This Just In
Police mug shots typically provide the first public view of our offender from media outlets. These pictures, taken soon after the dramatic events that led to the offender’s arrest, are rarely flattering. Depressed facial expressions & bedraggled appearances aside, the additional identifying tags in front and height markings behind are so ingrained in our minds from movies and news clips that we automatically associate “criminal” with the image before us. Thus, we have failed at the outset to consider the individual, their innocence, or the circumstances of their background. The victim and not the perpetrator is central to the headline and, at least, in the initial furor to provide the latest details on the story, the media would appear to treat all offenders alike. However, as the case develops, we see the differences in reporting on male versus female offenders and it is in the gender-disparity that we see the image of female offenders, as cast by the media.
Skin deep history
Take, for example, the highly-publicized case of Private Lynndie England. Her mistreatment of Abu-Ghraib prisoners, her personal background, and her sexual history were given more airtime and column inches than any of her fellow, male perpetrators. At the very least, a similarity to Pollack in terms of methodology is apparent. A search is conducted into the offender’s history in order to find some explanation or motivation for her actions. However, the similarities end here. Pollack’s view is all-encompassing and explores further into the past, back to the victimization of the current offender, rather than merely to past offences. Pollack’s studies have shown that, “…the percentage of female inmates who have been the victim of sexual, psychological or physical abuse as a child or an adult may be quite high.” (Pollack-Byrne 60-62). Pollack takes this knowledge and also reaches forward beyond sentencing, into the prison system’s services and programs. Whilst the media only follows the offenders from arrest to trial, effectively ending the story for the public, Pollack goes further to explore whether correctional facilities offer the optimal services for female offenders, who enter with more mental health needs than their male counterparts.
the Media’s message
By limiting the public to a truncated version of events, the media encourages imprisonment of offenders and fails to exercise possible influence over the programs therein offered. The media seems to reinforce a traditional criminological theory which was mostly developed by male criminologists for male offenders. England’s case is more deeply explored, leading one to conclude that hers was more difficult to accept and rationalize than that of her male counterparts, simply it was not expected from a woman. This expectation reflects the reality,”… females participate in a lower proportion of serious offences, as evidenced National Crime Victimization Surveys,” (Bureau of Justice Statistics 1992). However, the extra investigation of her case would seem to imply that the traditional theories explaining male crime fell short and that more examination of her case was required. In this way, Pollack’s non-traditional theories provide us with much needed insight where alternate examinations fall short. Further, she asserts that non-traditional views are associated with lower delinquency rates than traditional views. Armed with this broader viewpoint, the images associated with female offenders and perpetuated by the media could attain more realism. In addition, if the public’s view was reshaped; pressure to ameliorate correctional services for female inmates would be a possible consequence and as Pollack asserts, to less delinquency and so to a lesser female prison population.
Pollack-Byrne, Jocelyn. 2001. Women, Prison and Crime. Pacific Groves, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.