The 1980s Behind Bars: The Punitive System in Prison (1987) and Lock Up (1989)

  • Fernando Gabriel Pagnoni Berns
  • Juan Juvé


The later years of the 1980s saw a renewed interest in incarceration and crime, and in the possibility that “fatal miscarriages” of justice could send innocent men and women to prison and even to capital punishment (Haines 87). Films and other cultural outputs depicted the whole system of justice as “error-prone” (Zimring 158). We will argue that both Prison and Lock Up tap into these social concerns through stories in which dyads such as old and new ways and death penalty or reform are renegotiated through popular culture. Prison (Harlin, 1987) takes place in an old and dilapidated Wyoming prison, reopened for the overspill of overpopulation in modern state penitentiaries. Only two years later, Lock Up (John Flynn, 1989) tells the story of Frank Leone, a mechanic and model inmate in a low-security prison, who has only six months to serve. In both, the cruel ways of the wardens, the prison filled with Latino characters and the central presence of the electric chair as a gothic evocation of darker pasts frame the film within a discussion on capital punishment and rehabilitation. Both films responded to the zeitgeist of the era and shaped new preoccupations of the punitive systems in the late 1980s.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fernando Gabriel Pagnoni Berns
    • 1
  • Juan Juvé
    • 1
  1. 1.Universidad de Buenos AiresBuenos AiresArgentina

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