An introduction to crime and deviance

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Part of the reason for the scale of transnational organised crime is the demand for its products and services in the rich West. However, the global criminal economy could not function without a supply side that provides the source of the drugs, sex workers and other goods and services demanded in the West

  • This supply is linked to the globalisation process. E.g. in Colombia, an estimated 20% of the population depend on cocaine production and cocaine outsells all of Colombia’s other exports combined.

    Global risk consciousness

    • Globalisation creates new insecurities and produces a new mentality of ‘risk consciousness’ in which risk is seen as global rather than tied to particular places.

    • Whether such fears are rational or not are a different matter. Much of our knowledge about risks comes from the media, which often give an exaggerated view of the dangers we face. E.g. In the case of immigration, the media create moral panics about the supposed ‘threat’. Negative coverage of immigrants has led to hate crimes against minorities in the UK.

    • One result is the intensification of social control at the national level. The UK has toughened its border control regulations e.g. fining airlines if they bring in undocumented passengers.

    • Another result of globalised risk is the increased attempts at international cooperation and control in the various ‘wars’ on terror, drugs and crime- particularly since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

    Globalisation, capitalism and crime

    • Taylor argues that globalisation has led to changes in the pattern and extent of crime. He also argues that globalisation has created greater inequality and rising crime due to market forces.

    • Globalisation has created crime at both ends of the social spectrum as it has allowed transnational corporations to switch manufacturing to low wage countries thus creating job insecurity.

    • Deregulation means that governments have little control over their own economies e.g. creating jobs. Marketisation has encouraged people to see themselves as individual consumers, calculating the personal costs and benefits of each action, undermining social cohesion.

    • All these factors create insecurity and widening inequalities that encourage people, especially the poor, to turn to crime. The lack of legitimate job opportunities destroys self-respect and drives the unemployed to look for illegitimate ones.

    • At the same time, globalisation also creates criminal opportunities on a grand scale for elite groups. E.g. the deregulation of financial markets has created opportunities for insider trading and the movement of funds around the globe to avoid taxation.

    • Globalisation has also led to new patterns of employment, which have created new opportunities for crime. It has led to the increased use of subcontracting to recruit ‘flexible’ workers, often working illegally. Taylor’s theory is useful in linking global trends in the capitalist economy to changes in the pattern of crime. However it does not adequately explain how the changes make people behave in criminal ways.

    Patterns of criminal organisation

    • Hobbs and Dunningham found that the way crime is organised is linked to the economic changes brought by globalisation. Increasingly, it involves individuals with contacts acting as a ‘hub’ around which a loose-knit network forms, composed of other individuals seeking opportunities, and often linking legitimate and illegitimate activities.

    ‘Glocal’ organisation

    • These new forms of organisations sometimes have international links, especially with the drugs trade, but crime is still rooted in its local context.

    • Hobbs and Dunningham therefore conclude that crime works as a ‘glocal’ system- it is still locally based, but with global connections. This means that the form it takes will vary from place to place, according to local conditions, even if it is influenced by global actors such as the availability of drugs from abroad.

    • Hobbs and Dunningham argue that changes associated with globalisation have led to changes in patterns of crime e.g. the shift from the old rigidly hierarchical gang structure to loose networks of flexible, opportunistic, entrepreneurial criminals. However, it is not clear that such patterns are new, or that the older structures have disappeared.


    • This refers to the organisations that emerged in Russia and Eastern Europe following the fall of communism- itself a major actor in the process of globalisation. Glenny traces the origins of transnational organised crime to the break-up of the Soviet Union after 1989, which coincided with the deregulation of global markets.

    • The collapse of the communist state heralded a period of increasing disorder. To protect their wealth, capitalists therefore turned to the ‘mafias’ that had begun to spring up. These were often alliances between former KGB men and ex-convicts.

    • However, these mafias were unlike the Old Italian and American mafias. The new Russian mafias were purely economic organisations formed to pursue self-interest.

    • With the assistance of these organisations, billionaires were able to find protection for their wealth and a means of moving it out of the country.

    Green Crime

    • Green or environmental crime can be defined as crime against the environment. The planet is a single eco-system, and threats to the eco-system are increasingly global rather than merely local in nature.

    ‘Global risk society’ and the environment

    • Most of the threats to human well-being and the eco-system are now human-made rather than natural.

    • Beck argues that in today’s late modern society, we can now provide adequate resources for all. However, the massive increase in productivity and the technology that sustains it have created new, ‘manufactured risks’- dangers that we have never faced before. Many of these risks involve harm to the environment and its consequences for humanity, such as global warming.

    Green criminology

    But what if the pollution that causes global warming or acid rain is perfectly legal and no crime has been committed- is this a matter for criminologists? We can identify two opposed answers to this question:

    • Traditional criminology has not been concerned with such behaviour, since its subject matter is defined by the criminal law, and no law has been broken. The advantage of this approach is that it has a clearly defined subject matter. However, it is criticised for accepting official definitions of environmental problems and crimes, which are often shaped by powerful groups such as big business to serve their own interests.

    • Green criminology takes a more radical approach. It stars from the notion of harm rather than criminal law. Green criminology is a form of transgressive criminology- it oversteps the boundaries of traditional criminology to include new issues. Furthermore, different countries have different laws, so that the same harmful action may be a crime in one country but not in another. Thus legal definitions cannot provide a consistent standard of harm, since they are the product of individual nation-states and their political processes. Green criminologists argue that powerful interests are able to define in their own interests what counts as unacceptable environmental harm.

    Two views of harm

    • In general, nation-states and transnational corporations adopt what White calls an anthropocentric or human centred view of environmental harm. This view assumes that humans have a right to dominate nature for their own ends, and puts economic growth before the environment.

    • White contrasts this with an ecocentric view that sees humans and their environment as interdependent, so that environmental harm hurts humans also. This view sees both humans and the environment as liable to exploitation, particularly by global capitalism.

    Types of green crimes

    • Nigel South classifies green crimes into two types: primary and secondary.

    Primary crimes

    • Primary green crimes are ‘crimes that result directly from the destruction and degradation of the earth’s resources’. South identifies four main types of primary crime:

    • Crimes of air pollution- Burning fossil fuels from industry and transport adds 3 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere ever year.

    • Crimes of deforestation- Between 1960 and 1990, one fifth of the world's tropical rainforest was destroyed, for example through illegal logging.

    • Crimes of species decline and animal rights- 50 species a day are becoming extinct.

    • Crimes of water pollution- Half a billion people lack access to clean drinking water and 25 million die annually from drinking contaminated water.

    Secondary crimes

    • Secondary green crime is crime that grows out of the flouting of rules aimed at preventing or regulating environmental disasters.

    • State violence against oppositional groups- States condemn terrorism, but they have been prepared to resort to similar illegal methods themselves. As Day says, 'in every case where a government has committed itself to nuclear weapons or nuclear power, all those who oppose this policy are treated in some degree as enemies of the state'.

    • Hazardous waste and organised crime- Disposal of toxic waste from the chemical, nuclear and other industries are highly profitable. Because of the high costs of safe and legal disposal, businesses may seek to dispose of such waste illegally. Illegal waste disposal illustrates the problems of law enforcement in a globalised world. The very existence of laws to regulate waste disposal in developed countries pushes up the costs to business and creates an incentive to dump illegally in Third World countries.

    Evaluation of green criminology

    • It recognises the growing importance of environmental issues and the need to address the harms and risks of environmental damage, both to humans and non human animals.

    • However, by focusing on the much broader concept of harms rather than simply on legally defined crimes, it is hard to define the boundaries of its field of study clearly. Defining these boundaries involves making moral or political statements about which actions ought to be regarded as wrong. Critics argue that this is a matter of values and cannot be established objectively.

    State crimes

    • Green and Ward define state crime as 'illegal or deviant activities perpetrated by, or with complicity of, state agencies.' It includes all forms of crime committed by or on behalf of states and governments in order to further their policies.

    • McLaughlin identifies four categories of state crime; Political crimes e.g. corruption, Crimes by security and police forces e.g. torture, Economic crimes e.g. violation of health and safety laws and Social and cultural crimes such as institutional racism.

    • State crime is one of the most serious forms of crime for two reasons:

    1. The scale of state crime

    • The power of the state enables it to commit extremely large scale crimes with widespread victimisation. The state's monopoly of violence gives it the potential to inflict massive harm, while its power means it is well placed to conceal its crimes or evade punishment for them.

    • However, the principle of national sovereignty- that states are the supreme authority within their own borders- makes it difficult for external authorities (e.g. EU) to intervene. This is despite the existence of international conventions and laws against acts such as genocide.

    2. The state is the source of law

    • It is the state's role to define what is criminal, and to manage the criminal justice system and prosecute offenders. State crime undermines the system of justice. Its power to make the law also means that it can avoid defining its own harmful actions as criminals.

    Human rights and state crime

    • One approach to the study of state crime is through the notion of human rights. Most definitions of human rights include the following:

    • Natural rights that people are regarded as having simply by virtue of existing, such as rights to life.

    • Civil rights, such as the right to vote, to privacy, to a fair trial, or to education.

    Crime as the violation of human rights

    • Critical criminologists argue that we should define crime in terms of the violation of basic human rights, rather than the breaking of legal rules. This means that states that deny individuals' human rights must be regarded as criminals.

    • From a human rights perspective, the state can be seen as a perpetrator of crime and not simply as the authority that defines and punishes crime.

    • If we accept a legal definition (that crimes are simply whatever the state says they are), we risk becoming subservient to the state that makes the law.

    • However, Cohen criticises this view. For example, while 'gross' violations of human rights e.g. torture are clearly crimes, other acts, such as economic exploitation, are not self-evidently criminal, even if we find them morally unacceptable. Other critics are that there is only limited agreement on what counts as a human right e.g. while there would be little disagreement that life and liberty are human rights, some would argue that freedom from poverty is not.

    State crime and the culture of denial

    • Cohen sees the issue of human rights and state crime as increasingly central both to political debate and criminology, as a result of two factors; the growing impact of the international human rights movement and the increased focus within criminology upon victims.

    The spiral of denial

    • Cohen argues that while dictatorships generally simply deny committing human rights abuses, democratic states have to legitimate their actions in more complex ways. In doing so, their justifications follow a three-stage 'spiral of state denial':

    • Stage 1- 'It didn't happen' e.g. the state claims there was no massacre but then human rights organisations, victims and the media show it did happen.

    • Stage 2- 'If it did happen, "it" is something else'. The state says it is not what it looks like- it's 'collateral damage' or 'self-defence'.

    • Stage 3- 'Even if it is what you say it is, it's justified'- e.g. 'to protect national security' or 'fight the war on terror'.

    Neutralisation theory

    • Cohen examines the ways in which states and their officials deny or justify their crimes. He draws on the work of Sykes and Matza, who identify five neutralisation techniques that delinquents use to justify their deviant behaviour.

    • Denial of victim- They exaggerate; they are terrorists; they are used to violence; look what they do to each other.

    • Denial of injury- They started it; we are the real victims, not them.

    • Denial of responsibility- I was only obeying orders, doing my duty.

    • Condemning the condemners- The whole world is picking on us; it's worse elsewhere; they are condemning us only because of their anti-Semitism.

    • Appeal to higher loyalty- Self-righteous justifications- the appeal to the higher cause, whether the nation, the revolution, Zionism, Islam, the defence of the 'free world', state security etc.

    • These techniques do not seek to deny that the even has occurred. Rather, as Cohen says, 'they seek to negotiate or impose a different construction of the even from what might appear to be the case.'

    The social conditions of state crime

    • It is often thought that those who carry out crimes such as torture must be psychopaths. However, research suggests that there is little psychological differences between them and 'normal' people.

    • Instead sociologists argue that such actions are part of a role into which individuals are socialised. They focus on the social conditions in which such behaviour becomes acceptable or even required.

    • Kelman and Hamilton identify three features that produce crimes of obedience:

    • Authorisation- When acts are ordered or approved by those in authority, normal moral principles are replaced by the duty to obey.

    • Routinisation- Once the crime has been committed, there is strong pressure to turn the act into routine which individuals can perform in a detached manner.

    • Dehumanisation- When the enemy is portrayed as sub-human rather than human described as animals, monsters etc, the usual principles of morality do not apply.


    Crime prevention and control

    Situational crime prevention

    • Clarke describes situational crime prevention as a ‘pre-emptive approach that relies, not on improving society or its institutions, but simply on reducing opportunities for crime’ He identifies three features of measures aimed at situational crime prevention:

    • They are directed at specific crimes.

    • They involve managing or altering the immediate environment of the crime.

    • They aim at increasing the effort and risks of committing crime and reducing the rewards.

    • For example, target hardening measures such as locking doors increase the effort of a burglar needs to make.

    • Underlying situational crime prevention approaches is an ‘opportunity’ or rational choice theory of crime. This is the view that criminals act rationally, weighing up the costs and benefits of a crime opportunity before deciding whether to commit it.

    • This contrasts with theories of crime that stress ‘root causes’ such as the criminal’s early socialisation. Clarke argues that most theories offer no realistic solutions to crime. The most obvious thing to do is to focus on the immediate crime situation, since this is where scope for prevention is greatest. Most crime is opportunistic, so we need to reduce the opportunities.


    • One criticism of situational crime prevention measures is that they do not reduce crime; they displace it. After all, if criminals are acting rationally, presumable they will respond to target hardening simply by moving to where targets are softer.

    • Displacement can take several forms:

    • Spatial- moving elsewhere to commit the crime.

    • Temporal- committing it at a different time.

    • Target- choosing a different victim.

    • Tactical- using a different method.

    • Functional- committing a different type of crime.


    • Situational crime prevention works to some extent in reducing certain kinds of crime. However, with most measures there is likely to be some displacement.

    • It ignores white-collar, corporate and state crime, which are more costly and harmful.

    • It assumes criminals make rational calculations. This seems unlikely in many crimes of violence and crimes committed under the influence of drugs.

    • It ignores the root causes of crime such as poverty. This makes it difficult to develop long-term strategies for crime reduction.

    Environmental crime prevention

    • Wilson and Kelling use the phrase ‘broken windows’ to stand for all the various signs of disorder and lack of concern for others that are found in some neighbourhoods e.g. graffiti. They argue that leave broken windows unrepaired, tolerating graffiti etc., sends out a signal that no one cares.

    • In such neighbourhoods, there is an absence of both formal social control (the police) and informal control (the community). The police are only concerned with serious crime and turn a blind eye to petty nuisance behaviour, while respected members feel intimidated and powerless. Without action, the situation deteriorates, tipping the neighbourhood into a spiral of decline. Respectable members move out and the area becomes magnet for deviants.

    Zero Tolerance policing

    • Wilson and Kelling’s solution to crack down on any disorder is by a twofold strategy. First, an environmental improvement strategy: any broken window must be repaired immediately, abandoning cars towed without delay etc.

    • Secondly, the police must adopt a zero tolerance policing strategy. Instead of merely reacting to crime, they must proactively tackle even the slightest sign of disorder, even if it’s not criminal. This will halt neighbourhood decline and prevent serious crime taking root.

    The evidence

    • A ‘Clean Car Program’ in New York has been a success for zero tolerance policing. Cars were taken out of service immediately if they had any graffiti on them, only returning once clean. As a result, graffiti was largely removed from the subway. Other success programs include drug dealing and fare dodging.

    • However, it is not clear how far zero tolerance was the cause of the improvements.

    • The NYPD benefited from 7,000 extra officers.

    • There was a general decline in the crime rate in major US cities at the time- including ones where police did not adopt a zero tolerance policy.

    • There was a decline in the availability of crack cocaine.

    • Nonetheless, zero tolerance has been very influential globally.

    Social and community crime prevention

    • Social and community prevention strategies place the emphasis firmly on the potential offender and their social context. The aim of these strategies is to remove the conditions that predispose individuals to crime in the first place. These are longer-term strategies, since they attempt to tackle the root causes of offending.

    • The causes of crime are often rooted in social conditions such as poverty, more general social reform programmes addressing these issues may have a crime prevention role, even if this is not their main focus.

    What is missing?

    • These approaches focus on fairly low-level and/or interpersonal crimes of violence. This disregards the crimes of the powerful and environmental crimes.

    • Whyte points out that there is no logical reason why such activities should not be included in the crime and disorder partnership agendas- yet despite their potential and actual effect on the health of local communities, they are not.


    • One measure that many believe in crime prevention is of course punishment. Two main justifications have been offered for punishment; reduction and retribution.


    One justification for punish offenders is that it prevents future crime. This can be done through:

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