News Media and Popular Cultural Representations of the Electronic Monitoring of Offenders in England and Wales

Mike Nellis, University of Birmingham

ABSTRACT
The electronic monitoring of offenders (EM) was begun experimentally in England and Wales in 1989/90, was not taken seriously by government until the mid -1990s, and was not available nationally (as a community sentence and as an early release from prison mechanism) until 1999. Its protagonists in government and the private sector consistently promoted it as a tough new penalty which would impose unprecedented levels of control over offenders in the community. It was initially opposed by the probation service, whose professional territory it was seen to threaten, and by liberal penal reform organisations who saw it as an unneccessarily draconian measure, but it has become established and widely used (esp for early release) nonetheless. This paper looks at press coverage of EM since 1995, and at selected representations of EM on television (drama and documentary), in film and in novels. > Although there are exceptions, the dominant mode of > representation has been sceptical to hostile; the English press, in > particular, having portrayed it as a dubious American gimmick. > There is no significant sense in which it is seen, in popular culture, > as a punitive measure, nor as a threat to civil liberties. Changing > conceptions of privacy in contemporary culture will be tentatively > advanced as explanations for the discrepancy between the tough > image of EM shared by supporters and opponents alike, and the > more innocuous portrayal of it in popular debate.

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Updated 05/20/2006