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Prison Life in Popular Culture: From "The Big House" to "Orange Is the New Black"

Dawn K. Cecil
Prison Life in Popular Culture: From "The Big House" to "Orange Is the New Black"
ISBN: 978-1-62637-279-5
ISBN: 978-1-62637-280-1
2015/233 pages/LC: 2015011661
"Demonstrates how media depictions of prison life began, how images have changed over time, and how media stories emotionally manipulate and influence public perceptions about punishment and incarceration.... The author challenges educators and students to find ways to create more representative images of prison life as a more complete way of understanding prison subcultures."—Leanne Fiftal Alarid, Criminal Justice Review

"An excellent overiew of the primary forms of media representation [of prison life].... Cecil [also] makes some provocative and powerful arguments."—Jamie Bennett, Prison Service Journal

"Provides a fresh and insightful look into representation of prisons in contemporary television and film."—James Oleson, Australia & New Zealand Journal of Criminology

"This thoughtful, well-researched study makes an important contribution to the fields of criminology, sociology, cultural studies, and media studies. Highly recommended."—Choice

"Engaging and revealing.... With authority and clarity, Cecil provides a sensitive analysis of the popular spectacle of prisons in US culture today."—Mathieu Deflem, University of South Carolina       

"Should be required reading for anyone who wishes to understand why society thinks the way it does about prisons, prisoners, guards, and punishment."—Ray Surette, University of Central Florida


Through the centuries, prisons were closed institutions, full of secrets and shrouded in mystery. But modern media culture has opened the gates. Dawn Cecil explores decades of popular culture—from Golden Age Hollywood films to YouTube videos, from newspapers to beer labels, hip-hop music, and children's books—to reveal how prison imagery shapes our understanding of who commits crimes, why, and how the criminal justice system should respond.


Dawn K. Cecil is associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg.


  • History of Prisons and Prison Imagery.
  • Prisons in Headlines, Prisons in Unexpected Places.
  • The Big House on the Big Screen.
  • Televised Prison Dramas.
  • Early Prison Documentaries.
  • Modern Prison Documentaries.
  • Women Behind Bars.
  • Gendered Realities.
  • Music, Comedy, and Beyond.
  • Popular Culture's Legacy.