SYSTEM RESPOND TO WHITE COLLAR
AND CORPORATE CRIME?
White-collar crime poses a vexing problem for the criminal justice system (CJS). It is an enormously complex global issue that is growing rapidly and is a cross-border problem. White-collar crime is viewed differently in contrast to conventional crime as generally the public associate crime with street crimes such as robbery, burglary or homicide. Affluent and privileged persons who enjoy an elevated social status and who engage in crimes are rarely considered by the public.
This paper discusses various ways in which the CJS addresses white-collar crime. Firstly, the definition, types and characteristics of white-collar crime will be examined. Secondly, the extent and effects of this crime are outlined. The third area examines the problems encountered by the CJS. Finally, the CJS response to this form of crime is presented. In reality, white-collar crime is a global economic problem that is flourishing at unprecedented levels due to the exponential growth of technology and the use of computers. White-collar and corporate crime are fundamentally different from street crimes, hence it has always been a challenging and controversial topic for the CJS. Therefore, the CJS needs to introduce more effective tools to combat such crimes.
Firstly, the phrase ‘white-collar crime’ was introduced by Edwin Sutherland in 1939. Sutherland (1949) defined white-collar crime as ‘crimes committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation’. Sutherland (1940) talks about the ambiguity in the term ‘white-collar’, and refers to it as corporate crime (being committed by an organisation) and occupational crime being any other form of crime, not involving violence. According to Sutherland (1949), most white-collar criminals were recidivist law-breakers especially in the areas of corporate and civil law. It was understood that these criminals flaunted their power and wealth to influence what makes up the criminal law, and to ensure minimal consequences for the breaches of other laws (Friedrichs, 2004). However, Sutherland’s explanation failed to take into account differing forms of offense which may not actually be breaches of criminal law (Simon, 2006) or that this type of crime can be committed by people from divergent backgrounds. Some criminologists
(Simon, 2006) argue that ‘elite deviance’ is a better description, because it emphasises the power and class distinctions between ‘suite crimes’ and ‘street crimes’.
White-collar crimes are non-violent and involve a wide range of specific criminal acts which are defined in the criminal codes. As explained by Hayes and Prenzler (2009), white-collar crime is an illegal activity that is normally carried on within legal business transactions. It encompasses activities including embezzlement, tax evasion, money laundering, fraud, occupational crime (e.g. employee theft or tax evasion), workplace safety crimes (committed by employers, involving harm to the well-being of employees), corporate crime (crime committed by organisations using the corporate structure), environmental crimes (illegal harm to the environment) and computer- or technology-based crimes. These crimes are often surrounded in secrecy, may involve complex cover-ups, be ambiguous (as to the ‘planned intent’), and be deliberately deceptive (Hayes & Prenzler, 2009).
Secondly, not all white-collar crime committed is detected, reported or recorded (Hayes & Prenzler, 2009) and may be varied in its nature. However, some forms of crime remain difficult to measure because it is extremely difficult to detect and often victims are not aware that they have been victimized, such as fraud (Hayes & Prenzler, 2003). White-collar and corporate crimes are often complex crimes which normally require high levels of skill and intelligence as they are regularly masked by routine organizational activity...