Police Corruption shown in Media: Prison Break

Posted: February 28, 2015 by preet100 in Uncategorized

In today’s era we consume huge amounts of mass media through out our daily lives. A study conducted by San Diego Supercomputer Center has show that an average persons consumption of media will rise to 15.5 hours per day (Zverina, 2013). If we multiple that by week, by month, that is a total of 4557 hours per year. It is plain to see that a large amount of that will show either police goodness, or police deviance. Popular movies and series usually showing police deviance, so now police themselves have introduced they’re own series that depict what they do from they’re perspectives. Series like Border Patrol and Cops are a couple of examples. The real question is what the police officers are showing us is true, or is what non-police officers tell us is real? Or is it a simply a mixture of both?

Here is a link to see the list of how many cop shows, movies there are.


The fictional television series I will be focusing on in this blog is the hit series, Prison Break: which was released back in 2005 with a total of 4 seasons. Focusing just on season 1 we can see on multiple occasions where the police correction officers at the prison misuse they’re powers. They try to neutralize it by repeating to themselves that the prisoners are criminals and do not deserve rights. They practice Cohen’s technique of neutralization; literal denial, which involves them not taking serious matters seriously. Prison Break is based on a man named Michael Scofield, a structural engineer and a natural genius who deliberately gets himself into the same prison, Fox River State Penitentiary where his brother Lincoln Burrows is also incarcerated in. His goal is to escape from prison with his brother before Lincoln’s execution takes place. Since the prison is located in Illinois U.S.A the death penalty is permitted. Lincoln has been ‘set-up’ by bigger people than the government in order to frame him for murdering the vice-presidents brother. Michael, along with 8 prisoners go on a journey to find routes within the prison that they can use to escape to the other side. On the duration of executing the plan they undergo many incidents where correction officers misuse they’re power.

[picture here]

One officer who is primarily known for his deviance is Brad Bellick who is the captain at the prison. The first episode shows how he begins to show hatred towards Michael just because he feels threatened by Michael’s brains. His hatred towards Michael is so strong that he knowingly allows Abruzzi (Inmate) to attack Michael. The criminologist Punch says that we should not blame individual misconduct because the justice system is allowing for them to do it in the first place. Prison Break shows many cases of this throughout the episode, like the case where Abruzzi and his followers cut off one of Michael’s toes, while officer Bellick walks away purposely. Bellick is also known for taking money from inmates by either looking the other way or offering them something in return. A good example of this is how Bellick always Abruzzi to run P.I (a sweet job doing construction in the prison). Abruzzi pays him hundreds of dollars per month in order to keep his status in P.I. Bellick also uses his powers to make the P.I crew work past hours just because he wants to make them suffer.

Here is a video of Officer Bellick ‘looking the other way’

Bellick has such high suspicion of Michael that he gets the new inmate Tweezer to be the new ‘rat’. He bribes him with burgers and fries to report information, and when Tweezer was unable to offer him any valid information he threatened to make him pay him hundred dollars for the burger. He also unjustifiably puts him into another cell with a dangerous inmate just to show him whose boss. The inmate is known for raping his cellmates, and Bellick knew this while putting Tweezer into the cell. Bellick on several occasions goes into Michael’s cell without any justified reason to try to find something to get him in trouble. Later down in the season when Michael is temporarily not using his cell due to being in psych ward, another officer named Geary rents out his cell, and collects the payment, also known as ‘nut’ all for himself. He also steals valuables from prisoner’s belongings of the items they bring on their first day they arrive to prison. When the fuse box wires get chewed up by a rat, officer Geary and Bellick go against the books, and get the electrician to install a new one; even though this is not allowed without authorization.

[picture of Bellick here]

There is another incident where Michael’s cellmate Sucre gets into some trouble, and officer Bellick threatens to put even harsher charges on him if he does not tell the truth. While threatening him he assaults him by pushing him into the wall when he did not need to. There are a few other scenes where we catch officers engaging in sexual behavior on prison grounds, beating up inmates, drinking on the job, and threatening to put inmates in the solitary confinement. These are acts for about a little over half of the first season, but they do continue throughout the season with the emphasis of committing dishonesty from the officers. Clearly these officers have not abided by Peel’s Principles of Policing. His 8th point “Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions, and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary” has been neglected in the Prison. The police officers think they hold ultimate control of the prisoners. The inmates would never dare to report an incident of police corruption because they knew that either the documents would be ripped up, or they would get more hits from other officers for doing this.

Although the series were based in America, we can note that acts like these according to the constitution, and police ethics of the U.S are not allowed; yet the officers seem to be getting away with it. They are unable to fight for they’re first amendment, which allows anyone to come to the government for protection. The police officers are not following the amendments (which are equivalent to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom) that are guaranteed to each of the inmates that are in that prison. This is happening all due to officers putting up a blue wall of silence in order to protect they’re fellow officers. The brotherhood that they keep up so high has allowed police deviance throughout time. If this blue wall did not exist what would be the outcome in our justice system? The worst thing a cop wants to be is a snitch. I noticed in the show besides the officers, there is no one else, or organization that they are able to report police wrongdoing. This is with the exception of the warden, who they can only speak to if the officer allows them to, or if the warden himself wants to speak to. There is no usage of Knapp’s Commission Typology, which is a way to independently investigate Police Corruption. How can the prison ever be improved where these incidents get undocumented, and apples continue to get rotten.

Has mass media over produced police deviance? Is this what typically happens in prisons or is it just what we see on screen. The series Prison Break generally portrays the police officers to be a certain brand of convicts themselves, but they have done this so the viewers have a more likingness towards the inmates, instead of the officers. The director is aiming to get more ‘likes’ on the prisoners than the officers. It is clear they do this because they preview each one of the prisoners lives before getting caught, and do not do this with the officers. Media has shown the favoritism of movies, and series that show police corruption. Movies that have just recently come out are good examples about how current this still is. 21 Jump Street was a hit, along with Bad Cops. Are these movies just showing us what most entertains us because ‘real’ police work can be seen as slow, and unentertaining? Police corruption has clearly happened throughout prisons, and in the public. That is why there are hundreds of articles in newspapers, footage online that show us this. Numerous YouTube videos help any person in the entire world see first hand what police officers do that is unconstitutional in Canada, and in other parts of the world.

It is a fact that police officers do not make nearly as much as they do in America than they do in Canada. It is not surprising that certain police officers take forms of bribery to help with they’re bank accounts. To a naked eye seeing all these movies, and videos online, one begins to think of police officers as deviant, greedy bad guys that just happen to wear badges. To be frankly honest without even entering America, I would be cautious if I see any police officer in the States. This is not because I am doing anything wrong, but simply because media has embedded such an ugly portrayal about certain officers and departments like NYPD that are known for corruption without getting serious consequences.

Previously when I looked at Canadian Police Officers I would feel safe and secure. Now with the new information from media about the 17 officers in Abbotsford currently being investigated for misconduct under the Police Act, they have made me very skeptical. Another current case is the investigation of a few Toronto police officers that have been charged with sexual assault. I am beginning to question how good police accountability really is here in Canada. Bad people are always going to be around that is not what I am focusing on; it is why the system is allowing these things to happen. The real question I am currently asking myself is are these the only cases of police corruption or are these the only ones that the media have caught. Media has allowed the public to question our justice system so that we can make the change we want, or at least prevent injustice from happening.

This is a link that shows how working with the press needs to be done

Clearly what we see on TV isn’t all fiction, since we have numerous cases of police deviance happening all around us even currently. Reality is that police wrongdoing is happening, and it will continue happening because we are all human, and as humans we do make mistakes. The real issue is how to tackle holding police officers accountable for they’re actions. The justice system has been formed to hold the public accountable, but what are they doing to hold justice administrative’s accountable. If these issues do not get portrayed on media, then they go unnoticed, if they go unnoticed then it means more corruption is likely to happen. If more corruption happens, we will be no different from other countries around the world that allow officers to get away with anything they want. The corruption, misuse, and wrongdoing that occur within the police brotherhood ruins the name for all officers, and hurts the whole validity of the justice system. The ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality so famous in pop culture needs to fade away in order for police corruption to decrease.


Flynn, G. (2005, August 26). Prison Break. Retrieved from http://www.ew.com/article/2005/08/26/prison-break-0


Smart, G. (2014, December 30). How social media makes you think all cops are bad. Retrieved from http://smartremarks.lancasteronline.com/2014/12/30/how-social-media-makes-you-think-all-cops-are-bad/

Zverina, J. (2013, January 1). U.S. Media Consumption to Rise to 15.5 Hours a Day – Per Person – by 2015. Retrieved from http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/pressrelease/u.s._media_consumption_to_rise_to_15.5_hours_a_day_per_person_by_2015

  1. Mike Larsen says:

    I’m not sure that I follow the calculations in the first paragraph. How can we know what percentage, on average, of a given person’s media consumption involves ‘police media’?

    Question: Do programs like COPS and Border Patrol provide an authentic look at police work? You contrast these programs with fictional representations of policing, and suggest that they “depict what they [police] do from they’re [sic] perspectives”.

    Your analysis focuses on the TV program Prison Break. This program is clearly a part of the broader ‘crime and criminal justice’ genre, but is it fair to say that it is about police or policing? I think that a number of ideas and concepts we have been studying are transferable to other forms of corruption and deviance within public institutions, but it is nevertheless important to acknowledge the differences between police officers and prison guards. For example, I am not sure that it is appropriate to apply Peel’s Principles of Policing to this case. These principles are associated with a particular ‘constabulary ethos’ of policing, and I have never seen any evidence of them being used as guiding principles for corrections.

    You state that “the criminologist Punch says that we should not blame individual misconduct because the justice system is allowing for them to do it in the first place”. This is not what Punch (2009) is suggesting, and it is important to clarify this. Punch (2009) notes that when instances of police deviance and corruption are identified, we (the public, government bodies, the media, and especially police organizations) tend to focus on individuals, following a ‘bad apple’ narrative. He notes that while individual officers do bear legal responsibility for their actions, if we are seeking to understand and explain police deviance, we must put the actions of individuals in their organizational and structural context. By failing to do so, we run the risk of ignoring ‘rotten barrels’ and even ‘rotten orchards’.

    I’m interested in the video that you have inserted towards the end of your post. I wonder: is more media training the answer? Consider federal politics – the expansion of ‘public and media relations’ in that area means that all communications between federal politicians and officials is now carefully scripted and packaged. Authentic dialogue is almost impossible to come by.