This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee. Preface



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Organized Crime


Organized crime refers to criminal activity by groups or organizations whose major purpose for existing is to commit such crime. When we hear the term “organized crime,” we almost automatically think of the so-called Mafia, vividly portrayed in the Godfather movies and other films, that comprises several highly organized and hierarchical Italian American “families.” Although Italian Americans have certainly been involved in organized crime in the United States, so have Irish Americans, Jews, African Americans, and other ethnicities over the years. The emphasis on Italian domination of organized crime overlooks these other involvements and diverts attention from the actual roots of organized crime.

What are these roots? Simply put, organized crime exists and even thrives because it provides goods and/or services that the public demands. Organized crime flourished during the 1920s because it was all too ready and willing to provide an illegal product, alcohol, that the pubic continued to demand even after Prohibition began. Today, organized crime earns its considerable money from products and services such as illegal drugs, prostitution, pornography, loan sharking, and gambling. It also began long ago to branch out into legal activities such as trash hauling and the vending industry.

Government efforts against organized crime since the 1920s have focused on arrest, prosecution, and other law-enforcement strategies. Organized crime has certainly continued despite these efforts. This fact leads some scholars to emphasize the need to reduce public demand for the goods and services that organized crime provides. However, other scholars say that reducing this demand is probably a futile or mostly futile task, and they instead urge consideration of legalizing at least some of the illegal products and services (e.g., drugs and prostitution) that organized crime provides. Doing so, they argue, would weaken the influence of organized crime.

Consensual Crime


Consensual crime (also called victimless crime) refers to behaviors in which people engage voluntarily and willingly even though these behaviors violate the law. Illegal drug use, discussed in Chapter 7 "Alcohol and Other Drugs", is a major form of consensual crime; other forms include prostitution, gambling, and pornography. People who use illegal drugs, who hire themselves out as prostitutes or employ the services of a prostitute, who gamble illegally, and who use pornography are all doing so because they want to. These behaviors are not entirely victimless, as illegal drug users, for example, may harm themselves and others, and that is why the term consensual crime is often preferred over victimless crime. As just discussed, organized crime provides some of the illegal products and services that compose consensual crime, but these products and services certainly come from sources other than organized crime.

This issue aside, the existence of consensual crime raises two related questions that we first encountered in Chapter 7 "Alcohol and Other Drugs". First, to what degree should the government ban behaviors that people willingly commit and that generally do not have unwilling victims? Second, do government attempts to ban such behaviors do more good than harm or more harm than good? Chapter 7 "Alcohol and Other Drugs"’s discussion of these questions focused on illegal drugs, and in particular on the problems caused by laws against certain drugs, but similar problems arise from laws against other types of consensual crime. For example, laws against prostitution enable pimps to control prostitutes and help ensure the transmission of sexual diseases because condoms are not regularly used.

Critics of consensual crime laws say we are now in a new prohibition and that our laws against illegal drugs, prostitution, and certain forms of gambling are causing the same problems now that the ban on alcohol did during the 1920s and, more generally, cause more harm than good. Proponents of these laws respond that the laws are still necessary as an expression of society’s moral values and as a means, however imperfect, of reducing involvement in harmful behaviors.


KEY TAKEAWAYS


  • Most homicides are committed for relatively emotional, spontaneous reasons and between people who knew each other beforehand.

  • White-collar crime involves more death, injury, and economic loss than street crime, but the punishment of white-collar crime is relatively weak.

  • Consensual crime raises two related issues: (a) To what extent should the government prohibit people from engaging in behavior in which there are no unwilling victims, and (b) do laws against consensual crime do more good than harm or more harm than good?



FOR YOUR REVIEW


  1. If homicide is a relatively emotional, spontaneous crime, what does that imply for efforts to use harsh legal punishment, including the death penalty, to deter people from committing homicide?

  2. Do you think consensual crimes should be made legal? Why or why not?

[1] Fox, J. A., Levin, J., & Quinet, K. (2012). The will to kill: Making sense of senseless murder. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[2] Messner, S. F., Deane, G., & Beaulieu, M. (2002). A log-multiplicative association model for allocating homicides with unknown victim-offender relationships. Criminology, 40, 457–479.

[3] Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2011). Crime in the United States, 2010. Washington, DC: Federal Author.

[4] Blumstein, A., & Wallman, J. (Eds.). (2006). The crime drop in America (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[5] Heise, L., Ellseberg, M., & Gottemoeller, M. (1999). Ending violence against women.Population Reports, 27(4), 1–44.

[6] Sutherland, E. H. (1949). White collar crime. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

[7] Rosoff, S. M., Pontell, H. N., & Tillman, R. (2010). Profit without honor: White collar crime and the looting of America (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[8] American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). (2010). Death on the job: The toll of neglect. Washington, DC: Author.

[9] Harris, G. (1998, April 19). Despite laws, hundreds are killed by black lung. The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), p. A1.

[10] Lilienfeld, D. E. (1991). The silence: The asbestos industry and early occupational cancer research—a case study. American Journal of Public Health, 81, 791–800.

[11] Cullen, F. T., Maakestad, W. J., & Cavender, G. (2006). Corporate crime under attack: The fight to criminalize business violence. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson.

[12] Barkan, S. E. (2012). Criminology: A sociological understanding (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[13] Rosoff, S. M., Pontell, H. N., & Tillman, R. (2010). Profit without honor: White collar crime and the looting of America (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.



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