Faculty Publications


Televised images of jail: Lessons in controlling the unruly.

SelectedWorks Author Profiles:

Dawn Cecil

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date





Purpose: The purpose of this chapter is to examine televised images of jail by looking at televised documentaries and reality-based programs. Since jails are closed institutions, the way the media depicts tem can have a significant impact on people’s perceptions of these institutions.

Methodology: Content analysis, a common media research technique, was employ3ed to analyze how jails are portrayed on television. More specifically, a sample of seven televised documentaries and 24 episodes of the reality-based programs Jail and Inside American Jail were examined to determine the accuracy of these images, as well as the underlying themes presented in these programs.

Findings: There were both similarities and differences in the way these programs depicted county jails in the United States. Overall both programs offered a selective look into the jail system. Whether depicting the largest jails in the country or focusing exclusively on the areas of the jail where inmate outbursts are most likely to take place, these programs offer a sensationalized view of jail that supports current crime control policies.

Research limitations: The sample used in this study is a purposive sample and only focuses on reality-based images (excluding news broadcasts). Examining additional televised images of jail would add to the strength of this study.

Originality of paper: Although research on prison s in the media is becoming more popular, that on jails is nonexistent; therefore, this chapter adds to our knowledge of how these institutions are portrayed in the media.


Series: Sociology of Crime, Law, and Deviance, Volume 14





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