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Media, Moral Panics and the Politics of Crime Control (From Criminal Justice System: Politics and Policies, Seventh Edition, P 58-75, 1998, George F. Cole and Marc G. Gertz, eds. -- See NCJ-185991)

NCJ Number
Ted Chiricos
Date Published
18 pages
Recognizing criminologists use the concept of "moral panic" to try to understand why the public becomes almost hysterical about perceived threats to societal values and interests, the author argues moral panics are used by political leaders to justify expansion of the power of the State.
Hysteria over violent crime is a classic example of moral panic, a concept developed by Cohen who noted that at certain times a condition, episode, person, or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests. Moral panics can be understood as having an ideological dimension in that they initiate partisan calls to do something and there is a distortion of reality in pursuit of that objective. Recent moral panics in the United States are examined that involved crack cocaine in the late 1980's and violent crime in the 1993-1994 period. In showing how moral panic has misunderstood drug abuse and violence, the author does not suggest these are not significant problems. Rather, he argues moral panics disguise the fact that drugs and violence have been extraordinary problems for several decades, problems disproportionately affecting residents of inner cities. Command implications of moral panics over drugs and violence are discussed, particularly in terms of Federal and State legislative responses. 53 references and 3 figures