This Vermeer scene illustrates the classic approach to deterring deviant behavior and crime -- both in daily life and inside prisons. The artist is pictorially urging us "to conduct our lives with temperance and moderation" and to overcome temptations through strong will.

The woman has earthly treasures before her, and behind her is a painting of The Last Judgment. She holds a balance in her right hand, and "in waiting for the balance to rest at equilibrium she acknowledges the importance of judgment in weighing her own actions in anticipation of the life to come" (National Gallery of Art). In this chapter, we'll be inquiring into social forces that restrain our behavior and bring about predictability in social interaction.

Johannes Vermeer (Dutch 1632-1675)
Woman Holding a Balance
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC



Most of us follow the rules of society most of the time. If we could not be confident that people around us would do the same, there would be chaos -- at work, on the street, and in everyday private life. But accepting society's rules requires that we each learn to overcome several negative tendencies of our species. Sociologist Serge Moscovici highlights two such tendencies that have repeatedly created problems in social groups: boundless desires and egotistical self-interest. "This unerringly makes individuals antagonistic to one another," Moscovici observes, with "each seeking to attain his or her own objectives at the expense of everyone else."1

On the other hand, humans desire community -- what Emile Durkheim and some other analysts term "social solidarity." We need other people, and we want their company, both in private and work life. Durkheim identifies two sources of the social solidarity that brings people together. One source is those things we have in common, especially the beliefs and ideas that are handed down from one generation to another. These are cultural features of society that cause us to feel bonds of attachment to our community and our society. Second, we recognize the practical necessity of having to coordinate our activities with others because of society's complexity. Each person cannot do every job that is required for a community and a society to flourish. This obvious fact prompts us to develop our own specialties and to cooperate with others who work at theirs.2

For people and societies to prosper, and to avoid the kind of "war of all against all" that has been a fearsome prospect to social thinkers for centuries, there must be broad agreement about basic principles that we can live by, as we associate with one another in all of the varied roles that we perform. In essence, there must be a shared set of rules that people agree to follow. And if those rules are to be taken seriously, they must be consistent with moral values that are thought to be important.

But how can there be agreement about rules and moral values in societies where there are competing individual interests and widely divergent ideas about what is good and bad, desirable and undesirable? The fact is that it is difficult, and as societies have become increasingly complex and diversified since our earliest hunting-and-gathering days. And our approach to rulemaking has changed since the days of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

Chapter Sections:

From Customary Law...
Legal Order/Daily Life
Deviance, Crime and Tort
Crime and Punishment
Two Views
Comparative Perspective
What Causes Crime?
White-Collar Crime
The Search for Solutions
Hot Links
Web Readings
Study Questions
Recommended Books

social solidarity: Factors that create and sustain bonds between individuals and social groups. Two principal sources of solidarity are the beliefs and ideas that we have in common, and the need to coordinate our individual activities with those of others. The former tends to be the more prevalent in simpler societies, and as societies become more complex, the latter takes on increasing significance.


From Customary Law to the Legal Order

In prehistoric societies, rules about what should and should not be done were established and enforced by the social group, in the group's interest. Norms evolved to ensure that individuals satisfied their obligations to the group. There were no states and thus no formal laws. Instead, there was "customary law " -- a set of unwritten but consistently observed rules about how people should interact with one another, and what was to be done when one person harmed another.

Wrongdoing and Punishment in Prehistoric Times

The earliest remedy for wrongdoing was retaliation. And, as Richard Posner points out in The Economics of Justice, because the responsibility for misdeeds was seen as having been a group matter, not only was the offender a potential

target for revenge, but that person's kin were also blamed. Thus, relatives of a person who had been murdered, for example, not only assumed collective responsibility for retaliating, but they tended to view not only the actual murderer but also the offender's kin as appropriate targets for discharging their obligation to the person who had been killed. This was the basis of family and tribal feuding, and as we have seen even in recent times, once started the "eye for an eye" idea can lead to a prolonged string of killings. As Posner observes,
Dani tribe elders, West New Guinea

The fact that any of the killer's kinsmen is fair game to the victim's kinsmen in avenging his death . . . gives his kinsmen an incentive to police his conduct. They may decide to slay him themselves to avoid the danger to them. They also have an interest in weeding out the potential killers in their midst in order to avoid the costs in retaliation or compensation should they be harboring a killer. Thus the fact that the killer may not be the initial target of retaliation, rather than reducing the probability that the sanction will ultimately come to rest on him, increases it by giving his kinsmen an incentive to "turn him in".3

Although prehistoric mechanisms for punishing offenses were informal, they could be very effective. We do not have comparative data for analysis, of course, but it seems clear that a much lower proportion of serious wrongdoing went unpunished in those earlier times than is the case in modern societies, with our sophisticated systems of law enforcement and criminal justice. Posner describes several features of the institutions for justice in prehistoric societies that resulted in a very high rate of apprehension and punishment for serious violations of accepted norms. (He suggests that the probability of punishment in those societies was "near to one". We'll see later that it's a great deal lower today, in spite of the presence of professional police officers and state-of-the-art prisons!)

Posner gives several reasons for the extraordinary success of our early ancestors in stopping offenders, compared with today. Among the more important ones are the lack of privacy, which caused most offenses to be known and the offenders often identified, the idea of collective responsibility, which created incentives among those close to both the victim and the offender to deal decisively with wrongdoing, and the prevalence of religious belief systems that may have often discouraged "the concealment of crime". When we add to these factors the near certainty of punishment, and punishment that was often quite stiff, we have a formula for minimizing crime rates.

At some point, the most favored remedy for wrongdoing started evolving away from retaliation and toward compensation -- from "an eye for an eye" to "twenty oxen for an eye," or some other form of repayment. Posner attributes the cause of this transition to the growth in wealth among people who had settled into permanent communities and were able to accumulate far more than their hunting and gathering ancestors. At first, the choice of demanding compensation as an alternative to retaliation was optional. It depended on the wishes of the person who had been wronged or his kinsmen. Compensation was not asked for in some situations for a variety of reasons -- one being that the offender and his kin might not be wealthy enough to satisfy the wronged parties. In such cases, retaliation was preferred.4

But these early systems were not characterized by flexibility in the administration of justice, for the most part. When compensation was the remedy, it was prescribed "in an exact schedule," where tradition specified precisely the amount of compensation that was required for a particular wrong. Our modern approach to awarding damages, in which each case is considered on its own merits, seems exceptionally loose, in contrast. Further, even in cases of accidental harm or injury, or when an accident "could not have been prevented by the exercise of due care," the offender or his family nevertheless were required to compensate the victim or his kin.

Even in the absence of formal governments in early societies, a few kinds of wrongdoing were regarded as having been so serious as to be considered "offenses against the community." Incest, for example, and often also witchcraft, were punished even if the victim or his kin did not retaliate or demand compensation. Frequently, the perceived seriousness of such offenses was so great that the usual compensation remedies were deemed to be inadequate responses, by themselves. As states took shape -- a phenomenon that we examined in chapter nine -- a system arose that called for punishments separate from the earlier remedies of retaliation and compensation. Thus arose formal criminal law in human societies.5

The Development of Explicit Legal Rules

The systems of customary law that characterized the earliest human societies gradually gave way in many societies to bureaucratic or regulatory law, with explicit rules. With the enactment of bureaucratic laws, certain habits became duties, and additional duties were often decreed that did not flow from everyday customs of life at all. Arbitrary legal requirements could now be imposed by authorities, whereas before habits and expectations had developed almost spontaneously through everyday interaction among people in the society.6

Bureaucratic lawmaking was widespread in great empires of ancient times. In these societies, as Roberto Unger describes the situation, this way of establishing rules and enforcing expected behavior was generally limited, and sometimes opposed, by sacred laws that were propagated by a priesthood that was somewhat independent of state officials. This division of the world into two halves -- one dominated by bureaucratic regulations that had been ordained by a powerful ruling class and the other by sacred precepts -- has often produced tension in societies ruled by bureaucratic law.

The social ferment that characterized postfeudal Europe shook the foundations of bureaucratic rule, as entrenched powers were challenged by professional groups, religious leaders and merchants who were struggling for position and a greater degree of autonomy. As hierarchies crumbled both in governments and religion, pressure was intensified to create a set of rules that would favor no particular group over others, but that would instead somehow accommodate competing interests. This way of thinking evolved into the pluralist idea that was discussed in chapter nine.

As a new approach to power and authority was taking shape, the doctrine of natural law was brought in to give legitimacy to the new structures that were being born. The concept of natural law proposed that there were principles which were seen as so universally valid that they could be applied to all societies and to all social strata. They were seen as standards which could be used for disputes between the rich and poor alike, because being inherent in the "natural order of things," they were impartial. The idea of natural law tends to find support in transcendental religion, especially religions which hold that the world was created by a personal God. As Unger puts it, seen from this perspective "the lawful universe betrays the hand of a divine lawgiver."7

Fernando VI of Spaine
Jean Ranc

postfeudal: The time after feudalism ended, which was around the fifteenth century in Europe.



doctrine of natural law: The idea that some principles are so universally valid that they can be applied to all societies and to all social strata.


Together, pluralism and the doctrine of natural law contributed to the emergence of the legal order as a successor to bureaucratic law. Bureaucratic law had been arbitrary, depending on the wishes of the particular rulers who happened to be in charge. Thus, bureaucratic law can be described as law that was promulgated to satisfy a particular set of lawmakers. A legal order changes the emphasis, focusing on the place of law above that of the holders of power (the lawmakers) themselves.

the legal order: A system of rules in which adherence to the law takes precedence over obedience to those who hold power.

The rise of the liberal state in the West depended importantly on the kind of rules that could be generated through the legal order. It encouraged competition and economic struggle, without sanctioning disorder. It established firm rules, without the apparent arbitrariness that had been frequent under bureaucratic law. It gave rulers authority, but pointedly limited their power.

The legal order supports pluralism and social arrangements structured according to liberal principles by creating rules for struggles among groups -- in politics, in the world of business, and even in criminal proceedings.

Legal proceedings are sometimes major news stories. Here, reporters interview Vernon Jordan, who has just testified before the grand jury in the inquiry concerning President Clinton's conduct (Washington, DC Aug.1998)

Conflicts of interest and competition among people and associations of individuals are seen as normal. The tendency to encourage conflicts of interest also works against the possibility that a single person or group can acquire unchallenged power.

The Legal Order and Daily Life


An essential characteristic of the legal order is that it defines rules for all other sectors of society. In that way, the legal order is more overarching than any of the three spheres that have been the principal focus of our study in this book (the political, economic and social spheres). There are areas in which the economic sphere does not overlap with the social sphere, for example, but in liberal societies, there are no spheres, and there are no activities within any sphere, that are not regulated by the legal order. The church may be separate from the state, but both church and state are required to conform to legal rules.

The US Supreme Court, Washington, DC.

The pervasiveness of the legal order is both its strength and a source of ongoing tension and conflict. "The rule of law" brings about a high level of predictability in relations among people and groups, for the most part. But there are times when legal rules clash with practices of some groups -- groups that are not influential enough to get their preferences legally approved. Religious freedom is guaranteed by the law in Western democracies, for example -- but not the freedom to handle poisonous snakes in church services, as has long been a practices in certain Christian denominations and independent churches. Polygamy is outlawed in Western countries, although its became an established practice among Mormons long ago. And Amish children are required by law to participate in an educational system that is not favored by many adult Amish practitioners.

It is clear, then, that not all groups have equal influence in creating and sustaining the legal order, with the defining features that establish the acceptability of some behaviors and the impropriety of others. The list is a long one of the conflicts that frequently arise between legal requirements and the customs of particular groups. And the rules change over time, as some groups acquire increasing power while the authority of other groups declines. Political struggles are inevitably prominent features in the evolution of the legal order.

It is partly for this reason that defenders of the legal order rarely characterize it as an institution that is the guardian of eternal truth, but rather they tend to emphasize its more practical features and its openness to revision. It attempts to address a reality that is widely recognized in social life: that societal interaction is often a contest of wills, and of conflicting interests. The law, rather than attempting to quell those conflicts, works to keep them in check and to ensure that all participants play by rules that will produce a fair contest and reasonable outcomes. Liberal societies do not pretend to be the best of all theoretically imagined worlds. The debate will continue about the degree to which the promise of a just society is better pursued through this form of rulemaking or some other.

The law is a mirror held up against life. It is order: it is justice; it is also fear, insecurity, and emptiness; it is whatever results from the scheming, plotting and striving of people and groups with and against each other. A full history of American law would be nothing more or less than a full history of American life.
Friedman, 1973, p.595.











Deviance, Crime and Tort

Deviance and Social/Political Power

Every social group has norms about what kinds of behavior, and sometimes even what modes of thought, are proper and improper, acceptable and unacceptable. When people violate social norms that to which particular groups attach a significant degree of importance, their behavior is often viewed as being deviant. Of course, the characterization of particular beliefs and behaviors as "deviant" is more effective when the group that does the labeling has a significant degree of social or political power.

Deviance is thus clearly relative to particular times and places and to specific social groups. In some religious groups, drinking beer is considered deviant, whereas among some friendship groups that may meet at a bar on Saturday nights, the same behavior is not only accepted but encouraged. And what is true of social groups such as religious communities and college fraternities also holds for societies and cultures.

At the level of society, legal rules are often brought in to strengthen social norms -- causing acts that are considered undesirable not only to be violations of group norms but also punishable by official powers. Thus, after Pope Innocent III declared heresy to be "treason against God" in 1199, 12,000 knights from France and Burgundy went to battle with groups whose beliefs diverged from official Church doctrine. As the Inquisition became an established institution, many were tortured and burned alive for holding "deviant" religious beliefs. Times changed, and a different balance was established in the relative influence of different groups.

Crime and Tort

In the remainder of this chapter I focus on the forms of deviance that are widely regarded in societies today as being the most problematic. A crime is considered to be so serious that it is an offense against the state. That is, when a person commits a crime, the government itself is seen as having been wronged, and government officials will take action to apprehend and punish the offender. In the case of a crime, the state will seek to apprehend and punish the offender, regardless of what the victim or the victim's family wants to do about the act.

A tort is an offense against a person, rather than against the state. It is thus a civil (as contrasted with a criminal) offense. This means that a tort will result in a trial, and possible punishment, only if the person who has been offended wants to pursue the matter. And the punishment for tort offenses is less severe than for a crime, in that a person found guilty of having committed a tort is typically required to pay monetary damages rather than being deprived of life or liberty.

Other types of "deviant" behavior that are typically frowned upon within a social group or in a society tend to result in even milder forms of rebuke or punishment. If you should suddenly burst out singing in a bus or subway some time, for example, and you probably would not be imprisoned or even fined, but you might well find people looking at you rather strangely!

Criminal law has been carefully developed over a period of centuries, but it nevertheless leaves a great deal of room for discretion in the interpretation of when a crime has been committed. You will see why as you review the three characteristics of crime, as defined by written law (which is termed statute law).

Characteristics of Criminal Acts

For an act to be considered a crime, there must first be conduct. That is, something has to be done. But when is an act conduct, in the legal sense, and when is it somehow "less" than that? Take the case of conspiracy, for example. Several years ago, two Catholic priests, Phillip and Daniel Berrigan were found guilty of conspiring to demolish a power station. They never committed the crime. They discussed it. Their talk was deemed to be conduct, in the legal sense, and they were imprisoned.

A second feature of all acts that are criminal according to U.S. law is harm. Someone, or something, must be injured or damaged. In many cases, the harm is obvious. In others, however, the harm in an offense is more abstract and subtle. We often hear of "victimless crimes," for example -- offenses, such as gambling in places and ways that are illegal, that do not result in identifiable harm to other people. Gamblers may lose their money and thus deprive loved ones of needed resources, but in some cases that is legal -- when the state operates lotteries, for example, or permits gambling at casinos. The harm in such a case as this is to social orderliness, and to the norms of the society or the state. Harm in such situations depends on a number of contextual factors.

Finally, for there to be a crime there must be intent. The offender must have intended to engage in the wrongful behavior. Legal intent is not always clear-cut, however. If you have a swimming pool in your back yard without a fence around it, and if a two-year-old should climb into it and drown, you will very possibly be found guilty of manslaughter. It is not that you intended to cause harm, in your conscious mind, but legally you did intend it by not having taken adequate precautions to prevent the accident. The same is true for any "attractive nuisance" that may be on your property and that result in injury or death. For example, a broken-down refrigerator on your back porch could be an attractive object to a young child playing hide-and-seek. But if a child should crawl inside the refrigerator and close the door, it is very possible that the child would suffocate. You would be charged, in this case, also, with manslaughter. The intent, again, would lie in your failure to have anticipated the problem and taken steps to prevent it.

It is the seriousness of injury and death that has brought about the laws we have about what constitutes crime. In countries where human life is valued highly, penalties for taking or worsening life are usually stiff. Here, as elsewhere, the legal system reflects our societal priorities and values.

deviance, deviant: When people violate social norms that to which particular groups attach a significant degree of importance, their behavior is often viewed as being deviant. Of course, the characterization of particular beliefs and behaviors as "deviant" is more effective when the group that does the labeling has a significant degree of social or political power.








crime: Wrongdoing that is so serious it is considered to be an offense against the state itself.


tort: An offense against a person, rather than the state. The punishment for tort offenses is less severe than for crimes.


















"The law, in a sense "creates" the crimes it punishes; but what creates the criminal law? . . . Behind every legal judgment of criminality is a more powerful, more basic social judgment, a judgment that this behavior, whatever it is, deserves to be outlawed and punished."
Friedman, 1993, p. 4.



Crime and Punishment in the United States

You do not need to be told that crime is a serious problem in the United States. You hear about it frequently on the evening news. Data from the FBI indicate that several types of crime were on the increase during the last half of the twentieth century (Figures 15.1 and 15.2).

There is a connection between homicide and aggravated assault, which is often attempted murder. One reason that homicide rates are not higher is because rescue squads are getting better at saving victims' lives. Rescue technology is improving, and thus many offenses that would have been murders a few years ago are now recorded as aggravated assault. As you can see from the data in Figure 15.1, murder rates have been almost "flat" since the FBI began keeping records in 1933. Even in recent years, however, aggravated assault has continued to increase -- suggesting that what could appear to be a slowdown in violent crime is at least partially attributable to advances in medical technology.

Figures 15.1 and 15.2: Reported Crime Trends: Rates per 100,000
*Recent larceny rates cannot be compared with earlier figures because of a change the dollar figure for larceny as an index crime. Data source: Hagan, 1997, p.63.


Some of the recent news is more favorable, however. Reported murder rates throughout the U.S. in 2002 were the lowest in more than 30 years, and crime rates are down for five of the seven serious crimes that are listed in Table 15.1.

The offenses shown in Table 15.1 are designated by the FBI as "index crimes." In its annual publication Uniform Crime Reports, the FBI highlights devotes most of its attention to these seven offenses, and also arson, because they are such serious crimes.

Table 15.1: Crime Rates per 100,000 Population, U.S.
  Offense       1977
% change
 Homicide      8.8      5.6
 Forcible rape     29.4     33.0
 Robbery    190.7    145.9
 Aggravated assault    247.0    310.1
 Burglary  1,419.8    746.2
 Larceny-Theft  2,729.9  2,445.8
 Motor vehicle theft    451.9    432.1
- 4.4

Source: FBI, 1997, p. 62 and FBI, 2002, Index of Crime, tab.1.

Despite decreases in the rates several types of crime, opinion surveys show that the public has been slow to feel safer. In a 2000 survey, 80 percent said the crime problem in America was "bad" or "very bad." Although those concerns may be partially fueled by sensationalistic news coverage (See Table 15.2) and dramatic entertainment programming with crime themes, there is a sound basis for fear about the possibility of victimization. According to the FBI, a property crime is committed in the United States every three seconds and a violent crime every 22 seconds. With both types of crime taken into account, there is an 83 percent likelihood that a person will be victimized by crime at least once.8

Table 15.2: When you say the crime problem in the country is bad, is that based on what you've seen or read in the news, or is it based on your own personal experience?
Seen or read in the news
Personal experience
No opinion

Source: ABC News, 2000.

Not only is the frequency of crime a cause for alarm, but this problem is magnified by the fact that offenders are apprehended at a very low rate (see Figure 15.3).

Most serious crimes that are reported to the police never lead to an arrest. As you can see from Table 15.3 (below), a very small percentage of serious offenses result in a prison sentence for the offender. Fewer than four in every ten reported cases of murder and manslaughter lead to prison time, and among less serious crimes the rate of imprisonment is considerably lower -- down to just 3.4 percent for burglary and 1.4 percent for motor vehicle theft. Morgan Reynolds calculates that among the five most serious crimes in this list, the probability of imprisonment in 1995 was just 2.7 percent.9

Figure 15.3: Percent of known offenses cleared by arrest
Source: FBI, 2002, Crime Index Offenses Cleared, table 25.

What "cleared by arrest" actually means:
An offense that is "cleared by arrest" does not always, or even usually, lead to imprisonment. "Cleared by arrest" simply means that someone was arrested after a particular crime was reported. In many cases, arrested persons are not brought to trial for lack of evidence, and in some other cases they are not found guilty by a trial jury.

Table 15.3: Probability of punishment in 1990s
Probability of arrest if crime reported (%)
Probability of prosecution if arrested (%)
Probability of conviction if prosecuted (%)
Probability of prison if convicted (%)
Overall probability of prison (%)
 M.V. theft
Source: Reynolds, 1997.

If we add to these calculations the fact that many serious crimes are not even reported -- at least half, most analysts believe -- then we begin to see the magnitude of the crime problem.

Americans are clearly not satisfied with this situation. When asked to choose between "guaranteeing individual freedom" and "guaranteeing law and order in society," most respondents in one survey chose "law and order" as a higher priority than "guaranteeing individual freedom." Further, a large majority thought that "being tough on criminals" was more important than "protecting the rights of those accused of crime" (Figure 15.4).

Figure 15.4: Public Attitudes about Rights and Freedoms
Source: Washington Post & H. J. Kaiser Family Foundation at Public Agenda.

Crime Victimization Studies
The US Department of Justice tries to measure reported crimes in it's Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) program, and it studies crime from the vantage point of victimization rather than reporting through the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).

"Crime and Victims Statistics" from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

"The Nation's Two Crime Measures" -a description of the differences between the UCR program and the NCVS and the advantages of each.






Two Views of Criminal Justice

Competing Systems of Values

The survey questions discussed above highlight an inherent tension in the U.S. criminal justice system. Actually, two different sets of values -- values that are in some ways incompatible -- are evident in society's efforts to come to grips with the crime problem. In an article that has become a classic in the field, Herbert L. Packer identifies these two systems of values as the due process model and the crime control model.10 Packer begins by emphasizing that these two models distort the reality that is to be found in the criminal justice system, because elements of both operate side-by-side, and most people hold both sets of values to some extent.

The question is one of degree. The chief concern of the due process model is protecting innocent people from the potentially coercive power of the government. To give accused people a chance to counter the state's superior power, relative to a single individual, adherents to the due process model want to have obstacles in place that would make it difficult for the state to pursue a criminal inquiry to the point of depriving an accused person of liberty or even life. As Stanford University law professor Lawrence Friedman puts it, "The scales must not tilt too much toward government."11 From this perspective, it is better for guilty people to go free than for innocent people to be wrongly punished.

The main emphasis of the crime control model is on apprehending and punishing those who have committed crimes. The crime control model diverges from the due process model on the question of what kinds of mistakes, and how many mistakes, are acceptable in the process of confronting crime. Crime control advocates are willing to tolerate more convictions of people who are, in fact, innocent, than to live with checks on government power that would limit the state's ability to convict those who are guilty.

These theoretical ideas have important real world implications, from the methods used by police in surveillance and questioning suspects to the way the courts operate and the kinds of sentences that are handed down when defendants are found guilty.

due process model: This approach aims to protect innocent people from the potentially coercive power of the government, even if it means that some guilty people go free because of procedural safeguards that restrict the government's authority.

crime control model: This approach is especially concerned with apprehending and punishing those who have committed crimes.







Police Work

Police officers have some of the world's most difficult jobs. They are expected to maintain "law and order," but in potentially problematic situations, they often must guess about whether or not a crime is about to be committed. After the fact, it is often difficult to positively identify the offender, although there are pressures from many quarters to catch the criminal as quickly as possible. Further, many situations in which police officers must make split-second decisions are filled with tension, and frequently there is a threat of violence. Perfect judgment is needed in such situations, and also nerves of steel. Mere humans seldom have either.

French Police

The police must necessarily exercise a great deal of discretion in their work. That is, they have to act according to their best judgment about who to stop and question, and when to make an arrest, in situations that are often ambiguous. There is clear evidence that police officers sometimes use stereotyping in the process of deciding how to act, and in the process, it seems clear that race has been known to enter the picture. In writing about this subject, Georgetown University law professor David Cole points out that although criminologists have found that blacks "do in fact commit crime at a higher per capita rate than whites,"12 it is also true that most blacks do not fit the stereotype of many Americans that "crime has a black face."13

Cole gives several examples of how stereotyping has influenced police conduct in particular circumstances -- illustrations that range from random police violence against minority members to show that the police "were in charge," to cases in which blacks have been detained and sometimes subjected to abuse because, apparently, they were black. He describes an experience of a black college student, Arthur Colbert, who got lost in North Philadelphia while on his way to meet his date:

Two police officers looking for a drug dealer named Hakim pulled Colbert over, put him in a police van, and took him to an abandoned house, where they repeatedly accused him of being Hakim. Colbert showed them his Temple University ID and his driver's license, but they were not deterred. The officers hit him with their flashlights and a two-by-four. When Colbert still would not admit to being Hakim, one officer put his gun to Colbert's head and said, "If you don't tell us what we want to know, I'm going to blow your head away. You have three seconds." He cocked the gun's hammer and began to count down: "Three . . . two . . . one." But there wasn't anything Colbert could tell them, because he wasn't Hakim, and had never even heard of Hakim. The officers ultimately let him go without charges.14

Writing of this and other cases of a similar nature, Cole charges that "under the law as it stands, wealthy white people are not subject to such treatment; black and Hispanic people are, and especially poor black and Hispanic people living in the inner city."15 Underscoring the point, a demonstration was organized in Washington DC in April 1999 to protest police brutality. Led by the relatives of victims, demonstrators highlighted incidents involving death and injury from around the country, including the shooting in New York city of an unarmed African immigrant who died when four New York City police officers fired 41 shots at him.16

Cole argues for restoring "equality to the policing process" which would place "restrictions on police behavior."17 Cole recognizes that such restrictions could impede law enforcement activities, however. It is the kind of proposal that is more consistent with the values of due process than with those of crime control.

criminologists: Analysts who work to understand crime and criminal behavior in its social, psychological, biological, political or economic dimensions. Most criminologists focus on a limited number of these dimensions in their own research.


From The New York Times, April 4, 1999:
"Capital Demonstration Widens Support for Diallo Rallies", by David M. Herszenhorn

WASHINGTON, April 3 -- Led by the relatives of victims of police brutality from across the country, more than 1,000 demonstrators marched past the Justice Department today as protests inspired by the death of Amadou Diallo, the unarmed African immigrant who died in a hail of 41 bullets fired by four New York City police officers. . . .

Chanting the familiar cry of ''No Justice, No Peace,'' the demonstrators marched to the Capitol for a rally to demand a wide range of Federal responses to police brutality . . .
As they marched, many of the demonstrators carried placards with photographs of victims of alleged police violence. The names of some of the more well-known of these victims, including Abner Louima, of Brooklyn; Jonny E. Gammage, of Pittsburgh, and Rodney King, of Los Angeles, were invoked again and again. . . .

The Adversarial System, the Courts and Due Process

Supporters of the crime control model often argue that the U.S. criminal justice system is too heavily weighted in favor of the due process model, and that in the process offenders too often are able to escape punishment. The adversarial system that prevails in the United States limits the state's power in legal proceedings by attempting to create a "level playing field" in which both the prosecution and the defense will have an equal opportunity to present their positions to an impartial jury of the accused person's peers, in a criminal trial. This adversarial approach contrasts with the inquisitorial system that is more common in Europe, where the emphasis is more directed toward fact-finding, with the lawyers and the judge playing somewhat different roles than under adversarial arrangements -- roles that are more pointedly directed toward getting at the facts of the case and less aimed at balancing the interests of the state and the defendant.

Under the adversarial system, the state has the burden of proof for determining guilt. And in criminal trials, the U.S. system requires that guilt be proven beyond reasonable doubt. Not only must a jury member thus be confident that the accused person is guilty -- not 51 percent sure, or 90 percent sure, but sure beyond reasonable doubt -- but all twelve members of the jury must agree. These requirements give defendants a significant chance of winning acquittal in a trial; they are key provisions in maintaining the strong emphasis on due process that is found in the U.S. system.

adversarial system: A system that limits the state's power in legal proceedings by attempting to create a "level playing" field in which the prosecution and the defense will have an equal opportunity to present their positions to an impartial jury.

inquisitorial system: A system in which the emphasis is more directed toward fact-finding and less than toward balancing the interests of the state and the defendant, as compared with an adversarial system.


The possibility of appealing a conviction can also work in the interest of accused persons. Trial courts, where the prosecution and defense present their cases and juries return a verdict, are the first phase of the conviction process for those who are found guilty and then appeal their convictions. If a defendant is found not guilty, that ends the matter -- at least, on the question of the specific charge(s) on which the trial centered. But people found guilty in a trial court may seek to have their convictions overturned in an appellate court (appeals court) by arguing that there was something improper about the trial itself. Appellate courts decide questions of law. In essence, they inquire into whether or not the procedures used in the trial court were proper.

If an appellate court reverses the trial court's decision, the case may be sent back for another trial. This time, the problem that invalidated the guilty verdict must be corrected. For example, if it was decided by an appellate court that a particular piece of evidence should not have been presented in the trial, that evidence cannot be brought forth in a retrial.

Although the possibility of appeal can benefit the defendant, in practice most criminal cases that are reversed by an appellate court result in a subsequent retrial and conviction. But some do not, and the reason is sometimes a technicality. Again, the question is one of balance. Is it better to follow procedures that will safeguard the rights of accused persons, and that aim to ensure that innocent people are not punished, or is it preferable to punish as many guilty people as possible, although the weakening of safeguards is certain to result in some guilty verdicts that are not deserved? This question is at the heart of many policy debates about the criminal justice system, and Supreme Court decisions that set precedents for police and court procedures often are viewed in terms of whether they tilt the scales of justice more toward the due process or the crime control side.

trial courts: Courts that decide questions of fact. Defendants are judged guilty or not guilty in trial courts.

appellate courts: Courts that decide questions of law. Appellate courts inquire into the appropriateness of procedures and evidence that are used in specific trials.







Crime in Comparative Perspective

You can get a sense of the relative frequency of homicide in the United States, compared with a number of other countries, from Table 15.4.

As you can see, the U.S. is near the top of this list, and among the world's most economically affluent countries, no other nation has a homicide rate that approaches that of the U.S. (Because these are rates, differences in population size from one country to another have been taken into account in the calculations.)

The above data do not tell the entire story about violent crime, however. Francis Fukuyama has compiled comparative data on violent crime in fifteen nations, fourteen of which are OECD members (countries in North America, Oceania, Europe plus Japan and Korea). His violent crime index includes not only homicide and manslaughter but also attempted murder, rape, assault and robbery (or comparable categories from country to country). It turns out that with the additional categories of violent crime included in a single index, several countries in Fukuyama's sample had levels of violent crime that were similar to the US by the 1990s. Rates in New Zealand and Canada were even higher (Figure 15.6). It is striking that increases in violent crime after 1950 were dramatic in all of the countries Fukuyama studied except for Japan and Korea. The rate dropped sharply in Japan, to less than one-third of the 1950 level, and in Korea the rate of increase was modest.

The US pattern of declining rates of violent crime that began in 1993 has continued through the first part of the twenty-first century. Between 1998 and 2003, violent crime decreased 12.9 percent, and the decline in violent crime from 1993 to 2002 was 33.8 percent. In European Union countries, in contrast, violent crime increased 22 percent between 1997 and 2001. The highest rates of increase were in France (50 percent), Spain (49 percent) and the Netherlands (35 percent). Japan experienced an even greater increase in violent crime (79 percent).18

Table 15.4: Homicide Rates per 100,000 people.
  Country   Rate
  Lithuania  10.6
  Latvia   6.5
  United States   5.6
  Bulgaria   3.9
  Finland   2.9
  Turkey   2.7
  Czech Repub.   2.5
  Hungary   2.3
  Poland   2.1
  Australia   1.9
  Belgium   1.8
  France   1.7
  United Kingdom   1.7
  Netherlands   1.5
  Greece   1.4
  Austria   1.2
  Portugal   1.2
  Germany   1.2
  Spain   1.1
  Switzerland   1.1
  Norway   0.9

Source: Home Office Statistical Bulletin, 2003, tab.1.1.

Why has violent crime decreased in the United States during the past several years -- a time when it was increasing in Western Europe and Japan? Young people between 15 and 24 years old, especially males, are more likely to commit acts of violent crime than people in other age groups. But the proportion of Americans in this age range remained nearly constant during the decade from 1993 and 2002. Answers will have to be sought elsewhere. The bad news is the US rates of violent crime are disturbingly high, but the positive side of this story is the striking decline in violent offenses during recent years -- at least, in the United States if not in many other countries.

Figure 15.6: Violent Crime Rates in Francis Fukuyama's Analysis
Source: Fukuyama, 1999.

There are also striking differences between different geographical regions of the United States. In Figure 15.5, U.S. averages are represented by the top border of the blue shaded area. You can see that the West South Central region consistently reports more than the average rate of homicide for the nation, while New England is consistently below average -- with homicide rates that are predictably less than half those in the West South Central region.

Note: US - represents the average homicide rate for the entire United States;
NE (New England) includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont;
WSC (West South Central) includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas.
Figure 15.5: U.S. Homicide Trends
Source: BJS, Regional Trends, 2002.


What Causes Crime?

A Diversity of Theoretical Perspectives

What accounts for these trends, and the differences among countries? Some find the answer in cultural differences among countries and subcultural variations within the U.S., others in the degree of social strain brought on by different social conditions (policies that determine the distribution of incomes, for example), and still others in differential child rearing practices, such that people in some societies and regions turn out to have more self-control, on the average, than people in others.

Fukuyama attributes the rapid increases in crime during the past few decades to widespread changes in social values and social behavior that he terms the Great Disruption. At the core of the Great Disruption has been the shift away from the Industrial era and to an information society. With this change, hierarchies have begun to crumble, and social bonds have been weakened. Rising crime has been just one of the results. There has also been broader evidence that the social order was breaking down from the 1960s to the 1990s, with increasing divorce, rising rates of out-of-wedlock births, and generalized declines in trust within society. (And he finds that several key features that were associated with the Great Disruption in the West have been less pronounced in Japan, Korea and other Asian countries.)19

As you can guess from your study of sociology to this point, sociological theories about the causes of crime emphasize external factors -- causes that are outside the mind, and that result from influences of people or situations around us. This is not to suggest that psychological, and even chemical, factors are unimportant in accounting for but instead reflects the emphasis of sociology in contrast with other fields.





"The rise in crime, the decline in stable families, the erosion of trust in government and fellow citizens -- these have constituted a Great Disruption in prevailing social values throughout the industrialized world. They have been brought on by the advent of the information age."
From the introduction to The Atlantic Monthly publication of
The Great Disruption by Francis Fukuyama. Read Chapter1 of the book: "Playing by the Rules".

Several different sociological theories have been widely discussed. Conflict theories emphasize the political nature of law and ways that criminal law is used in society to keep elites in power. Differential association theory, which is one of the more influential perspectives in sociological criminology, maintains that people are drawn into criminality because of people around them whose values and attitudes lead them into criminal behavior. Labeling theory focuses on the idea that labeling someone as deviant is the key to a person's accepting a deviant self-concept. Put differently, it is stigmatization by society that produces criminal behavior. Social control theory examines the ways that societies secure compliance with social norms and laws, and why social control efforts sometimes fail, when crimes are committed. In one of its more prominent formulations, by Gottfredson and Hirschi, social control theory emphasizes the significance of low personal self-control and the importance of family socialization in a child's early years (during the first six or eight years of life).20 Strain theories bring in such external factors as social barriers to achievement in accounting for crime. Subcultural theories are particularly concerned with delinquency and crime that develop through gang membership.

I find the theories of large-scale societal change, such as the one developed by Fukuyama in The Great Disruption, to be especially appealing in helping to account for crime trends during the past several decades. This perspective, which is thoroughly sociological, brings several different threads together in an explanation that is supported by both strong evidence and defensible logic. In chapter eighteen, I will discuss a broad spectrum of implications that can be drawn from globalization trends and the shift to an information society, not all of which are negative. And if Fukuyama is correct, the disruptions that we have known recently may be themselves diminishing, as society reconstitutes itself around new priorities and modes of interaction.

Each of these theoretical perspectives is a great deal more complex than is suggested by the brief descriptions above, and there is a great deal of overlap among several of the theories named above.

There are many Internet sites that can provide useful introductions to sociological theories about crime. If you enter one of the theoretical perspectives to the left in a HotBot or Google search (e.g., "social control theory"), along with the word "crime," you'll get back a large number of links. Here's one source to help you get started exploring crime theories:
Diane M. DeMelo's "Criminological Theory".









The usefulness of the different theories depends in part on what kinds of crime a person is trying to explain. Differential association theory and subcultural theories are more applicable to crime that is committed by people who belong to groups that support criminal behavior, for example. Research suggests that some well known perspectives about the causes of crime do not seem to hold up well under the light of available evidence. To take a single example, labeling theory claims that children are often labeled as delinquent before actually taking on delinquent roles, but it turns out that young people very often engage in behaviors that only afterward result in "labels" through which others (teachers, for example) categorize them.21

Figure 15.7: Homicide Offending by Age
Source: BJS, Age trends, 2002.

There is also evidence in support of the labeling approach, however -- for example, Hagan and Palloni's finding that criminal records of parents may contribute to delinquency among their sons.22 Further, the label "ex-convict" seems to be a negative factor for former prison inmates who want to avoid criminal involvement after their release. Such contradictory information indicates the need for continuing research into the different causes of criminal behavior, because it is beyond doubt that criminality has a variety of causes.

Criminologist Marcus Felson suggests that one theory of crime, social control theory, "avoids most of the fallacies of the other theories."23 This perspective is seen as especially useful in helping us to account for the large majority of crimes -- offenses that are simple in design, poorly executed and usually not carefully planned. These are crimes that often occur as a response to immediate circumstances, and that generally produce relatively small gains.24 Yet, they result in death thousands of times every year in the United States. Most of the time by far, they are committed by young males (see Figure 15.7 and Table 15.5). In the next section I will highlight some of the conclusions to be drawn about the causes of crime, and recommended approaches to crime prevention, that flow from social control theory. I hope you will examine this perspective analytically, and that you will consider the relative merits of other theoretical approaches as you think about factors that account for criminal behavior in the U.S. and in societies more generally.

Table 15.5: Characteristics of Arrested Persons
Percent male among those arrested:
  Aggrav. assault
  M.V. theft
Ages of arrestees
(all index crimes)
  Under 18
  18 - 24
Source: FBI, 2002, tab. 41, 42.
*47 percent, then, of all people arrested for index crimes are 24 years of age or younger. The median age in the U.S. is 34.

The Perspective of Social Control Theory

A large proportion of the population have committed one or more acts that would be widely regarded as "deviant" in the larger society -- acts that are sometimes criminal, such as theft or vandalism, and acts that are sometimes simply branded as normatively unacceptable according to either social norms or laws (or both).

Sociologist Howard Becker suggested more than three decades ago that "at least in fantasy, people are much more deviant than they appear." People often want possessions that they do not have and power that is not within their reach. They may be tempted to carry out extraordinary measures to achieve those desires, but most of the time most people do not act on such ideas.

Becker's larger question, then, was why "conventional people do not follow through on the deviant impulses that they have."25 This kind of reasoning, which was proposed by Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) long ago, is at the heart of social control theory. According to this perspective, conformity to group norms can be accounted for by socialization and the strong social bonds that tie individuals to groups. Effective socialization practices during childhood instill a high level of self-control, and social bonds encourage conformity to group expectations.26

Vincent Van Gogh, Prisoners Exercising

Gottfredson and Hirschi argue that for most crimes, "an obvious opportunity coupled with a lack of self-control is all that is required. The offender sees a momentary opportunity to get something for nothing and he seizes it."27

What accounts for low levels of self-control? Ineffective child-rearing is the primary culprit, they say. For adequate child-rearing to take place, adults must (a) monitor the behavior of the child, (b) be alert to deviant behavior if it occurs and (c) punish deviance. But not all parents do each of these things, as straightforward as they may seem superficially, and thus the process can be derailed in a number of ways. Even if the family does not do its job, sometimes self-control is learned outside the family -- at school or in other settings.

It is widely emphasized among specialists that these early years of life are critically important for the establishment of adult behavior patterns, including criminal activity. Peter Greenwood, for example, after observing that "the juvenile record is one of the best predictors of adult criminality," adds, "The earlier and more serious the involvement [of juveniles in crime], the more likely the behavior will continue into adulthood, and the more serious it is likely to be."28

For Gottfredson and Hirschi, such traditional approaches to crime control as long-term sentencing, rehabilitation programs, improved police surveillance and gun control legislation are not likely to be very effective. Long-term sentencing falls short, because by the time repeat offenders have accumulated a record that is serious enough to merit long-term incarceration, they have typically passed the peak age for committing crime. Rehabilitation programs cannot be expected to achieve success with offenders who persist in crime because of low self-control, because this factor tends to be persistent across the life span of individuals. Spending more money might produce small gains, but Gottfredson and Hirschi see it as "unlikely that criminal justice system rehabilitation programs will themselves reduce criminal behavior sufficiently to justify their cost." Prevention is a more effective policy than treatment, they suggest.

Why is it more spending on police surveillance not likely to help much? It is because, they insist, "in the bulk of" ordinary crimes, "the offender does not know or care about the probability of being observed by the police." The police are simply "not a factor," they argue, "in the overwhelming number of robberies, burglaries, assaults, homicides, thefts or drug deals."

Can gun control laws help? Not much, Gottfredson and Hirschi suggest, because most criminals do not get their weapons through legitimate channels. Their view is that a total ban on guns would significantly reduce the number of crimes that involve "intimidation and personal injury," but short of such a strong measure little relief from crime can be expected through emphasis on gun control.

social control theory: Suggests that conformity to group norms results from strong social bonds which tie individuals to groups and promote conformity. Social control theory examines the ways that societies secure compliance with social norms and laws, and why social control efforts sometimes fail, when crimes are committed.


In the Atlantic Unbound Interview "Street Life" Elijah Anderson talks about his new book, Code of the Street, and his effort to tell the real story of life in the inner city.




On gun-control debate, read "Second Thoughts on the Second Amendment," by Wendy Kaminer in The Atlantic Monthly, 1996.




In the end, Gottfredson and Hirschi conclude that the best avenue for crime reduction is as difficult to implement as it is straightforward. Maintaining that low self-control is the most important cause of most crimes, they believe that government programs should not be seen as a promising way to substantially reduce crime. Rather than expecting solutions in beefed-up police forces, higher conviction rates in the courts, or prisons that rehabilitate with more success, they contend that "the only realistic long-term state policies with potential for substantial crime reduction are those that are directed toward strengthening the effectiveness of families in socializing children.29

It can be reasonably argued, however, that the social control theory is also incomplete. Several of its shortcomings are highlighted by sociologist Charles Tittle, who is especially concerned that the theory is too simplistic and inadequately precise. Tittle concludes that social control theory is valuable, but that "it falls far short of what we need."30 Tittle thus underscores the fact that a great deal remains unexplained about why some people commit crime while others do not, and about what kinds of policies might most usefully address the crime problem. The social control theory has clear weaknesses, it is true, but Gottfredson and Hirschi are surely right that a large number of offenses that are committed could be prevented if more parents were better at socializing their own children.

White-Collar Crime

What criminologists categorize as white-color crime includes a wide range of illegal activities, from tax cheating and insurance fraud by people with average incomes to insider trading schemes by stock brokers that involve millions of dollars to corporate activities that involve the dumping of toxic waste. Central features of white-collar crimes are their concentration among individuals of relatively high status and their characteristic manifestation during the course of employment or in the process of pursuing other transactions that are usually legitimate.31

white-collar crime: "Crimes committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation."
Edwin Sutherland, 1983.

How widespread a problem is white-collar crime? Rosoff, Pontell and Tillman estimate that the monetary cost of white-collar crimes in the United States exceeds that of personal crimes such as robbery and burglary many times over.32 The prevalence of corporate crime has been shown to be widespread, and yet the traditional means of seeking to prevent crime and apprehend wrongdoers are inadequate for dealing with crimes that involve environmental pollution insurance fraud (perpetrated by either companies or customers), and price fixing. Robert Sherrill observes that, even if federal agencies wished to get tough against corporate crime, most "are woefully outmanned by the huge array of corporate lawyers. It is not a David and Goliath situation," he emphasizes. "It's more like Shirley Temple versus King Kong."

Of course, economic offenses that we categorize as white-collar crimes cannot be compared with the loss, injury and other harm that is associated with violent personal crimes. But white-collar crime can also have serious physical and emotional consequences, in the case of toxic wastes that are illegally dumped, for example, or illegal hazards on the job that can injure or kill workers. For example, in 1995 three Kentucky executives with the Pyro Mining Company were sentenced to prison in the deaths of ten miners who were killed in a mining shaft that the company officials were found to have known to be hazardous.33

White-collar crime highlights the fact that the violation of social norms and laws spans a wide range of social groups. Clearly, crime need not be a response to deprivation, poverty, societal "strain" or other factors that we often associate with crime that is committed among the jobless or those in poverty. And social control theory's emphasis on low self-control does not seem fully applicable to white-collar crime. Many perpetrators of white-collar crimes show clear evidence of high self-control in many settings -- in the ability to work hard and experience deprivation in the pursuit of university education, for example.






White-Collar Crime - Lecture Notes by Prof. Russ Long, July, 2000.


White Collar Crime page at University of Missouri web site.

Lawrence Friedman explains the prevalence of white-collar crime among people who appear to be "upstanding citizens" on most dimensions of life by suggesting that "old norms -- thou shalt not steal, for one -- have gotten weaker in the late twentieth century." Friedman highlights a possible reason for that erosion of bedrock values:

A kind of double standard seems to be developing. Many people who would not dream of cheating the people next door -- or lifting their friend's wallet, or mugging a stranger -- apparently have much less scruples about filching something from Sears Roebuck, or from city hall or the federal government. . . . The twentieth century seems to be the golden age of crime, and white-collar crime is no exception.34


The Search for Solutions

The trend in crime is worldwide. Crime has risen sharply during the last several decades throughout the industrial world and in many other countries as well. Reasons have been sought in declining religiosity and a more general spread of moral relativism, in the rising anonymity of social life, especially in urban areas, in a pervasive consumerism that urges people to want what we cannot afford, in a criminal justice system that is "soft on criminals" and in which punishment tends to be less severe than it once was, on the influence of television, on the stresses of daily life in this globalizing era and on family instability.

Social policies that affect us all emerge from analysis of these, and other, "causes" of crime. Our personal well being is importantly influenced by society's ultimate success as a society in efforts to stem the tide of crime that threatens each person individually, from time to time.

Many remedies have been attempted. The United States currently has a higher proportion of its citizens behind bars than any other country except Russia, and the rate of imprisonment has risen sharply in the past several years (Figure 15.7) New approaches to criminal sentencing have been tried, and we have agonized as a nation over the appropriateness and effectiveness of capital punishment. Programs of several kinds have been initiated to address problems of urban juvenile delinquency and the failure of prisons to rehabilitate most inmates.

The sociological evidence from all of these efforts, and from crime patterns in society, indicates that we do not know how to reform adult offenders, at least not most of them -- that for most people who have spent time in prison, freedom leads to more crime. The process of aging is a better deterrent to crime than most rehabilitation efforts that have been attempted, and whether or not the death penalty serves as a substantial deterrent remains an unanswered question. There is evidence to support both views, and specialists are divided on the issue.

What sociological analysis can tell us definitively is that simplistic answers are inadequate. Good evidence is lacking that strengthening police forces would dramatically reduce crime, or that "getting tough on criminals" would make our streets safer. Keeping offenders in prison for a longer period of time may produce a "feeling" of enhanced security, but it does not address the question of why that seventeen-year-old robbed a convenience store last week and shot two customers. Nor will "three strikes and you're out" get him behind bars soon enough to prevent the next robbery.

If the family solution has merit, as social control theorists argue that it does, focusing on family and interpersonal group life may pose our greatest challenge. It is a question of how to create conditions, as a society, that will produce better environments for a broader cross-section of the population. Society has limited ability to influence what happens in families. But policies surrounding other agents of socialization, from the mass media to the schools, are importantly shaped by public opinion and societal norms. It is to these subjects that we turn in the books final section.



Figure 15.7: U.S. Imprisonment Rate

Source: Public Agenda, 2004. Incarceration rate.
At yearend 2000, 1 in every 143 U.S. residents were incarcerated in State or Federal prison or a local jail.


adversarial system: A system that limits the state's power in legal proceedings by attempting to create a "level playing" field in which the prosecution and the defense will have an equal opportunity to present their positions to an impartial jury.

appellate courts: Courts that decide questions of law. Appellate courts inquire into the appropriateness of procedures and evidence that are used in specific trials.

crime: An offense against the state.

crime control model: This approach is especially concerned with apprehending and punishing those who have committed crimes.

 doctrine of natural law: The idea that that some principles are so universally valid that they can be applied to all societies and to all social strata.

 deviance, deviant: When people violate social norms to which others attach a significant degree of importance, their behavior is often viewed as being deviant

due process model: This approach aims to protect innocent people from the potentially coercive power of the government, even if it means that some guilty people go free because of procedural safeguards that restrict the government's authority.

inquisitorial system: A system in which the emphasis is more directed toward fact-finding and less than toward balancing the interests of the state and the defendant, as compared with an adversarial system.

 the legal order: A system of rules in which adherence to the law takes precedence over obedience to those who hold power.

social control theory of deviance: Suggests that conformity to group norms results from strong social bonds which tie individuals to groups and promote conformity.

 social solidarity: Factors that create and sustain bonds between individuals and social groups.

tort: An offense against another person.

trial courts: Courts that decide questions of fact. Defendants are judged guilty or not guilty in trial courts.

white-collar crime: "Crimes committed by persons of high social position in the course of their occupations" (Sutherland and Cressey, 1978).

Hot Links

Uniform Crime Reports at Federal Bureau of Investigation web site. But note that the PDF files at this web site can be frustrating to use. It is often hard to find just the table that you need, and download times can be slow. It's better, actually, to work with a library hard copy of the Uniform Crime Reports if you need to examine this resource very extensively.

Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice. A valuable source for data about crime rates and trends and the criminal justice system. Includes many useful charts. Buried deep inside the web site is a large section on international justice statistics which includes information from the United Nations and a number of other sources.

United Nations Crime and Justice Information Network. This is a valuable repository of information about international crime. To get country-by-country data on crime and an overview of legal systems of particular countries, click here. This site has been integrated into United Nations ODC's web site.

Justice Information Center (a service of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service). There is a great deal of valuable information here. It is categorized for ready access (for example, "Corrections," "Courts," "Juvenile Justice" and "International"), and there is also a keyword search procedure.

The World Factbook of Criminal Justice Systems. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), U.S. Department of Justice. An excellent resource for country-by-country information. The BJS describes the World Factbook as follows: "This factbook, developed under a BJS grant, provides narrative descriptions of the criminal justice systems of countries around the world. These 42 country descriptions are written to a common template so that comparisons of similar functions in different countries can be easily made. They were completed in mid-1993, although the most recent data available for inclusion were sometimes for a year or two earlier."

Source of Criminal Justice Statistics Online, Bureau of Justice Statistics. From the introduction: "The Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics brings together data about all aspects of criminal justice in the United States presented in over 600 tables from more than 100 sources." There's a great deal of useful information here, including survey data measuring public attitudes about crime and data about persons under correctional supervision.

Crime Statistics Reports Available on the WWW, Michigan State University Libraries. In addition to many frequently-referenced data sources, at this site you'll also find several links to specialized sites of interest -- sources where you can find U.S. information about criminal victimization, firearm injury, drug data and more. There are also links to web sites of organizations that collect and publish crime statistics.

Public Agenda: Crime. From the web site: "Public Agenda's unique research explains and clarifies public attitudes about complex policy issues. Public Agenda's work shows that when presented with accurate information and meaningful choices, Americans can and do make thoughtful decisions. "

Supplementary Web Reading
(These articles are accessible online. Atlantic Monthly articles are available to subscribers of the magazine. If you can use InfoTrac OneFile through your library, you can also access them there.)

"26-Year Secret Kept Innocent Man In Prison," CBS News, 25 May, 2008.
" attorney who couldn’t reveal important information about a murder case due to secrecy under attorney-client confidentiality, even though that information could have saved an innocent man from spending 22 years in prison."

Sasha Abramsky, "When They Get Out," The Atlantic Monthly, June 1999. From the introduction: "America is putting more people behind bars than ever. Soon we will be releasing more of them than ever. How prisons, established to fight crime, produce crime -- a sequel to "The Prison-Industrial Complex."

Francis Fukuyama, "The Great Disruption: Human Nature And The Reconstruction Of Social Order," The Atlantic Monthly, May 1999, vol. 283, No. 5; pages 55-80. From the introduction to The Atlantic Monthly: "One of America's most provocative thinkers argues that the social ills of recent decades are neither illusion nor fluke. The rise in crime, the decline in stable families, the erosion of trust in government and fellow citizens -- these have constituted a Great Disruption in prevailing social values throughout the industrialized world. They have been brought on by the advent of the information age."

Lawrence T. Jablecki, “Changing the Lives of Prisoners: A New Agenda,” Humanist, Nov-Dec, 2005.“Today more than two million people are incarcerated in state and federal prisons, 600,000 are released every year, and within three to rive years 50 to 60 percent return to prison for committing new crimes or for violating their conditional releases.”

Wendy Kaminer, "Second Thoughts on the Second Amendment," The Atlantic Monthly, March 1996. From the introduction: "At the heart of the gun-control debate is a fundamental tension between republicanism and individualism."

Barry Krisberg, "Reforming Juvenile Justice," The American Prospect, September 2005. From the introduction: "A century ago, reformers proved that prisons don’t help wayward children. Now America is learning that lesson all over again."

Timothy W. Maier, "Compensation for Injustice," Insight on the News, October 1, 2002. From the introduction: "Compensation for injustice: the saying goes that crime doesn't pay. But for those wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, who then are exonerated, the wages of innocence aren't much better."

Eric Schlosser, "The Prison-Industrial Complex," The Atlantic Monthly, December 1998. From the introduction: "Correctional officials see danger in prison overcrowding. Others see opportunity. The nearly two million Americans behind bars -- the majority of them nonviolent offenders -- mean jobs for depressed regions and windfalls for profiteers."

Summary Study Questions

Core Questions from the Chapter

1. How is a "legal order" different from a societal approach that emphasizes bureaucratic law?

2. How does the legal order support pluralism and social arrangements that are structured according to liberal principles?

3. Why is it that the legal order is sometimes a source of ongoing tension and conflict?

4. Do all groups in a society tend to have equal influence in creating and sustaining the legal order? Why or why not?

5. Defenders of the legal order rarely characterize it as an institution that is the guardian of eternal truth. Why is this the case?

6. What is the key difference between a crime and a tort?

7. Criminal acts have three main characteristics in the US legal system. What are they?

8. Distinguish between trial and appellate courts.

9. How do homicide rates in the US compare to those in other Western countries?

10. Which region of the US has the highest homicide rate?

11. According to the _____ theory, "conformity to group norms can be accounted for by socialization and the strong social bonds that tie individuals to groups."

12. According to the social control theory, what accounts for low levels of self-control?

13. What is distinctive about white-collar crime?

14. Is there unquestionable evidence that strengthening police forces would dramatically reduce crime, and that "getting tough on criminals" would make our streets safer?

15. What is the trend in crime rates, globally?

16. What two countries have the highest rates of imprisonment, worldwide? Which country ranks first in imprisonment rates? Which second?

Broader Question for Further Thought

1. How is punishment for offenses in the US today different from the approach that was taken in prehistoric times?

2. You've heard it said that "crime does not pay." Evaluate this statement in light of US crime data.

3. Why do many Americans not feel safe in spite of notable recent decreases in the rates of several serious crimes? (There are several possible reasons.)

4. How is the due process model different from the crime control model? What are advantages and disadvantages of each approach?

5. Compare adversarial criminal justice systems with those that are based on the inquisitorial approach.

6. What are the most influential theories about crime? What are the principal emphases of each? How are these theories different from one another?

7. Sociologist Howard Becker suggested more than three decades ago that "at least in fantasy, people are much more deviant than they appear." How can this point of view be taken into account by the social control theory?

8. As Gottfredson and Hirschi see it, why are such traditional approaches to crime control as long-term sentencing, rehabilitation programs, improved police surveillance and gun control legislation not likely to be very effective?

9. What does the widespread prevalence of white-collar crime suggest about the adequacy of social strain theory?

10. How would you explain the prevalence of white-collar crime among people who would seem likely to be "law-abiding citizens"?

Recommended Books

David Cole, No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System. New York: The New Press, 1999.

Marcus Felson, Crime and Everyday Life: Insight and Implications for Society. .Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press, 1994..

Lawrence M. Friedman, Crime and Punishment in American History..(New York: Basic Books, 1993.

Robert J. Sampson and John H. Laub, Crime in the Making: Pathways and Turning Points through Life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993.

James F. Short, Jr., Poverty, Ethnicity, and Violent Crime. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997.


1Moscovici, 1993, p. 74-75.
2Moscovici, 1993, pp. 76-77; Durkheim, 1984, p. 17; and Nisbet, 1966, pp. 84-86.
3McAdams, 1997, p.194.
5Posner, 1983, p. 199, 204.
6Unger, 1976, pp. 49-51.
7Unger, 1976, pp. 66-76, 77.
8FBI, 2002
9Reynolds, 1997.
10Packer, 1998 (1964).
11Friedman, 1993, p. 55.
12Cole, 1999, p. 42.
13Cole, 1999, p. 41, quoting Professor Jody Armour.
14Cole, 1999, pp. 23 - 24.
15Cole, 1999, p. 54.
16Herszenhorn, 1999. See also Cooper, 1999.
17Cole, 1999, p. 54.
18Home Office, 2003, p. 4.
19Fukuyama, 1999.
20Gottfredson & Hirschi,1990.

21Gove, 1980. For a pointed discussion of labeling theory, see Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990, pp.159-61 and Felson, 1994, pp. 14-15.
Hagan and Palloni, 1990.
23Felson, 1994, p. 15.
24Felson, 1994, pp. 1-7.
25Becker, 1963, p. 26.
26Hirschi, 1969.
27Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990, pp. 269-70.
29Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990, pp. 269-73.
30Tittle highlights weaknesses of social control theory and also of several other theoretical perspectives about crime. See Tittle, 1995, pp.17-53.
31The "white-collar crime" coined by Edwin Sutherland, who defined it as "crimes committed by a person of respectability and high social status in  the course of his occupation." See Sutherland,  1983, p. 7.
32Rosoff, et., al., 1998, p. 16.
33Sherrill, 1997.
34Friedman, 1993, p. 293.


Becker, Howard S. The Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: Free Press, 1963.

Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), U.S. Department of Justice. Homicide Trends in the United States, 2002.
Available at <>.

Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), U.S. Department of Justice. The World Factbook of Criminal Justice Systems.
Available at <>.

Cole, David. No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System. New York: The New Press, 1999.

Cooper, Michael. "Serpico Joins Campaign Against Police Brutality." The New York Times, January 11, 1999 (NYT Internet archives).

Durkheim, Emile. The Division of Labor in Society. Translated by W.D. Halls. New York: Free Press, 1984.

Erikson, Kai T. Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: Wiley, 1966.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Department of Justice. Crime in the United States, 2002. Available at <>.

Friedman, Lawrence M. Crime and Punishment in American History. New York: Basic Books, 1993.

Friedman, Lawrence M. A History of American Law. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973.

Fukuyama, Francis. The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order. New York: Free Press, 1999.

Gottfredson, Michael R. and Travis Hirschi. A General Theory of Crime. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990.

Gove, Walter R. The Labelling of Deviance: Evaluation of a Perspective. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1980.

Hagan, Frank E. Introduction to Criminology: Theories, Methods, and Criminal Behavior. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1997.

Hagan, John and Alberto Palloni. "The Social Reproduction of a Criminal Class in Working-Class London, circa 1950-1980." American Journal of Sociology 96: 265-99.

Herszenhorn, David M. "Capital Demonstration Widens Support for Diallo Rallies." The New York Times, April 4, 1999 (NYT Internet archives).

Hirschi, Travis. Causes of Delinquency. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.

Home Office Statistical Bulletin, no. 12/03, October 2003, p. 4 (data compiled and introduced by Gordon Barclay and Cynthia Tavares in "International comparisons of criminal justice statistics 2001"). Available at <>.

Liska, Allen E. Perspectives on Deviance. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1981.

McAdams, Richard H. "The Origin, Development, and Regulation of Norms." Michigan Law Review 96 (November 1997): 338-433.

Moscovici, Serge. The Invention of Society. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1993.

National Gallery of Art. "The Collection,"
Available at <>.

Nisbet, Robert A. The Sociological Tradition. New York: Basic Books, 1966.

Packer, Herbert L. "Two Models of the Criminal Process." In The Criminal Justice System: Politics and Policies, edited by George F. Cole and Marc G. Gertz, 9-23. Belmont, CA: West/Wadsworth, 1998. Originally published in University of Pennsylvania Law Review 113 (1964).

Posner, Richard A. The Economics of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983.

Public Agenda Online. Available at <>.

Reed, Sue Titus. Crime and Criminology. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1994.

Reynolds, Morgan O. Crime and Punishment in the U.S. National Center for Policy Analysis report no. 209. Washington, DC, 1997.
Available at <>.

Rosoff, Stephen M., Henry N. Pontell and Robert Tillman. Profit Without Honor: White-Collar Crime and the Looting of America. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.

Sherrill, Robert. "A Year in Corporate Crime." The Nation, April 7, 1997.

Stark, Rodney and William S. Bainbridge. A Theory of Religion. New York: Peter Lang, 1987.

Sutherland, Edwin H. White-Collar Crime. 1949. Reprint, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983.

Sutherland, Edwin H. and Donald R. Cressey. Criminology, 10th edition. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1978.

Tittle, Charles R. Control Balance: Toward a General Theory of Deviance. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995.

Unger, Roberto Mangabeira. Law in Modern Society: Toward a Criticism of Social Theory. New York: Free Press, 1976.