02 Nov 2017
These are disturbing times. Almost each day, when we watch the television, read a newspaper, or listen to the radio, we are bombarded with threats to our well-being and safety. Such risks are difficult to detect, and at times contentious, ranging from issues such as terrorism, crime, and so forth. Currently, the United States incarcerates a higher number of its population than any other nation in the globe. Non-violent offenders or those who have been incarcerated for minor crimes constitute over sixty percent of the jail and prison population, and this number is steadily increasing. Additionally, the number of people incarcerated went from 500, 000 in 1980 to two million in 2010. As a result, people believe there is a major crime problem in the U.S. By the contrary, the crime rates of serious offenders or crimes have not been this low since 1960. The increase of minor crimes and serious crimes having more exposure from media has led to a false sense of danger.
This false sense of danger or dangerousness and anxiety has come to dominate our perception of the world and that we have become fixated with trying to control these threats. With regard to offenders, dangerousness is a phrase used in numerous various settings, including legal and academic, and popular discourse. The exact meaning will vary in each of these. But, there have been some efforts to construct broad definitions. For instance, according to ( ), "â€¦dangerous offenders were those whose propensity to repetitively commit crimes of a non-capital but serious nature put the well being of the community at riskâ€¦". Such a definition highlights various issues.
First and foremost, what type of behavior should come with such a definition? Earlier on, dangerous offenders were mostly seen as acquisitive prolific offenders. Later, this led to moral panics that indeed threatened to destroy our society. The definition is also spreading to cover anti-social and non-criminal behavior and into a new class of hyper-dangerousness that relates to very serious criminal activity such as terrorism. Nevertheless, the theory of dangerousness within the context of criminal justice is mostly taken to refer to sexual or violent offending. This might appear to be uncontroversial; but this can cover a wide range of different activities. Offences which can generate undefined detention range from those that are serious like murder to others, like manslaughter, which can cover a wide range of circumstances of varying seriousness to others, like possessions that do not involve serious harm. Thus, beyond a narrow core of serious cases, the boundaries of what amounts to the type of behavior, which can be considered dangerous is open to contention.
Secondly, what scale of likelihood of future risks should be required before a person can be said to present a risk of future offending? Well, it can be stated that the capacity to foretell future serious offending is quite problematic. The third question relates to where the appropriate balance is, between protecting the public and human rights. A lot has been made by the government about the proper balance between the right of the community to safety and individual civil liberties. This brings to mind the issue of whether the present concern with dangerousness as portrayed by the media is just a marginal criminological concern or whether it is deeply embedded in our society. It can be argued that the approach of a society to serious offenders both influences and reflects the nature of that particular society more commonly.
The media has always been obsessed with crime. But, the post-war era has seen a qualitative change which an increasing focus on serious violent and sexual crime and a quantitative change, as methods of communication have expanded ( ). Furthermore, there has been a distinct change in how victims and offenders are portrayed with the picture of offenders darkening. ( ). Criminals as depicted by the media have become more predatory, irrational and crimes more senseless, violent, and random. Thus, the differences portrayed in the media between the criminals and general public has swollen. The portrayal of victims and offenders is observed as a zero sum game where any expression of concern for the offender is seen as an insensitive and direct affront to the victim ( ). This changes the public view of prisoners. It has been argued that "â€¦in the end when we present a prison image we shape the expectation of the public about what prison is like, and what happens inside a prison, of who prisoners are, and what they have doneâ€¦" ( ). Thus, the media excessively represents serious crimes that feeds a negative public view and in reality, suggests to the public that serious crime is more prevalent than it is the case.
Also, the portrayal of offenders prevents their views being heard, including issues like the social context that might assist them in comprehending offending. Moreover, the public receives a depiction, which suggests that in general the criminal justice system and in particular, prisons are largely concerned with serious offenders, a depiction, which does not fit with the reality. Such a misrepresentation of the issue of serious offenders thus encourages public support for measures against a broader range of individuals. This also acts to sidetrack the public from broader social issues, which might contribute to crime, such as indulging in too much alcohol and so on, instead providing reasons solely based on the strange psychology of offenders.
In conclusion, this paper has argued that the distorted understanding of crime among the public is because of media misrepresentation. It has been argued that this is motivated by controlling the public through fear. While these arguments are crucial, the end result is that the view of dangerousness is becoming increasingly significant, whereas the reality is increasingly masked.
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