Media Consumption and Support for Harsh Punitive Policies

Kelly Welch, Florida State University
Ted Chiricos, Florida State University

The explosive growth of prison populations, the proliferation of mandatory sentencing statutes, and the expanded use of the death penalty are among the indicators of an apparent surge in punitiveness in our culture. As manifest in the criminal justice system, that punitiveness has disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minorities. It has been hypothesized that some portion of this punitive sentiment may be linked to media coverage of crime that disproportionately emphasizes violence and purported minority involvement. Using survey data (N = 2,526) collected in Orlando, Florida during 1998, we assess whether people who are exposed to local television news, crime news stories in particular, and "reality" police programming endorse more punitive policies in relation to adult crime. We also assess whether TV crime consumption is related to the perception that crime is disproportionately violent and disproportionately involves non-whites. Finally, we assess whether these perceptions about the violence of crime and the involvement of minorities mediates the relationship between TV crime consumption and punitive attitudes toward crime.

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Updated 05/20/2006