazine expose, etc.) of the process by which false confessions can happen can be instrumental in helping people understand the reality of the phenomenon. The way a case or a confession is framed in the media and understood in popular culture also impacts our social construction of that person’s guilt or innocence.
Fear of crime has been a serious social problem studied for almost 40 years. Early researchers focused on operationalization and conceptualization of fear of crime, specifically focusing on what fear of crime was (and was not) and how to best tap into the fear of crime construct. This research also found that while crime rates had been declining, fear of crime rates had stayed relatively stable. Nearly 40% of Americans indicated they were afraid of crime, even though crime was declining during the same time period. This finding led researchers to study the paradox of fear of crime. In other words, why does fear of crime not match up with actual chances of victimization? Several explanations were put forth including a focus on vulnerability (e.g., individuals felt vulnerable to crime even if they were not vulnerable) and a focus on differences in groups (e.g., women were more afraid of crime than men, even though they were less likely to be victims). Thus, many studies began to consider the predictors of fear of crime. Researchers since this time have spent most time studying these fear of crime predictors including individual level predictors (i.e., sex, race, age, social class), contextual predictors (neighborhood disorder, incivilities, and social cohesion), along with the consequences of fear of crime (psychological and behavioral). Such results have provided guidance on what individuals fear, why they fear, and what impact it has on the daily lives of Americans. Future research will continue to focus on groups little is known about, such as Hispanics, and also on the impact of behavior on fear of crime. This future research will likely also benefit from new techniques in survey research that analyzes longitudinal data to determine causality between fear of crime and other predictors such as risk and behavior.
Kathryn Henne and Rita Shah
In response to the limitations of mainstream criminology, feminist and visual criminology offer alternative approaches to the study of crime, deviance, justice institutions, and the people implicated by them. Although feminist and visual lines of criminological inquiry have distinct foci and analytical strengths, they both illuminate disciplinary blind spots. Feminist criminology responds to criminology’s embedded gender biases, while visual criminology challenges criminology’s reliance on text and numbers. They offer approaches to redress criminology’s general lack of attention to the broader cultural dynamics that inform crime, both as a category and as a practice. Unpacking the visual through a feminist criminological lens is an emergent critical project, one that brings together and extends existing feminist and visual criminological practices. Combining feminist criminology and visual studies offers new possibilities in the areas of theory and methodology. Doing so also lends to new modes through which to query gendered power relationships embedded in the images of crime, deviance, and culture. Moreover, such an approach provides alternative lenses for illuminating the constitutive relationships between visuality, crime, and society, many of which exceed mainstream criminological framings. It brings together interdisciplinary perspectives from feminist studies and visual studies rarely engaged by mainstream criminology. Thus, a feminist visual criminology, as an extension of feminist criminology’s deconstructivist aims, has the potential to pose significant—arguably foundational—critiques of mainstream criminology.
Nancy C. Jurik and Gray Cavender
The academic literature notes that male-centered protagonists dominated the crime genre (novels, film, television) for many years. However, beginning in the 1970s, when women began to enter the real world of policing, they also began to appear in the crime genre. Scholars describe how in those early years, women were depicted as just trying to “break in” to the formerly male world of genre protagonists. They experienced antipathy from their peers and superiors, a situation that continued into the 1980s. In the 1990s, television programs like Prime Suspect addressed the continuing antipathy but also demonstrated that the persistence and successes of women protagonists began to change the narrative of the crime genre. Indeed, some scholars noted the emergence of a feminist crime genre in which plot lines were more likely to address issues that concerned women, including issues of social justice that contextualized crimes. Not only was there an abundance of women-centered genre productions, there was a significant increase in academic scholarship about these protagonists. Some scholars argue that once women in the crime genre reached a critical mass, some of their storylines began to change. There was a tendency for women to be seen as less feminist in their career orientations and more like traditional genre protagonists, e.g., brooding, conflicted, and oppressive. Plots abandoned social justice issues in favor of more traditional “whodunits” or police procedural narratives. The same darkness that characterized men in the crime genre could now be applied to women. Some scholars have argued that a few feminist-oriented productions continue to appear. These productions demonstrate a concern not only with gender but also with issues pertaining to race, class, sexual orientation, and age. For the most part, these productions still center on white, heterosexual women, notwithstanding some attention to these larger social matters.
Janine Little and Danielle Tyson
Filicide is the deliberate act of a parent killing a child. Despite its low occurrence, filicide is one of the most emotive offenses for a public audience. The murder of a child by their own parent challenges many of our fundamental expectations about the role of parenthood, prompting a sense of horror, outrage, and deep distress: It violates the idea of parental instincts as a protection for children. While maternal and paternal filicide is committed in roughly equal numbers, historically, filicide has been regarded as a female crime. However, media coverage of mothers who commit filicide differs from coverage of fathers who commit the same crime. Infanticidal mothers in particular have a long history of being demonized by the media and in popular culture. Research shows that this is partly because such events shatter expected feminine and maternal norms. Despite the considerable body of scholarly work conducted in this area of crime and media culture, there were few studies of filicide in Australia until recently. As a consequence, the media’s portrayal of these tragic cases is to treat them as “inexplicable” while also attempting to find an explanation, most often through stereotyping, simplification, or rationalization.
Despite the central role that fines and other fiscal penalties play in systems of criminal justice, they have received relatively little scholarly attention. Court systems impose fines and other monetary sanctions in response to minor administrative and traffic offenses as well as for more serious criminal offenses. Monetary sanctions are intended to provide a deterrent punishment to reduce lawbreaking, to provide opportunities for accountability through financial restitution, to restore harm caused to victims of crime, and to fund the operation and administration of courts and criminal justice systems. Fines, fees, and other monetary sanctions are the most common form of punishment imposed by criminal justice systems. Most criminal sentences in the United States include financial penalties, and monetary sanctions are routinely imposed for less serious, and far more common, infractions such as traffic or parking violations.
For many, paying a monetary sanction for a low-level violation is an annoyance. However, for the poor and people of color who are disproportionately likely to be subject to criminal justice system involvement, monetary sanctions can become a vehicle for expanded social inequality and increasingly severe criminal justice contact. Failure to pay legal financial obligations often results in court summons or license suspensions that may have attendant additional costs and may trigger incarceration. In the United States, the criminal justice system is heavily and routinely involved in the lives of low-income people of color. These already-existing biases, coupled with the deep poverty that is common in many communities, join to widen the net of criminal justice involvement by escalating low-level infractions to far more serious offenses when people are unable to pay. Despite the routine justification of monetary sanctions as less-severe penalties, if imposed without restriction on the poor, they are likely to magnify the inequality producing effects of criminal justice system involvement.
Focused deterrence strategies are increasingly being implemented in the United States to reduce serious violent crime committed by gangs and other criminally-active groups, recurring offending by highly-active individual offenders, and crime and disorder problems generated by overt street-level drug markets. These strategies are framed by an action research model that is common to both problem-oriented policing and public health interventions to reduce violence. Briefly, focused deterrence strategies seek to change offender behavior by understanding underlying crime-producing dynamics and conditions that sustain recurring crime problems and by implementing an appropriately focused blended strategy of law enforcement, community mobilization, and social service actions. Direct communications of increased enforcement risks and the availability of social service assistance to target groups and individuals is a defining characteristic of “pulling levers” strategies.
The focused deterrence approach was first pioneered in Boston, Massachusetts and eventually tested in other jurisdictions. The available empirical evidence suggests these strategies generate noteworthy violence reduction impacts and should be part of a broader portfolio of crime reduction strategies available to policy makers and practitioners. While focused deterrence strategies attempt to prevent crime by changing offender perceptions of sanction risk, complementary crime prevention efforts seem to support the crime control efficacy of these programs. These strategies also seek to change offender behavior by mobilizing community action, enhancing procedural justice, and improving police legitimacy. Focused deterrence strategies hold great promise in reducing serious violence while improving strained relationships between minority neighborhoods and the police departments that serve them.