Professor Douglas Berman’s Sentencing Law & Policy blog noted this interesting new Color of Change report. Here is an excerpt Professor Berman highlighted from the report’s introduction:
Police procedurals and legal dramas are the bread and butter of primetime lineups, drawing the largest audiences in the U.S., in addition to hundreds of millions of viewers annually around the world. These series communicate about the criminal justice system as much as any other popular medium, if not more. Thus, they likely play some role in shaping viewers’ fundamental understanding of right and wrong, the role of race and gender in society, how the justice system works and what we should and shouldn’t expect from both the system and the people in it.
There are many possible consequences of inaccurate and distorted portrayals. For instance, when these series neglect to depict or acknowledge unjust racial disparities in the criminal justice system — as this report demonstrates most of them do — viewers may be more likely to believe that these problems no longer plague the system (or perhaps never have) in real life.
When they depict police, prosecutors, judges and other players in the system as justified and correct in their intentions and actions, and depict the reality of the system as fair and effective, viewers may be more likely to believe the system is working effectively in real life; moreover, they may become skeptical of those who question its fairness. If series portray white people as victims of crime more often than others, they may affect the level of empathy that viewers feel for the lives of one group of people relative to another. Such portrayals can influence whom we think of as the face of crime victims, and even what justice for crime victims should look like.
When the beloved police, prosecutors and other criminal justice professional characters on these series break the rules or violate someone’s rights, viewers may see their actions as normal and rightful if there is no depiction of the many harms their rulebreaking behavior causes: short-term and long-term physical harms, financial harms, life trajectory harms, psychological harms, the many different harms of being denied freedom in numerous forms….
The cumulative effects of these and other inaccurate portrayals — whether related to women, people of color or crime and criminal procedure itself — may build an unfounded public faith in the status quo, and even turn the viewing public against urgently needed reforms that criminal justice experts have recommended as necessary, just and effective.