Media Presentation of the Reformative Nature of Juvenile Detention Centers for Girls
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In 2016, approximately 248,000 girls were arrested in the United States (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2016). At a time when the criminal justice system faces new forms of scrutiny, media representations of criminality and incarceration become especially consequential. Our research investigates how a popular reality TV show portrays girls’ experiences within the juvenile justice system. We conducted an analysis of the Netflix docuseries Girls Incarcerated. We developed and applied analytic codes to every episode in Season One and Season Two. We found that the show portrayed juvenile detention centers as reformative—as institutions that encourage incarcerated girls to change their lives for the better. Two frames, including hard work and structure, emerged in support of this overarching theme. Specifically, the series depicted the girls adopting constructive behaviors, changing dysfunctional attitudes, and pursuing new goals. This ‘hard work’ was prompted and supported by the juvenile detention center’s programming, namely advising and school that were heavily infused with accountability structures. The ‘reform’ narrative that emerged in our coding of Girls Incarcerated is deeply problematic in its romanticizing of incarceration’s purposes and possibilities. The prescriptions of hard work and accountability may make for good TV, but they ignore the empirical realities of girls’ experiences in the criminal justice system.
Dr. Erinn Brooks, Sociology
undergraduate, research, collaboration, sociology, juvenile detention, girls, Girls Incarcerated.
Blazel, Emma, "Media Presentation of the Reformative Nature of Juvenile Detention Centers for Girls" (2021). Student Presentations. 9.