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Portrayals of Women as ExCons in the Media

Newspapers, radio, television, and the internet allow citizens the opportunity to make informed choices and serves as part of the checks and balances of a society, a ‘fourth branch of government.’ Mass media is necessary as its existence ensures that those elected to public office are held accountable. The media also serves to entertain and the line drawn between news reporters’ efforts to amuse and sources of entertainment attempting to inform is crossed continuously. Media acts as the link between people’s personal lives to events outside what they encounter in their everyday routine. Because of this connection, it serves as an important vehicle in the understanding of how society functions and strengthens the public’s involvement in those decisions that affect their standard of living. The media reflects and reports and, as some speculate, shapes collective societal thought. This is particularly true when it comes to the media’s portrayal of women, especially those women who are entering upon a new life having been released from a prison institution. Investigating the various methods that are used to report stories of women in prison, it can be determined that many of these stories are constructed so as to present a specific viewpoint that tends to support a stereotyped portrait of what a woman leaving prison ought to appear.It has been suggested in a number of studies that crime news and media are constructed around a central idea rather than actually reported as they are (Young, 1971. Cohen 1971, 1972. Cohen and Young, 1973. Chibnall, 1977 and Hall et al, 1978). The concept of a constructed news story, or stories as the case may be, centers on the concept that coverage is selective, only relating those stories that support the desired outcome. As it has been portrayed in the media, this concept is responsible for the general opinion among the public that the prison system works at least to a nominal degree.