Anthropology Friday: Oriental Prisons pt 1: Thuggee

Group of Thugs, India, 1894

Welcome to Anthropology Friday. This month’s pick is more history than anthropology, but hopefully still interesting: The History and Romance of Crime: Oriental Prisons, by Arthur Griffiths, 1838-1908. I am not sure when the book was published, but I believe it was sometime in the early 1900s, for Griffiths mentions events that occurred up to 1899 and died in 1908.

Griffiths was a British prison administrator and inspector who wrote over 60 books, many of them mysteries or military histories–and many of them about prisons. According to Wikipedia:

Griffiths was born on 9 Dec. 1838, at Poona, India, the second son of Lieut.-colonel John Griffiths of the 6th Royal Warwickshire regiment. After graduating from King William’s College on the Isle of Man, Arthur Griffiths joined the British Army as an ensign in the 63rd Regiment of Foot on 13 Feb. 1855.

Serving in the Crimean War, Griffiths participated in the siege of Sevastopol. He also fought during the capture of Kinbum, receiving the British Crimea medal.

Today’s excerpts pertain to crime in India, chiefly that of thuggee, the semi-ritualized murder of travelers by a group known as the Thugs.

In General:

“Crime in India does not differ essentially from that prevalent elsewhere, although some forms are indigenous to the country, engendered by special physical and social conditions. As a rule, the people of India are law abiding, orderly and sober in character, but there is an inherent deceitfulness in them that tends to interfere with the course of justice.”

On the smuggling of money into the Montgomery jail in Punjab, one of the largest in India:

“The prisoners become very clever and use all sorts of devices to smuggle in coins, tobacco, opium and other drugs and dice. They are allowed to wear their own shoes, but these are examined very carefully, for the soles are frequently found to be made of tobacco, four-anna pieces and other things than leather.

““A common dodge,” says Captain Buck, “among the prisoners for concealing coins and other small things is to make a receptacle in the throat by means of a leaden weight about the diameter of a florin and half an inch thick; this is attached to a string some six inches long, a knot in the end being slipped between two teeth to prevent it sliding down the throat. By holding the head in a particular position for some time every day, ‘waggling’ the weight about, and from time to time altering the length of the string, a pouch can be formed in the throat suitable for holding as many as fifteen rupees. The possessor of this strange ‘safe’ is able to put in and take out his treasure with facility, but it is exceedingly difficult to make a man disgorge the contents against his will, or even to find out whether he possesses the pouch at all without the use of the Röntgen rays.” [X-rays]

Thuggee:

“When England’s work in India is reviewed in the time to come, full credit must be given to the humane administration which sternly suppressed the atrocious malpractices that so long afflicted the land, such as “Suttee,” or the burning of widows on the funeral pyre; the human sacrifices to the bloodthirsty idol of Jagannath; “Thuggee,” that vile organisation for secret murder which devastated the entire continent and killed so many unsuspecting victims. … It was fostered by the prevailing conditions in a vast extent of territory, divided among many princes and powers, each ruling independently and irresponsibly, with many kinds of governments, and with their hands one against the other, having no common interests, no desire for combination, no united police, no uniform action in the repression of determined wrong-doing. Everything conspired to favour the growth of these daring and unscrupulous land pirates.

“There were no roads in those early days, no public conveyances, no means of protection for travellers. The longest journeys from one end of the continent to the other were undertaken of necessity on foot or on horseback; parties hitherto complete strangers banded together for common security, and mixed unreservedly with one another. … it was possible to wander into by-paths and get lost among the forests, jungles, mountains and uncultivated tracts where but few sparsely inhabited villages were scattered. Direct encouragement was thus afforded to freebooters and highwaymen to make all travellers their prey, and many classes of robbers existed and flourished. Of these the most numerous, the most united, the most secret in their horrible operations, the most dangerous and destructive were the Thugs.

“The origin of Thuggee, as it was commonly called, is lost in fable and obscurity. Mr. James Hutton, in his popular account of the Thugs, thinks that they are of very ancient date and says they are “reputed to have sprung from the Sagartii who contributed eight thousand horse to the army of Xerxes and are mentioned by Herodotus in his history. These people led a pastoral life, were originally of Persian descent and use the Persian language; their dress is something betwixt a Persian and a Pactyan; they have no offensive weapons, either of iron or brass, except their daggers; their principal dependence in action is on cords made of twisted leather which they use in this manner. When they engage an enemy they throw out this cord having a noose at the extremity; if they entangle in this either horse or man, they without difficulty put them to death.” …

“In the latter part of the seventeenth century Thevenot speaks of a strange denomination of robbers who infest the road between Delhi and Agra and who use “a certain rope with a running noose which they could cast with so much sleight about a man’s neck when they are within reach of 50 him, that they never fail; so that they strangle him in a trice.” These robbers were divided into seven principal classes or families from which the innumerable smaller bands sprang.”

EvX: According to Wikipedia, Thugs have been known as organized bands of criminals in India for at least 600 years. The earliest known reference to their activities dates from 1356, in Ziyā-ud-Dīn Baranī‘s History of Fīrūz Shāh:

In the reign of that sultan [about 1290], some Thugs were taken in Delhi, and a man belonging to that fraternity was the means of about a thousand being captured. But not one of these did the sultan have killed. He gave orders for them to be put into boats and to be conveyed into the lower country, to the neighbourhood of Lakhnauti, where they were to be set free. The Thugs would thus have to dwell about Lakhnauti and would not trouble the neighbourhood of Delhi any more.

The strangest part about the story of the Thugs is that it is basically, as far as I know, true. There really was a secret cult, probably descended from Muslims who’d started worshipping Kali (somehow) and went around murdering people as part of their “religion” and more-or-less way of life. Wikipedia recounts:

Membership was sometimes passed from father to son, as part of a criminal underclass. The leadership of established Thug groups tended to be hereditary, as the group evolved into a criminal tribe. Other men would become acquainted with a Thug band and hope to be recruited, as Thugs were respected by the criminal community and had a camaraderie of numbers and shared experience. Robbery became less a question of solving problems associated with poverty and more a profession.

Back to Griffiths:

“At all times many hundreds of predatory castes existed in India, chiefly among the marauding hill and forest people, and some of them are still recorded by name in the census papers. These people lived openly by plunder, and were organised for crime, and for determined gang-robbery and murder. There was no established police in those days equal to coping with these gangs, and the government of the East India Company had recourse to the savage criminal code of the Mohammedan law.

“When Warren Hastings was governor-general, he decreed that every convicted gang-robber should be publicly executed in full view of his village, and that all of the villagers should be fined. The miscreants retaliated by incendiarism on a large scale. One conflagration in Calcutta in 1780 burned fifteen thousand houses, and some two thousand souls perished in the flames. A special civil department was created to deal with this wholesale crime, the character of which is described in a state paper dated 1772. “The gang-robbers of Bengal,” it says, “are not like the robbers in England, individuals driven to such desperate courses by want or greed. They are robbers by profession and even by birth. They are formed into regular communities, and their families subsist on the supplies they bring home to them. These spoils come from great distances, and peaceful villages three hundred miles up the Ganges are supported by housebreaking in Calcutta.”

EvX: Here is a version of the origin myth of the Thugs:

Once on a time the world was infested with a monstrous demon… who devoured mankind as fast as they were created… Kali cut the demon with her sword… but from every drop of blood that fell to the ground there sprang a new demon. She paused for a while, and from the sweat, brushed off one of her arms, she created two men, to whom she gave a rumal, or handkerchief, and commanded them to strangle the demons. When they had slain them all, they offered to return the rumal, but the goddess bade them keep it and transmit it to their posterity, with the injunction to destroy all men who were not of their kindred.

She condescended to present them with one of her teeth for a pickaxe, a rib for a knife, and the hem of her skirt for a noose, and ordered them, fo the futuer, to cut and bury the dbodies of whom they destoryed.

“In the early part of the nineteenth century the audacity and murderous activity of the Thugs increased to such a fearful extent that the British government was roused to serious consideration. … Mr. Brown, when engaged in his inquiry at a village named Sujuna, on the road to Hatta, heard a horrible story of a gang-robbery in the neighbourhood. A party of two hundred Thugs had encamped in a grove in the early morning of the cold season of 1814, when seven men, well-armed with swords and matchlocks, passed, conveying treasure from a bank in Jubbulpore to its correspondent in Banda. The treasure was ascertained to be of the value of 4,500 rupees, and a number of Thugs, well-mounted, gave chase. Coming up with their prey at a distance of seven miles, in a water course half a mile from Sujuna, they attacked the treasure-bearers with their swords, contrary to their common practice of strangling their victims, the latter plan being possible only when the objects of their desire were taken unawares. Moreover, the robbers left the bodies where they lay, unburied and exposed, which was also an unusual proceeding. A passing traveller, who had seen the murderers at work, was also put to death to prevent his giving the alarm. As much rain fell that day, none of the villagers approached the spot till the following morning, when the bodies were discovered and a large crowd came to gaze at them.

“Great difficulty was experienced in bringing home the crime to its perpetrators. This often happened in such cases from the strong reluctance of people to give evidence and appear in court for the purpose; even the banker who had lost his cash hesitated to come forward and prove his loss, and this was no isolated case. …

“Sir William Sleeman has left a personal record of his own achievements. “While I was in the civil charge of the district of Nursingpoor, in the valley of the Nurbudda, in the years 1822, 1823 and 1824,” he tells us, “no ordinary robbery or theft could be committed without my becoming acquainted with it; nor was there a robber or a thief of the ordinary kind in the district, with whose character I had not become acquainted in the discharge of my duty as magistrate; and if any man had then told me that a gang of assassins by profession resided in the village of Kundelee, not four hundred yards from my court, and that the extensive groves of the village of Mundesur, only one stage from me, on the road to Saugor and Bhopaul, were one of the greatest beles, or places of murder, in all India; and that large gangs from Hindustan and the Dukhun used to rendezvous in these groves, remain in them for days together every year, and carry on their dreadful trade along all the lines of road that pass by and branch off from them, with the knowledge and connivance of the two landholders by whose ancestors these groves had been planted, I should have thought him a fool or a madman; and yet nothing could have been more true. The bodies of a hundred travellers lie buried in and around the groves of Mundesur; and a gang of assassins lived in and about the village of Kundelee while I was magistrate of the district, and extended their depredations to the cities of Poona and Hyderabad.”

“…in the cantonment of Hingolee, the leader of the Thugs of that district, Hurree Singh, was a respectable merchant of the place, with whom Captain Sleeman, in common with many other English officers, had constant dealings. On one occasion this man applied to the officer in civil charge of the district, Captain Reynolds, for a pass to bring some cloths from Bombay, which he knew were on their way accompanied by their owner, a merchant of a town not far from Hingolee. He murdered this person, his attendants and cattle-drivers, brought the merchandise up to Hingolee under the pass he had obtained and sold it openly in the cantonment; nor would this ever have been discovered had he not confessed it after his apprehension, and gloried in it as a good joke.”

EvX: This is why market-dominant minorities evolved. You’re going to have a hard time shipping goods from place to place if your business contacts keep murdering you for not being part of their ethnic group.

“Many persons were murdered in the very bazaar of the cantonment, within one hundred yards from the main guard, by Hurree Singh and his gang, and were buried hardly five hundred yards from the line of sentries. Captain Sleeman was himself present at the opening of several of these unblessed graves (each containing several bodies), which were pointed out by the “approvers,” one by one, in the coolest possible manner, to those who were assembled, until the spectators were sickened and gave up further search in disgust. The place was the dry channel of a small water course, communicating with the river, no broader or deeper than a ditch; it was near the road to a neighbouring village, and one of the main outlets from the cantonment to the country….

“Accounts of such affairs, as found in contemporary records, might be multiplied indefinitely. Colonel Sleeman’s report of the Thug depredations for a year or two when they were most virulent—1836-37—fills one large volume. On a map which he made of a portion of the kingdom of Oude, showing a territory one hundred miles wide from north to south, and one hundred and seventy miles from east to west, are marked an endless number of spots between Lucknow, Cawnpore, Manickpur, Pertabgurh and Fyzabad, all of them indicating beles or scenes of murders perpetrated.”

EvX: The photo is fuzzy, but I believe the map in this slideshow, or one very like it, is the one Griffiths is referencing. The rest of the slide show is interesting and relevant.

Since Thugs tended to be related to each other, Sleeman also constructed genealogical trees of thuggee families, like the one above.

Back to the book:

Behram, Thug leader responsible for the murder of 931 people, 125 of them personally.

“These places were pointed out by captured Thugs and “approvers” who had been actively present and taken part in the murders. There were some 274 beles in all, or one for about every five miles; the fact was proved by the continual disinterment of skulls and skeletons of the often nameless victims. Each recorded great atrocities and many wholesale murders. The number of deaths for which each Thug miscreant was personally responsible seems incredible. One man, Buhran by name, killed 931 victims in forty years of active Thuggee, and another, Futteh Khan, killed 508 persons in twenty years, making an average of two monthly for each assassin. …

“When and how Thuggee began may not be definitely known, but it is certain that its votaries always attributed a divine origin to the practice. They esteemed the wholesale taking of life to which they were vowed a pious act, performed under the immediate orders and protection of the Hindu goddess, indifferently called Devee or Durga, Kali or Bhowanee. Murder was in fact a religious rite, the victim being a sacrifice to the deity. The strangler was troubled with no remorse; on the contrary, he gloried in his deed as the pious act of a devout worshipper. He prepared his murders without misgiving, perpetrated them without emotions of pity, and looked back upon them with satisfaction, not regret.

“The Thugs gave free vent to some of the worst passions of perverse humanity; they were treacherous, underhanded, pitiless to those they deemed their legitimate prey. But yet they were seldom guilty of wanton cruelty; the pain they inflicted was only that caused by depriving a human being of life. It was a rule with them never to murder women, and they generally spared infant children whom they adopted, bringing them up in their traditions. Even if a woman was doomed to suffer she was most scrupulously preserved from insult beforehand, either by act or word. In private life they were patterns of domestic virtue, affectionate to their own families, fond of their homes; well conducted, law abiding subjects of the state that gave them shelter.”

EvX: To be fair, so are Mafia dons.

The HBD Question:

“General Hervey quotes a curious instance of the heredity of the criminal instinct which showed itself in the descendants of the old Thugs settled at Jubbulpore, in the days of the active pursuit of these murderers by Sir William Sleeman. A generation of young Thugs had grown up around the School of Industry, a kind of reformatory for the offspring of the captured criminals, and the careers of some of these have been followed. Many of the youths found employment with European gentlemen as private servants, and in one particular instance the inherited propensity was curiously illustrated.

“A railway engineer, Mr. Upham, employed in the construction of the Indian Peninsula Railway, was stationed at Sleemanabad near Jubbulpore. Returning home one evening, much fatigued after a long tour of inspection, he lay down to rest on his bed and from his tent, the curtain of which was raised for ventilation, he saw two of his table servants—both of them lads from the reformatory—engaged in cooking his dinner. He presently noticed that they squeezed into the pot on the fire certain green pods they had plucked from a neighbouring bush, and presuming they were herbs of some sort added for flavour, he said nothing, but he was curious and having little appetite he dined very lightly, chiefly on rice and milk. He picked some of the pods, however, and put them in his pocket, where they remained till next day, when he became ill and rode over to see the doctor. He fainted when he reached the doctor’s office. Restoratives being promptly applied, he so far recovered as to be able to produce the pods which the doctor at once pronounced to be of datura. Suspicion thus aroused, the two servants were arrested and brought to trial, when the head cook was convicted and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. This boy was of the old Thug stock, and obviously the desire to destroy human life was in his blood, brought out by greed; for the object was, of course, to rob Mr. Upham while he was unconscious.

“They were apparently irreclaimable, these Thug children. One boy was detained in prison until grown up in the hope that he would prove well-conducted. All his relations had been Thugs; his father (who had been executed), his uncles, brothers and forebears for several generations, and numbers of them had suffered the extreme penalty. He was cognisant of their misdeeds and the retribution that overtook them, but his own inclinations lay the same way, and no sooner was he at large than he embraced the evil trade and was soon known as a jemadar with an increasing reputation as a daring leader of Dacoits. Eventually he was won over to the side of justice and did good service as an “approver.” ”

EvX: “Dacoit” is Indian for bandit; I do not know if it has any other connotations. Among the list of “famous dacoits” on wikipedia is Phoolan Devi, the “bandit queen” and later a member of the Indian Parliament:

Born into a low caste family in rural Uttar Pradesh, Phoolan endured poverty as a child and had an unsuccessful marriage before taking to a life of crime. … She was the only woman in that gang, and her relationship with one gang member, coupled with other minor factors, caused a gunfight between gang members. Phoolan’s lover was killed in that gunfight. The victorious rival faction, who were upper-caste Rajputs, took Phoolan to their village of Behmai, confined her in a room, and took turns to rape her repeatedly over several days. After escaping (or being let off), Phoolan rejoined the remnants of her dead lover’s faction, took another lover from among those men, and continued with banditry. A few months later, her new gang descended upon the village of Behmai to exact revenge for what she had suffered.[2][3] As many as twenty-two Rajput men belonging to that village were lined up in a row and shot dead by Phoolan’s gang.

Since Phoolan was a low-caste woman, and her victims were high-caste men, the press portrayed the Behmai massacre as an act of righteous lower-caste rebellion. The respectful sobriquet ‘Devi’ was conferred upon her by the media and public at this point.[4]

Phoolan evaded capture for two years after the Behmai massacre before she and her few surviving gang-members surrendered to the police in 1983. She was charged with forty-eight major crimes, including multiple murders, plunder, arson and kidnapping for ransom.[5] Phoolan spent the next eleven years in jail… In 1994, the state government headed by Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party summarily withdrew all charges against her, and Phoolan was released.[5] She then stood for election to parliament as a candidate of the Samajwadi Party and was twice elected to the Lok Sabha as the member for Mirzapur. In 2001, she was shot dead at the gates of her official bungalow (allotted to her as MP) in New Delhi by former rival bandits whose kinsmen had been slaughtered at Behmai by her gang.

That’s enough for today. Remember, Hobbes was right. See you next Friday for the next installment.

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.