The role of Popular Media in dehumanizing people in the criminal justice system

People in prison, including those suffering from mental illnesses, are victims of mistreatment such as violence due to the use of excessive force and severe neglect in the form of moral exclusions and disengagement by prison guards and other staff  (Haslam, 2006; Blackler, 2015; Gullapalli, 2015), as per correctional policy. This mistreatment is not conducive to a successful reentry back into society. The US rate of recidivism in 2014 was 76.6% compared to Norway’s 20%. This difference is attributed to Norway’s implementation of the concept of “restorative justice” (Sterbenz; 2014). This concept prioritizes the humanization and rehabilitation of people in prison. Acknowledging their humanity and treating people in prison as people instead of irredeemable and unworthy of acceptance (Dreisinger; 2016). Despite the above research, existing information, and efforts made by activist and organizations lobbying against these conditions, the inhumane treatment continues to occur (Blackler, 2015). This would suggest that a larger constituency remains compliant with, and/or ignorant to, these abuses.​

The general public’s negative perception of who people in prison actually are encourages their willingness to legitimize or ignore prison injustices and the dehumanization of people in prison. Mainstream media characterizes these negative beliefs about people who go to jail or prison. According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day. According to the Television in American Society Reference Library, watching television influences viewers’ attitudes about people from other social, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. Watching TV also influences the way people think about important social issues such as race, gender, and class. Not only does television, movies and other shared media actively shape attitudes, but they also condition people to respond to things in a collective way, to develop shared feelings of ill-will and hatred, and to react impetuously without further thought or self-examination. Forms of media such as TV and film actively (p)redefine and engineer negative subconscious beliefs about people who go to jail or prison. These beliefs then feed into emotional responses. This is a technique that allows information to bypass any conscious thought.




The public’s perceptions of people in prison is influenced largely by stereotypical mainstream media portrayals of:

1. prison threats,

i.e. dialogue such as “If you go to jail something violent and sexual will happen to you.” 
2. prison situations, and
i.e. New prisoner entering a violent facility. 
3. physical characteristics of people in prison.
i.e.Tattoos, baldheads, huge muscles, and big-black-mean
The average TV viewer is not presented with honest representations of:

1. who people in prison actually are,

i.e. parents and students vs. murderers and drug dealers.
2. how they productively utilize their prison time, and
i.e. Self-advocating, creating programs inside, maximizing limited resources for professional development, and physical care. 
3. the good they are capable of when given fair and equal opportunities.
 i.e. or example: College in prison, skills building projects, and transitional support.
​These representations manipulate attitudes to fit within a particular frame, which like all frames excludes everything that doesn’t fit within its parameters.