Crime and Punishment

Topics: Sociology, Crime, Law Pages: 5 (1716 words) Published: October 12, 2008
Crime at its simplest is an act prohibited by law upon pain of punishment (Hall-Williams 1964). Theorists such as McCabe (1983:49) stated that no word in legal and criminological terms could define the word crime for the varying content in which an act is categorised. Due to the broad spectrum surrounding crime, differing understandings about human subjects and premises lead to the development of several theories, assumptions and forms of criminal law. Michael and Adler (1933:2) are often cited as an example of the legal description of crime: “the most precise and least ambiguous definition of crime is that which defines it as behaviour which is often prohibited by the criminal code”. The extending of the definition of crime is heavily debated among sociologists and criminologists. The most notable focus on this is presented through Thorsten Sellin, a famous sociologist of his time. Sellin (1938) argued that the criminal law reflected the values of powerful interest groups rather than the moral standards found in the general population and like Seager (1993:59) who stated that crime was “a form of social construction influenced by social locations and power relations in society”, believed that, what is defined as criminal could vary over time and different societies. This was further emphasised by his explanantion that crime and criminal were an uncertain subject matter that should not be applied to the strict and structured terms and subjects of study defined by non-scientists. Rather, crime and criminal should be a term that allows scientists the ability to define their own terms using concepts that had universal properties and nature. Due to all social groups in society having rules or norms the more complex the society was, the more likely that the norms would come into conflict. An example of this is if one group had power over another with differing conduct norms and because of these conduct norms, how a society relates and develops as well as violations of norms within it would be the focus of the definition of crime, rather than crime and criminal being defined by the criminal law and justice system. Sellin did not argue that the concept of crime should be extended to violations of conduct norms stating that an “extension of the meaning of the term crime is not desirable. It is wiser to retain that term for the offenses made punishable by the criminal law…” (Sellin 1938:32). While Sellin took this stance, other sociologists such as Edwin Sutherland who was also concerned about the narrow vision of criminology did not agree with the restriction of the defintion of crime. Sutherland concerntrated on the offenses commited by businesses by conducting a study on the decisions made by courts of the United States of America against some of the largest business corporations over false advertising, labour relations and violation of patents and trademarks (Sutherland, 1940). He attempted to demonstrate that these acts were criminal, thereby extending the defintion of crime as being a “legal description of an act as socially injurious and legal provision of a penalty for the act” (Sutherland 1945:132). Following this definition of crime would be stating that corporations were therefore committing ‘crimes’ yet were avoiding the usual punishment that were attached to offenses followed by the criminal law. This is when he saw the three main reasons for this leniency towards corporations and offenses of ‘white collar’ crimes which included the higher status of the offenders, undeveloped public hostility and the movement away from disciplinary responses to these acts. Sutherland believed that class bias played a major role in the defintion of crime as well as bias towards the operations of the legal system, believing that if criminologists confined the definition of crime, class bias would be introduced with a concerntration on the less powerful and poorer parts of society. If theories of crime were developed from a narrow...

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