Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Distractions: Casey Anthony and Episodic Crime News

So, everyone's been talking lately about the Casey Anthony case.  I don't know much at all about this case, nor do I care.  I actually see stories like this as distractions.  Sociologists who study crime in the media (especially the news) note that most crime reports focus on the actual event, such as the specific crime, victims, some demographic--"there were shots fired at x street at y time of the night, one victim taken to the hospital").  Others, though many fewer, might focus on the court case, and the specifics of the everyday activities within the court room.
Seldom are these reports connected to any larger issue(s).  For example, I don't know if Casey Anthony is guilty or not, but it seems like lots of people think she is.  If so, how might we understand this particular episode as similar to others?  Are there any linkages with the state of mental health services in the country?  Why might not only Casey Anthony, but others endanger their children?  I don't know the research as much as I'd like, but there's probably similarities between the Casey Anthony case and other parents who do things like keep their young children at home alone all day long, or in the car for hours at a time (perhaps indicative precursors or warning signs). We tend to see these as episodic, get really pissed at the individual, want them to be punished, and then we move on to the next episode without seeing any connections or linkages among these individual incidents.  Would things like this happen if we had more developed mental health and social services?  If we spent half as much on things that reduce the chances of these individual incidents as we do on dealing with the consequences (e.g., prison and jail constructions, more police, fighting a drug war.) would we reduce the number of Casey Anthonys out there?

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