Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Justice Studies

First Advisor

Kevin I. Minor

Department Affiliation

Justice Studies


This study examined college students' perceptions, as they relate to prison cinema. It also discussed and analyzed reoccurring themes in prison cinema that perpetuates the prison culture in the United States. Specifically, this research addressed the following research question: How is exposure to prison cinema related to student perceptions of prisons, prisoners, and prison staff? By asking this question and analyzing the responses given by students, this study hopes to contribute to improved understanding of how popular cinema shapes the perceptions of prison culture in the United States.

The researcher utilized both quantitative and qualitative methods in gathering research data for the project. Students in a prison film course at Eastern Kentucky University viewed five popular prison films as a class over six weeks. After viewing each film, the class discussed the themes and concepts of the film based on a rubric used in the course. Then, each student submitted a film review for each prison movie. The films reviews were also guided by a four-level film review rubric. The researcher used a content analysis approach to gather detailed responses from the students to be included in the study's findings. Student opinions and perceptions were also categorically entered into a data computing software program to provide statistical percentages regarding student perceptions of the films.

This study illustrated numerous themes regarding student perceptions and prison cinema. First, students expressed considerable amounts of empathy towards prisoners in the films viewed in the course. Secondly, students were more negative or neutral toward prisons after viewing the prisons portrayed in the films. Thirdly, students perceived prison staff extremely negative after viewing the prison films in the course. There were also additional findings associated with students' personal connections towards the films and their perceptions of world reality associated with the films. More than half of the students in this study displayed more negative personal connections, which were affirmed through their comments of negative associations and memories. Lastly, the students in this study were fairly balanced in how they associated the films with world events that occurred in the time periods attached with the prison films.

It was concluded that student perceptions of prison, prisoners, and prison staff have a strong relationship with prison cinema. Often film images and themes that are portrayed in various films influence the perceptions students develop for the roles characterized in the prison films. This link suggests that the importance of cinema in society is much more critical than ever before. Specifically, the importance of prison cinema is even fairly dangerous, considering its possible impact on citizens. Prison cinema has potential to influence public opinion, and public opinion influences policy. Therefore, if the two are continually linked, policy makers will be enacting laws that are shaped through media outlets, such as prison cinema.