News media, popular culture and the electronic monitoring of offenders

Nellis, M. (2003) News media, popular culture and the electronic monitoring of offenders. The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice, 42 (1). pp. 1-31. ISSN 0265-5527 (

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On 10 January 2002, I was asked to provide a little expert comment on electronic monitoring (EM) on BBC Radio Birmingham's ‘Late Show’, the pretext being a newspaper report earlier that day indicating that Scotland was soon to roll out a national EM programme. It was clear when I met her that the show's host had no idea that electronic monitoring had already been underway in England and Wales for several years. Her immediate reaction to the idea of it was hostile: being sentenced to serve time in one's own living room hardly seemed like punishment. Several callers to the show were invited to comment on it in these terms, and most were adamant that it was obviously no substitute for imprisonment. The experience was, for me, indicative (in microcosm) of the generally poor quality of media debate about EM in England and Wales, and suggested that EM has simply not registered with the public as the tough punishment that its supporters hoped and its opponents feared it would be. This article is a preliminary attempt to map the nature and level of awareness that has been shown about EM in various manifestations of popular culture – the press, TV, cinema and literature – and to tentatively suggest why it has taken the forms that it has. The article understands popular culture primarily as a resource for interpreting and bestowing meaning upon EM but also, more cursorily, considers it as an aspect of the milieu in which creative technological developments are conceived.