Shivani Patel

Degree Type

Thesis (Campus Access Only)

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (BS)



First Advisor

Roopika Risam


The criminal justice system in the United States is extremely discriminatory against Black and Latinx people in particular and has many issues with racial disparities. Mass incarceration, legal discrimination, and unsafe prison conditions are only some of the problems that the system is facing. Black people have been disproportionately targeted by this system, as they have always been subject to over-policing and racism in the law, though Latinx people are also overrepresented in the system in comparison to the general population. The establishment of the War on Drugs in the 1980s only expanded these practices, and now the criminal justice system is at its breaking point. Media culture plays a role in shaping public sentiment about the criminal justice system. Television dramas about crime and prison sensationalize the system by encoding harmful narratives about crime and prison, which leads to audiences to decoding stereotypical and sensational messages. Using Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding model of media communication, this project investigates the impact of television dramas on viewers’ perceptions of crime, prison, and the criminal justice system. I analyze two popular television dramas, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Oz, in relation to research on the realities of the criminal justice system and the impact of television on viewers. My analysis demonstrates that there are many ways in which these programs perpetuate harmful and inaccurate messages and stereotypes to viewers about crime, prison, criminals, and the criminal justice system due to inadequate representation, lack of productive discourse about crime and prison, and racist imagery encoding.