The Effects of Crime-Related Media on Californians' Opinions About Crime and Three Strikes Sentencing

Valerie J. Callanan, California State University, San Marcos
Robert Nash Parker, University of California - Riverside

This paper examines the effects of various forms of crime-related media on Californians' support for "Three Strikes" using results from a 1999 statewide random CATI survey of 4,245 California households. Employing a matrix of possible offense triads, the survey was able to discern support for three strikes laws at a greater specificity than has been previously been examined. The sampling stratification scheme allowed for a groups comparison of African-Americans, Latinos, and whites in a structural equation model. The effects of various forms of crime related media were examined on support for three strikes and on other opinions and beliefs about crime, such as crime seriousness, the purpose of imprisonment, the perceived level of crime in the community and in the state, and fear of crime. Results indicate that media do not directly influence support for three strikes, but significantly effect other opinions and beliefs about crime which are strong determinants of support for three strikes. In general, crime-related media consumption is positively related to punitive attitudes; the effects are particularly strong for local television news and crime-based reality programs such as COPS. Equality constraints suggest that although there are sigificant differences in crime-related media consumption across race/ethnic groups, the effects of media appear to work similarly.

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Updated 05/20/2006