In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mass Media, Crime, and Justice

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Social Construction
  • Public Perceptions and Attitudes about Crime
  • Criminal Justice Policy Formation
  • Media Based Efforts to Reduce Crime and Victimization
  • Media Technology, CCTV, and Surveillance

Criminology Mass Media, Crime, and Justice
Raymond Surette
  • LAST REVIEWED: 04 October 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 April 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0049


The impact of the mass media on crime and justice is recognized as substantial, and serious interest in the topic can be traced to a number of historical trials and crimes. Criticism of media actions and content was common but research was sparse and not rigorous until the Payne Fund studies of the 1930s. Relevant research soon broke into varied streams and disciplines and has competed with junk science, diatribes, and overstated conclusions about causality since. The current issues in the public mind revolve around the effect of publicity on the processing of criminal cases, the effect of violent media on social aggression and crime, and the effect of sexual media on sexual behavior. Additional ongoing lower-visibility issues involve the surveillance of public-space areas (such as parks and neighborhood streets), the generation of copycat crime, the relationship between news media and terrorism, pernicious effects from video games, and various efforts to use the media to reduce and solve crime. Mass media, crime, and justice encompass a broad set of disciplines such as law, sociology, criminology, communications and mass media, and theoretical perspectives such as diffusion, social learning, social constructionism, critical criminology, cognitive psychology and imitation. Under this broad umbrella, the study of social events from the discovery and investigation of crimes, arrest and crime prevention, criminal trials, to prison riots and escapes and social processes such as policy formation, news production, entertainment marketing, and criminalization and decriminalization of behaviors is included. As even this limited short list shows, the points of contact between a society’s mass media web and its extensive crime and justice system elements are numerous. Not surprisingly, the current literature and research are enormous, unwieldy, and widely dispersed. Here, sources are organized by media types, components of the criminal justice system, and areas of special interest. When a subarea is dominated by a particular theoretical perspective such as social learning, that is noted. Both seminal historical pieces and more recent research articles are provided when available.

General Overviews

Overviews and edited collections are particularly useful in the area of media, crime, and justice because the research and theoretical perspectives that have been brought to bear are so far-flung. Edited collections of works are useful entrées into the literature while simultaneously serving as general overviews. Three are recommended. Bailey and Hale 1998 provides good introductory essays on the crime and justice content that dominated throughout the 20th century. Greer 2009 offers a broader, more theoretically grounded, and more recent set of readings. Readers interested more specifically in visual media should examine Mason 2003. The other cited works discuss general crime, media, and justice issues. Surette 2011 serves as a broad introductory survey of the topic area; Greer 2009 is recommended to those entering the field. For slightly more focused reviews, readers interested in the role of television should examine Rapping 2003. Those interested in crime news can begin with Jewkes 2004 and Carrabine 2008, and sections of Rapping 2003 also apply. Those looking for discussions of the crime and media audience and the media industry are directed to Carrabine 2008. Finally, Crime, Media, Culture (currently edited by C. Greer and M. Hamm) exists as a readily available online journal that focuses on crime and media issues and is recommended as a general source for pertinent recent scholarly work.

  • Bailey, F., and D. Hale. 1998. Popular culture, crime and justice. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

    A good collection of essays the touch on a wide range of media, including movies, comic books, commercial films, and the news media. They also examine portraits of law enforcement, attorneys, and corrections.

  • Carrabine, E. 2008. Crime, culture, and the media. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

    A recent overview that takes a broader view of the issues than normally found elsewhere, while focusing on the production and consumption of crime narratives. With a nice eye to history in the media, crime, and justice area, the book includes sections on audience effects, the historical development of crime-related media content since the invention of the rotary press, and the media industry processes that cull, mold, and market crime narratives.

  • Crime, Media, Culture: An International Journal.

    The academic journal with the greatest emphasis on media, crime, and justice research. Fully peer-reviewed, it provides a vehicle for scholarly exchange across the fields of criminology, criminal justice, cultural inquiry, and media studies. The journal is recommended to researchers as a first stop to check for recent works in their specific research areas.

  • Greer, C. 2009. Crime and media: A reader. London: Routledge.

    A great entry point to the literature. A strong collection of forty-two essays, with a nod to early works that laid the foundation on which media crime and justice studies today rest. Greer’s introductions to his five subsections and to each reading add additional value, wherein Greer discusses the growth, history, deficiencies, and current posture of media criminology.

  • Jewkes, Y. 2004. Media and crime. London: SAGE.

    A work that touches on a number of current hot topics in this area: the refinement of the concept of newsworthiness as applied to crimes, moral panics, predator criminals, and media-based surveillance. In addition, the chapter on theorizing media and crime provides a solid introduction to the different theoretical perspectives that have been applied.

  • Mason, P. 2003. Criminal visions: Media representations of crime and justice. Devon, UK: Willan.

    An additional strongly edited collection of works that focus on images of crime and justice found in varied media on varied topics. With its focus on visual media, it harbingers the current evolution of new media.

  • Rapping, E. 2003. Law and justice as seen on TV. New York: New York Univ. Press.

    A discussion with a focus on television programming. Rapping surveys and discusses law-related content in entertainment, news, and infotainment television.

  • Surette, R. 2011. Media, crime, and criminal justice. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

    An introductory text that surveys the most common contact points among media, crime, and justice. Designed for undergraduates and organized along criminal justice system lines (crimes, law enforcement, courts, corrections, and policies), it is also recommended for graduate students and others delving for the first time into the literature.

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