Cathedral Round-Up #27: Critical Criminology

2005 Riots, Paris, France

Today we’ll be looking at the chapter on “critical criminology” from Criminology: The Core (Instructor’s Third Edition) by Larry Siegel. According to Cengage:

“It’s no mystery why Larry Siegel remains THE best-selling author in Criminal Justice. … Grounded in Siegel’s signature style — cutting-edge theory plus meticulous research — this book covers all sides of an issue without taking a political or theoretical position and provides a broad view of the interdisciplinary nature of the field.”

The book covers 5 different schools of Criminology Theories: Neoclassical Choice theory (eg, Cesare Beccaria;) Biosocial/Psychological Trait theory, (Freud, Piaget, Edward O. Wilson;) Social Structure/Process theory, (Clifford R. Shaw and Edwin Sutherland;) Marxist Critical Theory, (Marx;) and Life Course/Latent Trait Development theory, (Sheldon Glueck and James Q. Wilson.)

I don’t have time to read the whole book (not if you want this post to go up this month,) so we are going to focus on Chaper 8: Critical Criminology.

Major Premise (from the book’s inside cover): “Inequality between social classes (groups) and the social conditions that empower the wealthy and disenfranchise the less fortunate are the root causes of crime. It is the ongoing struggle for power, control, and material well-being that creates crime.” Critical Criminology was founded in 1968 and is unapologeticly Marxist.

Each chapter begins with an example crime. The choice for Critical Criminology is fascinating: the November 2005 Muslim riots in southern and western France and the suburbs of Paris.

What sparked the rioting? The immediate cause was the accidental deaths of two Muslim teenagers who were electrocuted as they hid in a power substation to escape a police identity check. Hearing of the deaths, gangs of youths armed with brick and stick roamed the streets of housing estates torching cars and destroying property. …

A majority of France’s Muslim population, estimated at 5 million, live in these poverty-stricken areas. Many residents are angry at the living conditions and believe they are the target of racial discrimination, police brutality, and governmental indifference.”

Is this the best the Critical Criminologists have? (Incidentally, according to Wikipedia,the police were responding to a report of a break-in, the rioting lasted for 3 weeks and some 8,973 cars were burned. 3 people died.) This sounds more like an argument against Muslim immigration than an argument that racism causes crime, because if the French were really so racist, Muslims wouldn’t move there.

But let’s let the Critical Theorists explain themselves:

According to Critical Theorists, crime is a political concept designed to protect the power and position of the upper classes at the expense of the poor. Some of these theorists… would include in a list of “real” crime such acts as violations of human rights due to racism, sexism, and imperialism and other violations of human dignity and physical needs and necessities. Part of the critical agenda, argues Criminologist Robert Bohm, is to make the public aware that these behaviors “are crimes just as much as burglary and robbery.”…

Graph from the Wikipedia
See also my post, “No, Hunter Gatherers were not Peaceful Paragons of Gender Egalitarianism.”

“Capitalism,” claims Bohm, “as a mode of production, has always produced a relatively high level of crime and violence.”

Note: Bohm is either a moron or a liar. Pre-industrial economies had far more violent crime than modern, capitalist economies.

Crime rates are much lower in countries with advanced, capitalist economies than in countries with less-developed economies.

Countries with poorly defined or enforced property rights or where property is held in common are not bastions of civility.

In fact, the rise of capitalism in Europe over the past seven houndred years was accompanied by a dramatic decrease in crime.

My biggest complaint about this chapter is the total lack of data cited to support any of the claims. This is not necessarily the author’s fault, as the Critical Criminology field is overtly hostile to actual research:

Critical criminologists rarely use standard social science methodologies to test their views because many believe the traditional approach of measuring research subjects is antihuman and insensitive. Critical thinkers believe that research conducted by mainstream liberal and positivist criminologists is often designed to unmask weak, powerless members of society so they can be better dealt with by the legal system. They are particularly offended by purely empirical studies, such as those designed to show that minority group members have lower IQs than whites or that the inner city is the site of the most serious crime whereas middle-class areas are relatively c rime free. Critical scholars are more likely to examine historical trends and patterns…

Back to definitions:

Critical Criminologists reject the notion that law is designed to maintain a tranquil, fair society and that criminals are malevolent people who wish to trample the rights of others. Critical theorists consider acts of racism, sexism, imperialism, unsafe working conditions, inadequate child care, substandard housing, pollution of the environment, and war making as a tool of foreign policy to be ‘true crimes.’ The crimes of the helpless–burglary, robbery, and assault–are more expressions of rage over unjust economic conditions than actual crimes. … Marxist thought serves as the basis for critical theory.

I have now read In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, Gang Leader for a Day, Leeson’s work on pirates, The Pirates’ Own Book, God of the Rodeo, Outlaws on Horseback, No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels, Donnie Brasco’s The Way of the Wiseguy, and Original Gangster: The Real Life Story of one of America’s Most Notorius Drug Lords, by Frank Lucas. I also have a close personal friend who was homeless for a couple of decades.

I’m not an expert, but I feel like I know something on the subject.

Very few people in modern, capitalist countries are committing crime out of desperation. My friend survived for years by going to soup kitchens and never stole a wallet or held up a convenience store. We have welfare and subsidized housing. There are exceptions, but most violent criminals are not Jean Valjean; it’s not economic desperation that drives people to put meat cleavers into their boss’s skulls or rape children.

But back to the book. On the origins of Critical Criminology:

Mainstream, positivist criminology was criticized a being overtly conservative, pro-government, and antihuman. What emerged was a social conflict theory whose proponents scoffed when their fellow scholars used statistical analyses of computerized data to describe criminal and delinquent behavior. Several influential scholars embraced the idea that the social conflict produced by the unequal distribution of power and wealth was at the root cause of crime. …

Richard Quinney also proclaimed that in contemporary society criminal law represents the interests of those who hold power in society. Where there is conflict between social groups–the wealthy and the poor–those who hold power will create law that benefit themselves and hold rivals in check. … Crime is a function of power relation and an inevitable result of social conflict.

This is not entirely wrong (if it were entirely wrong, far fewer people would believe it.) The wealthy do in fact have a disproportionate say on which laws are passed and how they are enforced. They can afford better lawyers and can often buy their way out of situations the poor are just stuck with.

But again, this is not what drives a man to put a meat cleaver in another man’s skull, nor is it why society nigh-universally condemns unprovoked skull-cleaving. It is not only in the interests of the rich to prevent violent crime–they, after all, use their money to insulate themselves from the worst of it by buying into low-crime, gated communities with private security forces. If anything, the poor, as the disproportionate victims of crime, have the most to gain from strict law enforcement against violent criminals.

My formerly homeless friend was once beaten into a coma and nearly died on his way home to the park bench where he spent his nights.

If crime were all about fighting back against oppression, criminals would only target the rich.

There is one branch of Critical Criminology, Left Realism, which acknowledges that crime is actually really unpleasant for its victims. Since it is relatively sane, we need not worry about it.

With thanks to the Heritage Foundation

Back to the book:

Critical criminologist are also deeply concerned about the current state of the American political system …

While spending is being cut on social programs, it is being raised on military expansion. The rapid buildup of the prison system and passage of draconian criminal laws that threaten civil rights and liberties–the death penalty, three strikes laws, and the Patriot Act–are other elements of the conservative agenda. Critical Criminologists believe that they are responsible for informing the public about he dangers of these developments.

Hold on. I’m going to need a couple more graphs:

Source: Heritage Foundation

The “Three Strikes Laws” were passed in 1994 in reaction to the crack-driven crime epidemic throughout the hearts of America’s cities and appear to have done a pretty good job of preventing black people from being murdered.

Back to the text:

Critical criminologists have turned their attention to the threat competitive capitalism presents to the working class. The believe that in addition to perpetuating male supremacy and racialism, modern global capitalism helps destroy the lives of workers in less-developed countries. For example, capitalists hailed China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001 as a significant economic event. However, critical thinkers point out that the economic boom has significant costs: The average manufacturing wage in China is 20 to 25 cents per hour; in a single yea (2001) more than 47,000 workers were killed at work, and 35.2 million Chinese workers were permanently or temporarily disabled.

According to the AFL-CIO, 4,836 workers were killed on the job in the US in 2015. Since there are 320 million Americans, this works out to about a 0.0015% chance of dying on the job.

Since China had about 1.272 billion people in 2001, that works out to about a 0.0037% chance of dying on the Chinese job.

Obviously it’d be great if no one died on the job, but these are not horrific odds. By contrast, China’s Great Leap Forward, when it implemented a communist system, was a horrific disaster that killed between 18 and 55 MILLION people.

(Also, 35,398 Americans died in car/motorcycle accidents in 2014, so you are much more likely to die driving your car to the grocery tore than employed in China.)

Meanwhile:

According to the World Bank, more than 500 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty as China’s poverty rate fell from 88 percent in 1981 to 6.5 percent in 2012, as measured by the percentage of people living on the equivalent of US$1.90 or less per day in 2011 purchasing price parity terms.[4]

From Human Progress

Now, I admit that capitalism does not always produce good results. Sometimes priceless natural resources get destroyed. Sometimes people’s jobs get outsourced. Often employers decide they’re okay with a level of job-induced harm to their employees’ health that their employees would not be okay with. But on the whole, capitalism produces good results far more often than communism.

But back to the book:

In our advanced technological society, those with economic and political power control the definition of crime and the manner in which the criminal justice system enforces the law. Consequently, the only crimes available to the poor are the severely sanctioned “street crimes”: rape, murder, theft, and mugging.

EvX: Available? How are crimes “available” to anyone? Are crimes like Pokemon, where you have to go to the Pokemon center to get your first starter crime, but if you sleep in the rich take all of the good crimes like insider training and you get stuck with some random Pikachu from the back, and it turns out to be a home invasion?

And if the rich are running the whole show, why don’t they make it so none of the laws apply to them? Why don’t they rape and murder poor people at the same rate as the poor rape and murder each other?

Back to the book:

Because private ownership of property is the true measure of success in American society [Source needed] (as opposed to being, say, a worthy person), the state becomes an ally of the wealthy in protecting their property interests. [How?] As a result, theft-related crimes are often punished more severely than are acts of violence, [Source needed] because although the former may be interclass, the latter are typically intraclass.” [Source needed]…

Empirical research confirms that economic downturns are indeed linked to both crime rate increases and government activities such as passing anticrime legislation.

I’ve heard this one before. Scroll back up to that graph of homicide rates over time and note the massive decrease in crime during the Great Depression. By the time the Depression crime drop petered out, crime was at one of its lowest points in the entire 20th century. Even in 2013 (the year the graph ends) crime was higher than it was after the Depression.

To be fair this drop is better explained by the end of Prohibition than by the Depression. But the Depression saw a massive decrease in crime: this theory is bogus.

Let’s finish up with Critical Feminist Criminology:

Critical feminism views gender inequality as stemming from the unequal power of men and women in a capitalist society, which leads to the exploitation of women by fathers and husbands. …

Patriarchy, or male supremacy, has been and continue to be supported by capitalists. This system sustains female oppression at home and in the workplace. …

Critical feminists link criminal behavior pattern to the gender conflict created by the economic and social struggles common in postindustrial societies. … Capitalists control the labor of workers, and men control women both economically and biologically. This ‘double marginality’ explains why females in a capitalist society commit fewer crimes than males.

So, when Capitalism oppresses men, it makes them commit “crime,” but when it oppresses women, it makes them not commit crime. Because capitalism wants to exploit workers by locking them in prisons where they can’t really do much work, but it wants to exploit women by making them do the dishes, because a capitalist system could never see the value of getting people to work for pay. Got it?

The text continues:

Because they are isolated in the family, they have fewer opportunities to engage in elite deviance… Women are also denied access to male-dominated street crimes.

So women are like… Some kid who was locked in his room and so couldn’t even get a cruddy crime-emon?

Seriously, though, do these guys not know that women are allowed to leave the house? Most of them have cars and do things like “drive to work” and “drive to the supermarket.” Yes, it’s true that existing, male-dominated street gangs and the Mafia generally don’t take women, but if women wanted to go out and punch people and steal their wallets, they would. If they wanted to make their own gangs, they would. If someone is actually a violent criminal, their husband saying, “Don’t go outside, make me a sandwich instead,” would not stop them from doing violence. If there’s one trait criminals tend to have in common, it’s that they don’t refrain from crime just because society disapproves of it.

Over in reality, women don’t commit much crime simply because… they aren’t that interested in committing crime.

 

Critical Criminology is a deep subject and I have only skimmed its surface. I haven’t discussed Mumia Abu-Jamal (the chapter’s other Profile in Crime;) restorative justice; the failure of restorative justice in South Africa to prevent horrific, race-motivated farm murders; instrumental vs. structural theorists; etc.

In closing, I’d just like to repeat, in the book’s defense, that the author is laying out the field for us, not advocating on its behalf. The book also has sections critiquing Critical Criminology theory and chapters devoted to sociobiology and developmental theories.

And in potentially related news, between 85 and 93% of French Muslims voted for Hollande, the Socialist candidate, in 2012.

9 thoughts on “Cathedral Round-Up #27: Critical Criminology

  1. This just reinforces that any field that calls itself ‘critical’ as in reliant on ‘critical theory’ is intended as an attack vector, not as scholarship.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Those same people are like how “Capitalism” brings about the fall of civilization and how “Capitalism” destroys the environment etc etc.

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  3. I read that in the 50’s New York State had a law that provided the death penalty for any crime committed with a gun. They of course hard little crime. People knew not to use a gun and if you wanted to rob someone they were just as likely to have a knife or baseball bat as the criminal.

    The very, very, very worst part about crime in the US is the Anarcho-tyranny where if you fight back YOU are the one that’s punished but to put away the criminal all the rules have to be followed. They don’t want us to be able to protect ourselves. They want the State to mediate all aspects of living.

    In Baltimore I know from reading a resident writers, writings they are letting felons plead down gun possession cases to much lower crimes. The reason being that they would go away for a long time if they didn’t. If all the violent criminals were locked up it would vastly reduce crime. I personally don’t care as much about victimless crimes, drugs, , prostitution, etc as long as it’s not blatantly on the streets. I consider robbing, breaking into houses and stealing violent crimes because there’s always the chance that someone will be around that won’t care for having their house broke into or etc.

    Some people and groups are just violent and will take anything they can from you if they think they can get away with it.

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  4. One of the things that personally bugs me about this sort of thing is the loose definition of capitalism, which is incapable of distinguishing ‘market economics’ from ‘capitalist economic policy.’ It’s not strongly relevant to the post, but I’ll lay out the difference (and it is, methinks, one place out of several where Marx was completely correct).

    First, a market: a market is just anywhere people exchange goods for other goods.

    A market economy is where, instead of having some body try to centrally coordinate prices, prices are established by the magic of game theory. This central body in a non-market economy could be the sovereign, or it could be some other entity given the rights over this market by the sovereign, like the East India Company. It could even, in pathological cases, be a cabal of private individuals with enough influence to sway the market

    As a practical fact, all markets are somewhat coordinated, coordinated markets allow for some private exchange, but an emphasis on encouraging a market economy focuses on minimizing this coordination by a central authority and preventing the rise of other coordinating influences. This is what we generally call ‘free market economics.’

    Capitalism and communism are economic policies put into place by the body which owns the market (again, usually the sovereign) designed to encourage (or force) certain methods of economic activity.

    Capitalism is a policy that encourages the accumulation of capital (that is, the means of production) into the hands of private individuals, and doesn’t take many pains to insure those private individuals are large in number or that there is a limit to their accumulation.

    Communism is a policy which attempts to keep capital publically-owned. Since this is a contradiction in terms (there is no legal person you point to when you say ‘the public’) this defaults to the central owner of the market accumulating all the means of production and then renting them back to members of the market for prices set by that central owner. This is where the confusion between economic policies and market economics comes into play, methinks.

    There are, of course, other economic policies. For example, socialism attempts to guarantee some means of production to some class of people (usually by welfare and redistribution from another class of people). Distributism attempts to encourage the private but widespread ownership of capital, and to discourage any one person or group thereof from accumulating too much capital while still having ‘enough’ (as defined again by the owner of the market). Feudalism attempts to spread capital of certain sorts unevenly through a small class of people, in return for oaths of political and military loyalty, while also attempting to ensure the rights of other classes of people to use or rent that capital. And so forth.

    Under these definitions, the West hasn’t been strictly capitalist ever, and is trending away from it, with the era of ‘greatest capitalism’ probably in Dickens’ time.

    And of course, this is describing things through a purely economic lens. Each sort of economic policy is also usually wrapped up in all sorts of other political and philosophical claims.

    tl;dr: For us overly pedantic people, ‘capitalism’ doesn’t just mean ‘free market economics’

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