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Johnny Cash: The Criminologist Within

Patrick Gerkin, Grand Valley State University
Aaron Rider
John D. Hewitt, Grand Valley State University


This paper examines the criminological underpinnings of song lyrics in the collection of Johnny Cash. We have examined the lyrics of 60 songs performed by Johnny Cash (although not necessarily written by Cash) that reflect on issues including crime, prison, chain gangs, the death penalty, and redemption. Using a content analysis of these lyrics, we examined Cash’s criminological view of crime and punishment. While not versed in criminological theory, Cash nonetheless sang eloquently of a rational choice model of crime in which offenders accepted responsibility for their acts, punishment was justified, and yet incarceration should be humane and rehabilitative.

Suggested Citation

Patrick Gerkin, Aaron Rider, and John D. Hewitt. "Johnny Cash: The Criminologist Within" Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture 17.1 (2010): 152-183.