I. Causes of CrimeDonald R. Cressey
II. Offense PatternsLeslie T. Wilkins
III. White-collar CrimeMarshall B. Clinard
IV. HomicideMarvin E. Wolfgang
The contemporary literature on crime causation theory is closely linked with the more general literature in anthropology, psychiatry, social psychology, and sociology. Since criminal acts and crime rates are similar to other acts and rates studied by social scientists, the alliance of criminology with more general scientific disciplines is not surprising. Although some of the scholars specializing in the study of crime and criminals (criminologists) are concerned with penal legislation, with the sociology of the criminal law, or with simple fact finding, the majority of them are directly or indirectly concerned with crime causation.
This concern has been expressed in two principal forms. First, criminologists have studied the processes by which persons become criminals and have developed theories of criminality. Second, criminologists have studied the relation of crime rates to variations in culture and social organization and have developed theories of crime. The theories of criminality are theories about social learning and personality development and thus are necessarily related to more general theories about these phenomena. Theories about the distribution of crime rates are theories about social systems and, consequently, are closely related to more general theories of social structure.
Although theories of criminality are sometimes considered psychological theories, whereas theories about crime rates are viewed as sociological, it is clear that sociologists have contributed significant theories of criminality as well as significant theories regarding the distribution of crime rates. Accordingly, there is no distinct division of labor between the sociologist-criminologist and others. The theoretical work of criminologists has developed most significantly in the last half century. Although there were some happy exceptions, little systematic theoretical research on criminality or crime was conducted until the twentieth century, and most of the books written on these subjects prior to that century were written by persons outside academic circles, such as theologians, physicians, and reformers. Most of these writers were attempting to find a panacea for criminal behavior, and they often merely selected a general “cause” of all criminality and then sought to convince their readers that elimination of that cause would eradicate crime both by reforming criminals and by preventing future criminality. There was little attempt to “make sense,” by means of a theory, of the known facts about criminals or about variations in crime rates, in part because few facts were known.
Near the end of the nineteenth century, sociology was making its way into the curricula of American universities and colleges, and a survey conducted in 1901 indicated that criminology and penology were among the first courses offered under the general title “sociology” (Tolman 1902–1903). From that time to the present, the main American contributions to crime causation theory have been made by sociologists, among whom the tendency has been to develop and state theories of crime causation that are consistent with, but nevertheless separate from, more general sociological and social psychological theory. On the other hand, the tendency among psychologically trained and psychiatrically trained persons is to assume that general knowledge of clinical psychology and psychiatry is a sufficient basis for understanding criminality, with the result that few psychological theories specifically directed toward explanation of criminality have been stated.
Theoretical requirements. Ideally, a theory that explains social behavior in general, or a specific kind of social behavior like crime, should deal with both the individual conduct and the epidemiology involved (Cressey 1960). Thus, in a theory of crime causation, there should be a statement that explains the statistical distribution of criminal behavior in time and space (its epidemiology) and that can be used to derive predictive statements about unknown statistical distributions. But the same theory also should be concerned with criminality and should identify, at least by implication, the processes by which individuals come to exhibit criminality and from which can be derived predictive statements about the behavior of individuals. We shall review the principal theories that attempt, in varying degrees, to integrate explanation of the epidemiology of crime with explanation of individual criminality. This arbitrary limitation eliminates from our immediate concern the older biological theories, which held that individual criminality is inherited or caused by nonhereditary biological conditions. It also eliminates from consideration those theories of crime that are based on economic or cultural determinism and that, therefore, have only slight implications for explanation of the behavior of individual criminals.
The multiple-factor approach. Perhaps the most popular approach to integrating explanation of crime rates and explanation of individual criminality is not, in the strict sense of the term, a theory at all. William Healy’s early emphasis upon multiple causation in the cases of individual delinquents (1915, pp. 33–125, 130–138), combined with the then prevalent attempts to discount biological explanations of criminality, played an important part in the development of the multiple-factor approach in criminology. A revolt against stressing one cause for all criminality led to production of extensive lists of causes of criminality, each one of which was at first said to produce a portion of all criminals (Burt  1944, p. 600). The idea that criminality is the result of multifarious influences has persisted to the present, but the specific “factors” said to be important have shifted from time to time, becoming progressively more social in nature (Jones  1962, pp. 57–74).
Since a theory of crime causation consists of a logical generalization about facts pertaining to crime and criminality, the multiple-factor approach actually is not a theory. In recent years the approach has taken on two separate aspects. Some workers who use the approach in the study of individual criminality maintain that one case of criminality results from one configuration of factors, while another case of criminality results from a different configuration of factors. This is not the same as the earlier multiple-factor notion that one kind of criminality is caused by one kind of factor and another type of criminality is caused by a different kind of factor. For example, this early approach solved the heredity versus environment controversy by maintaining that some crimes are caused by hereditary factors, some by environmental factors. The current idea is that each case of criminality results from a peculiar, if not unique, combination of factors, each with its own degree of weight. The factors may be assigned equal weight, or one factor may be classified as major while another is classified as minor. For example, one author observed that delinquency is caused by a combination of hereditary factors and environmental factors and then was able to conclude that heredity accounts for about 60 per cent of the influence and environment about 40 per cent (Hirsch 1937, pp. 55–56). Another author has commented that the logic behind this kind of conclusion “is about on a par with that which would be involved if the assumption were made that the element hydrogen is twice as important as the element oxygen in the compound water …” (Void 1958, pp. 101–102). Broken home, alcoholic parents, poverty, defective intelligence, poor education, and emotional immaturity are examples of the factors contemporarily used in this kind of approach.
When the multiple-factor approach is used in the study of crime rates, the investigator merely lists conditions (factors) that are statistically associated, to a high or low degree, with crime. Generally speaking, the higher the degree of association, the more importance is ascribed to the particular condition. In this kind of study, there is little attempt to make sense of the statistical findings by showing that they are consistent or inconsistent with a theoretical scheme. Reckless has advocated the use of this method under the name “actuarial approach” (1943, p. 74).
Critique of the multiple-factor approach. In one of the best critiques of the multiple-factor approach, Albert K. Cohen (1951, pp. 5–13) identified three principal errors. First, there is confusion between explanation by means of a single theory and explanation by means of a single factor. A single theory is a logical statement showing how variations in one phenomenon (variables) are linked with variations in other phenomena. Statements of fact are made in terms of the values of variables, but such statements of fact are not theories of crime causation, whether they are concerned with the relationships between criminality or crime and the values of one variable (say, income) or with the relationship between criminality or crime and the values of a number of variables (income, age, sex, education, parental discipline). Further, the fallacy that “evil causes evil” usually characterizes the multiple-factor approach, although it is not peculiar to it. The fallacy consists in thinking that effects that are viewed as undesirable (criminality and high crime rates) must have antecedents that are undesirable (alcoholism, psychopathic personality, poverty, class discrimination). When this fallacy is present, “explanations” of criminality and crime are likely to be statements that merely attribute causal power to a list of ugly and sordid conditions that any “decent citizen” must deplore. Finally, factors are confused with causes, and each factor is assumed to contain within itself a fixed amount of crime-producing power. For example, the fact that a person has a low income is said to have some criminality-producing power; the fact that he is a young adult pushes him further in the direction of criminality; and the fact that he is a male is the last straw. Sometimes the basis for imputing causal power to a factor in an individual case is high statistical association between the factor and crime rates—if in a city the areas of poor housing are also the areas of high crime rates, a person who lives in a substandard house is considered on the road to crime. Statisticians have regularly pointed out the fallacy of such reasoning, and it is not part of the “actuarial” approach. But, equally important, sometimes the basis for imputing causal power to a factor is based only on the subjective judgment of the person doing the imputing and cannot be determined at all by others.
Psychological theories. Among psychologists such attention as has been given to the problem of epidemiology has been directed toward locating social conditions that affect the personal traits said to produce criminality. Thus, psychological interest in criminality has been logically akin to psychiatric interest in finding unusual conditions producing abnormal traits in the make-up of criminals. However, in psychology this interest has been expressed principally in attempts to measure objectively the degree to which criminals are psychologically different from noncriminals.
Intelligence testing came into vogue in the years just after World War I, and the newly devised intelligence tests were rather indiscriminately given to delinquents and criminals. One result was a widespread belief that low intelligence is an important cause of criminality. However, more recent studies indicate that criminals are not intellectually inferior to noncriminals. Nevertheless, the assumptions that led to the attempts to differentiate criminals from noncriminals on the basis of intelligence test scores are still maintained. They now are most evident in attempts to differentiate criminals from noncriminals on the basis of scores on tests of personality. Generally speaking, the work in this area has been fragmentary in character, in the sense that studies of criminals’ scores on personality tests have been made without reference to a systematically developed theory of criminality (Schuessler & Cressey 1950).
Psychiatric theories. With the development of psychiatry in the last half century, there has been an increasing tendency to apply psychiatric and psychoanalytic techniques and theories to the problem of criminality, especially by such practitioners as prison, probation, and parole workers. William Healy’s The Individual Delinquent (1915) stressed multifarious influences on the criminal, but it also freed psychiatric criminology from Lombrosian preconceptions and thus opened the door to theorizing about the nature of individual criminal conduct. Bernard Glueck (1918) provided another impetus to the psychiatric study of individual offenders when he published the results of a study of 608 inmates of Sing Sing Prison.
The early preoccupation of psychiatrists concerned with criminality was the assumption that criminals constitute an inferior type, characterized by mental disorders, alcoholism, neuroticism, and the like (Hakeem 1958). In more recent years, this concern with serious mental defects and disorders among criminals has continued, but there also has been a trend toward inclusion of numerous minor emotional traits within the scope of the conditions held to be significant in producing criminality. Psychiatrists are also moving away from the notion that there is an undue amount of deviation from the normal among criminals and are moving toward descriptions of processes involved in the development of criminal mentalities. Thus, criminality is viewed as an adjustment to an emotional problem, and the criminal act is therefore considered as a symbol or a symptom. Consistently, there is an increasing concern with explanation of crime rates, although attention continues to be focused on individual criminality. For example, psychiatrists are beginning to study the epidemiology of mental disorders and, as a by-product, to develop explanations for the high incidence of crime among men as compared to women, among city dwellers as compared to rural dwellers, among lower-class persons as compared to upper-class persons, and the like. One popular theory is that such variations are due to differences in child-rearing processes, but other theories are closely allied with the sociological “cultural” and “social structure” theories, which account for the distribution of various forms of deviancy.
Sociological theories. The central theme running through criminological studies conducted by sociologists and social psychologists is that crime and criminality are products of the same kinds of social conditions and processes that produce non-criminal social behavior. The sociological attempts to define and identify the processes by which persons become criminals have involved the use of such social psychological concepts as imitation, role playing, differential association, differential identification, compensation, self-conception, and frustration-aggression. The sociological attempts to link variations in the crime rates of societies, subsocieties, and groups with variations in social organization and culture have led to theoretical concern for such processes as mobility, competition, and culture conflict; political, religious, and economic ideologies; population density and composition; and the distribution of wealth, income, and employment. This kind of structural analysis and the theoretical propositions based upon the analysis declined in popularity after about 1940, principally because investigators became aware of the great hazards in making generalizations about crime rates as measured by conventional crime statistics. At present, however, sociologists are again studying the relationships between crime rates and social organization and developing theories to account for the variations observed.
Differential association. Edwin H. Sutherland hypothesized that persons acquire patterns of criminal behavior in the same way they acquire patterns of lawful behavior. It is his idea that “criminal behavior is learned in interaction with persons in a pattern of communication,” and the specific direction of motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes—whether in the direction of anticriminality or criminality—is learned from persons who define the legal codes as rules to be observed and from persons whose attitudes are favorable to the violation of legal codes. “A person becomes delinquent because of an excess of definitions favorable to violations of law over definitions unfavorable to violations of law” (Sutherland & Cressey 1960, p. 78). Sutherland named the process of giving and receiving these definitions “differential association” because the content of what is learned in the process of association with criminal behavior patterns differs from the content of what is learned in the process of association with anticriminal behavior patterns. Differential association refers to a ratio of associations with both criminal behavior patterns and anticriminal behavior patterns. Daniel Glaser (1956) has modified this theory of criminality by placing stress on the process of receiving criminal and anticriminal behavior patterns rather than on the process of donating them, thus changing the basic concept from differential association to “differential identification.”
Differential social organization. When it is applied to the variations in the crime rates of nations, cities, or groups, the theory of differential association and differential identification becomes a theory of differential social organization. A high crime rate in a city, for example, is the end product of a situation in which a relatively large number of persons have received an excess of criminal behavior patterns as compared with anticriminal behavior patterns. From this it can be reasoned, as Sutherland did, that a group with a high crime rate is organized for crime at the same time that it is organized against crime. Whether the crime rate is high or low depends upon the degree to which the organized system for presenting anticriminal behavior patterns is counteracted by the organized system for presenting criminal behavior patterns. In contemporary societies the social conditions in which the influences on a person are relatively inharmonious and inconsistent are themselves a form of social organization, and there are wide variations in the degree of conflict between criminal and anticriminal norms. Since the rates of criminality vary with the degree of normative conflict, they can be attributed to differential social organization.
Culture conflict. Like the theory of differential association and differential social organization, the culture conflict theory developed by Thorsten Sellin (1938, pp. 21–32) stresses the importance of conflicts between conduct norms. According to this theory, both criminality and noncriminality of individual persons are attributable to the kinds of conduct norms that have been experienced. But learning of divergent conduct norms presupposes the existence of a society in which the conduct norms of one group are in conflict with the conduct norms of another. Thus, a condition of culture conflict underlies a condition of high crime rates, for it is only when there is culture conflict that persons can learn conduct norms that permit the reaction to some situations to be one of criminality.
Sellin proposes that criminologists should not restrict their attention to criminality and crime but instead should study the conflicts of conduct norms that exist when divergent rules of conduct govern the specific life situations in which a person may find himself. These rules “prohibit and conversely enjoin specific types of persons, as defined by their status in (or with reference to) the normative group, from acting in a certain specified way in certain circumstances” (Sellin 1938, pp. 32–33). Conduct norms arise as a group reaction to behavior that is not in the interests of the social group and acquire validity when they are incorporated into the personalities of the group members. Hence, the differentiation of the personality structure or growth process of the violator over and against that of the conformist is closely allied with variations in the degree of culture conflict and, therefore, with variations in crime rates.
Criminogenic cultures and social structure. Where the theories of differential association and culture conflict stress the importance of transmission of criminal and delinquent behavior patterns from one person to another, a different type of sociological theory extends beyond the individual and his personal groups to the broader culture of a people. This kind of theory is directed more to the problem of explaining why one nation, group, or class has a high crime rate as compared with another nation, group, or class than to the problem of identifying the processes by which individuals become criminals.
One cultural theory, for example, links the relatively high American crime rates with conditions and processes in the American culture that are criminogenic in their influence (Taft  1956, pp. 336–349, 754–755). Among these are the culture’s dynamic, complex, and materialistic qualities, the tradition of the frontier, the breakdown of primary-group relationships, and political corruption and inefficiency. Variations in crime rates among different groups, classes, and categories within nations are attributable to the differential impact of the criminogenic culture on those groups, and individual criminality and noncriminality are attributable to differential impact of these conditions on individuals (Reckless  1961, pp. 335–359). For example, the theory explains that the excess of crimes by men is due to the relative protection of women from the stresses of competitive economic life and to their different moral codes and social roles. More generally, such factors as relative economic welfare, relative isolation from competition, and families that give security and affection will isolate individuals from the criminogenic culture and will, thus, keep crime rates low in some groups.
A “social structure” theory of crime causation has been developed by Robert K. Merton (1938) as part of a more general theory of deviancy. Although the theory has been modified in some respects by Merton himself ( 1957, pp. 161–194), by Albert K. Cohen (1955), and by Richard A. Cloward and Lloyd E. Ohlin (1960), the basic notion is that high crime rates are a reflection of a situation in which a society places great emphasis upon the goal of individual “success” while effectively blocking, for some part of the population, the paths to achievement of that goal. In this kind of social system, the generally approved rules of the game may be known to those individuals who evade them, but the emotional supports that accompany conformity to the law are offset by the emphasis placed upon achieving success. Consequently, it may be said that the social structure frustrates some individuals but does not provide mechanisms of social and personal control (Reiss 1951) that enable them to release their frustration legitimately.
Limited theories. The theories outlined above are directed at explanation of criminality and crime in general. Such general theories are desirable because they organize, integrate, and make sense of the factual data on crime and criminals. However, it also is desirable to break crime down into homogeneous units, and develop theories to explain each unit. Crime in general consists of a great variety of criminal acts; and except for the fact that such acts are all violations of law, they may have very little in common. Consequently, a theory that attempts to explain all of them must necessarily be quite general in nature. Such general theories can be, and have been, supplemented with theories about specific units within the broad area of crime and about specific units within the legal definitions of types of crime, such as embezzlement, robbery, and murder.
General theories about criminal behavior as a whole can guide the research and theory directed at explaining particular kinds of crime and criminal behavior, and studies of particular kinds of crime and criminal behavior can lead either to strengthening or to modifying the general theories. In this sense, explanation of crime is like explanation of disease. A theory purporting to explain all disease must be quite general, but such theory is quite useful in understanding the origin and transmission of illness. Nevertheless, even general theories of disease, like the germ theory, do not apply to all diseases, and theories about specific diseases have been developed to supplement them. In criminology, important specific theories of this kind have been developed to explain embezzlement (Cressey 1953), forgery (Lemert 1953; 1958), gang delinquency (Cohen 1955), homicide (Henry & Short 1954; Wolfgang 1958), professional theft (Conwell 1937), vandalism (Clinard & Wade 1958), and white-collar crime (Sutherland 1949).
Donald R. Cressey
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The concept of crime is an unusually difficult one, since it is difficult to find any definition of crime that does not have a large element of circularity. In general, crimes are defined as events and actions that are proscribed by the criminal law of a particular country. This reduces to the definition of crime as being “what the criminal law says it is.” The boundaries of a legal system are usually those of the nation-state, but the national boundaries are not exactly similar to cultural boundaries. England and Wales, for example, have a different legal system from that of Scotland. Yet it would be difficult to define the difference in culture between border towns.
Legal fictions are useful within any legal system; but since they vary across nations and cultures, they are not very satisfactory concepts in behavioral science when comparison is made across cultures or nation-states. Almost all actions of which mankind is capable have, at some time, at some place, been defined as “criminal”; and almost all acts now defined as criminal have, at some time, at some place, been socially approved by the culture of the time and hence not proscribed by the law.
Crime involves at least two essential actors, the victim and the offender. Crime may .be perceived and defined differently according to the role of either of them. In the Soviet Union crime is made to mean something different from what is understood as crime in Western cultures. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that the “victim,” by reason of the social and economic system, must frequently be the state.
Most crime in most countries consists of offenses against property. It is difficult, in modern society, to imagine it otherwise, even in very different cultures. But when property is owned by the state, crime involving property involves the state as the victim, and, if the state has a philosophy regarding property, crime against property will be seen as crime against the state. If, on the other hand, wealth is privately owned, crime against such ownership is seen as an attempt to obtain the wealth of another by illegal means.
But the mere transfer of wealth does not constitute a crime. Fair exchange is not crime. But what is fair exchange is not determined by the same considerations as those used to determine what is crime in terms of other forms of behavior, as, for example, an assault on a person. Moreover, the type of exchange that is defined as legitimate may be determined more by the nature of a country’s economy than by its moral values.
Crime is always defined in terms of the social institutions and their organization in a society. The crimes will be denned through some organized process as behavioral deviations from the values as institutionalized in the norms and rules. There could be no crime in any society where all persons behaved in the same way, no matter how they behaved.
In the Western world we are concerned in our definitions of crime mainly with what is sometimes a very fine distinction between legitimate and illegitimate means of acquisition of wealth. Thus, the ownership of private wealth is valued—the “wrong” in stealing consists only in the means of acquisition of wealth. When the line between legitimate and illegitimate becomes very thin, different subcultures within the same legal system may perceive the distinction differently.
To draw a sharp distinction between what is criminal and what is noncriminal does not make sense. Crime is human behavior. But not all human behavior is the same. Presumably all human actions form a frequency distribution of actions and can be placed on an imaginary continuum from the most saintly to the most sinful, or from acts incurring the greatest degree of public acclaim to those acts which attract the greatest amount of public disapprobation. There are very few extremely sinful acts committed in this world, and there are very few extremely saintly acts; most of the actions taking place throughout any culture are just “normal.” The continuum of ethical content of our actions may be cut for purposes of definition at any point, thereby including or excluding a proportion of marginal acts. The cutting points, as defined, may change from time to time, depending upon changes in statutes, cultural meanings attached to their language, or customs’ allowing statutes to lapse. This process of change may go unnoticed by most observers in the culture, since it is often gradual.
Crimes and criminals
It will be obvious that “crime” and “criminals” are two different concepts. Often these two are confused, particularly when reference is made to criminal statistics. It is necessary always to inquire closely into exactly what figures relating to “crime” refer to. A “crime” (illegal action) can occur without there being an identifiable criminal, and a criminal can commit a number of crimes even in the course of one actual action or event. A person removing a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent may break a large number of laws in this one act, or, less frequently, there are multiple acts which are subsumed under the definition of one crime. To some extent crimes committed by persons under the legally defined age of “criminal responsibility” are crimes without defined criminals. If a crime is not detected or otherwise “cleared up,” there is always a chance that it may be an outcome without a criminal.
The problem of definition of crime is closely related to the problem of measurement of crime. Can we measure crime and express it in numbers? Certainly there are plenty of numbers in the U.S. Uniform Crime Reports, in Criminal Statistics, published in England and Wales, and in similar reports published in all Western countries. But do these numbers measure what we are speaking about when we speak about “crime”?
Sutherland and Cressey ( 1960) have criticized criminal statistics on the grounds that it is impossible to determine with accuracy the amount of crime in any jurisdiction at any time. But the difficulty is not a statistical difficulty; it is a difficulty relating to problems of definitions.
Figures are available for “indictable offenses known to the police” in England and Wales, and there are similar figures for other countries; figures are available for the numbers of persons proceeded against in courts; there are figures for persons found guilty, figures for persons arrested (in the United States), and many other sets of figures. Are any of these figures measurements of “crime”? Undoubtedly not. But as numbers representing what they claim to represent, they are not necessarily to be impugned as the most unreliable of statistics. It is not the statistical data that claim to be what they are not; rather, it is the people who make use of these data who may be regarded as “unreliable.”
There are a large number of points at which it is possible to intercept events or persons and to make counts of them. Whether these counts are correctly and efficiently made is one problem, but whether the figures represent what we are speaking about is another problem. It is necessary to keep these two problems separate.
Any one event in the continuum ranging from sinful to saintly may trigger off a series of events. Processes involving human behavior, whether defined in law as “criminal” or not, are dynamic processes. If the event is definable in law as criminal, the processes from the commission of the act, so defined, to the reception of the convicted offender in a penal institution are many and varied. Different decisions are made at different points in this process, and each decision may be considered as a “gate” which opens or closes and diverts the “offender” from one channel to another—into or out of the system. Each of these decision “gates” can provide an efficient count of the “gate passages” (Wilkins 1964). Whether a record of any or all of these decisions at any or all of these points would be a measure of what we are speaking about when we speak about “crime” is debatable.
It is obvious that counts and measurements at different points along the process continuum will give different numbers, and these different numbers will measure different things. It may be desirable to examine some of these distinctions.
Crimes known to the police
It will be clear that figures collected at some points along the continuum from the commission of the offense to the disposal of the offender by a court or by other means are likely to be more reliable than others. But perhaps the more reliable the figures can be, the less informative they may be regarded as being on other matters, such as the volume of crime. For example, it is often considered important to know about the amount of “juvenile delinquency,” but it is difficult, in practice, to measure the amount of juvenile delinquency in any area or country. Clearly, the age of the offender cannot be known until a crime has been detected and an offender identified who is presumed to have committed it. Thus, to measure juvenile delinquency, some action must already have been taken by society regarding a reported crime or behavior. Some writers have proposed methods for questioning children themselves about their acts, and such methods overcome this difficulty but raise many others of a different kind (see Sutherland & Cressey  I960; Reiss & Rhodes 1960).
In the general criminal statistics, it would appear that data relating to persons are more reliable than data relating to events. For example, the number of persons received into prison under sentence in any one year is a figure which it is possible to know exactly, as also is the population of any country’s prisons on any day or an average of days. There will be problems of what is meant by “prison,” and perhaps what is meant by “person” and by “under sentence,” but these terms may be dealt with by means of operational definitions. Nonetheless, such numbers, even though absolutely accurate, do not necessarily relate to a question about crime, unless we are careful to speak in exactly the same terms as those used to determine the counting procedures.
It has been suggested by some authorities that the value of a crime index decreases as the distance from the crime itself in terms of procedure increases (Short & Nye 1957–1958). This means that figures which relate to “crimes known to the police” provide a better index of crime than figures relating to arrests, persons proceeded against or found guilty, or various other figures relating to the later processing of persons defined as offenders. In other words, and reminding ourselves of the distinction between crimes and criminals, it is often claimed that the most meaningful figures, from a criminological point of view, are figures relating to events (crimes) and not those relating to persons (criminals). If one is speaking about events, one should not use data relating to persons, but it is doubtful whether data relating to events can be obtained in any satisfactory way. A person is simply defined by his own physical identity. If persons pass through any decision point and that point has a counting mechanism, there can be little doubt about the number of such persons. But whenever an event is imagined independently of a specific person and a specific decision point, or a concept is discussed which has no relation to a specific activity or decision which can be observed, there is far more chance of uncertainty.
In the definition of crime we are concerned with the cutting points in a continuum, not a gate decision system. If we wish to discuss crime, it is necessary to consider the working of the system of definitions that may vary the cutting points in the continuous distribution of actions from evil to good. It is, of course, obvious that the police do not get to know of crimes by some direct process of “knowing” or observation. Criminals usually go to great pains to make this difficult for the police. Crimes “known to the police” are usually reported to them by the public, most frequently by the victim. This means that an event must first of all be defined by a member of the public, with no special legal knowledge, as an event requiring that the police do something about it. That is to say, a crime is usually first defined by a democratic process as “something that the police ought to do something about.” It may be that events defined by an ordinary citizen as a “crime worth reporting to the police” may not be a crime within the legal code of the country concerned, and, although the event is reported because it is perceived as a crime, the police will not record it. Although they may still take action to remedy the problem, they would not record an event as a crime simply because the reporter viewed it as such. On the other hand, there are many events known to the same citizen which he does not define as “something that the police ought to do something about” although they are in fact crimes under the law.
It would, of course, be possible to define as “crimes” all events which become known to ordinary citizens and are thought by them to be worthy of reporting to the police in the expectation of some action to remedy their complaint. Such events generally are called “complaints known to the police,” but not “crimes.” It might, however, be more useful operationally to define “crimes” as “complaints,” since this would amount to defining crimes as events that give rise to a level of disapprobation on the part of the victim or other members of the public such that they actively seek the assistance of the forces of social defense.
At present the figures relating to “crimes known to the police” (in countries where these are available), although nearest to the event which is regarded as “criminal,” provide an amended record of events believed by the general public to be crimes, plus some additional events where the police obtain direct evidence and where information regarding one event leads to disclosure of another. In most countries there are events which are crimes according to the law but which the average citizen does not define as anything that the police should know about. Similarly, in most countries there are events which are perceived by average citizens as crimes against their culture but which are not acknowledged in law.
In most democratic societies the law will tend to be amended to agree with public opinion, but the relationship between public opinion and legal definitions is not a one-to-one correlation. An example of public disapprobation leading to new legislation may be cited—the Offensive Weapons Act of England and Wales, which made it a crime for persons to offer certain types of knives for sale. In the other direction, attempted suicide, for a long time not a criminal offense in Scotland, has recently been removed from the criminal definition in England and Wales also.
Legal definitions of crimes, while very suitable for legal processes, are not directly translatable into sociological and psychological terms. Behavior usually regarded as “normal” includes some acts that are crimes by legal definition, while at the extreme end of a distribution are crimes that all sane persons, even offenders themselves, regard as such.
Crimes and morals
It is often argued that the cause of an increase in crime is a decline in moral standards of the population. If this argument is not circular (crime being held to be a reflection of morals), it is possible to throw some light on the relationship between moral values and crimes. Perhaps the layman who assumes, when he hears that crime has increased, that he is in greater risk of an attack upon his person or property is nearer to equating morals with crime than the official definitions allow. Indeed, it seems possible, and even probable, that any improvement in moral values would show in the official records of crime as an increase in the number of crimes known to the police and perhaps also as an increase in the number of arrests.
Any change in the social definition of an event worth notification of the police will, even in stable conditions, influence the bias of the sample of crimes represented by the “crimes known” figures. If a society is becoming more “moral,” it is possible to suggest that that society is becoming more stringent and requiring more conforming standards of behavior. If this occurs, the democratic definition of “things which the police ought to do something about” will tend to agree more closely with the legal definition of crime for the majority of events that are defined in the criminal law as crimes.
It is simpler to demonstrate the effect of change in public opinion in regard to expected levels of behavior where the criminal statistics are based on “crimes known to the police” than where data are derived from arrests. It may be supposed, however, that the police as public servants are aware of public pressure, and, of course, they are themselves members of the culture that forms the definitions to which they operate in their official capacities.
In England and Wales and some other countries, what is a “crime” to be included in the “crimes known” figures is determined by whether the offense is “indictable.” The definition of an “indictable offense” depends upon the way in which an adult person accused of the offense might be tried. Special provisions for the juvenile (persons under 17 years of age in England and Wales and certain states in the United States) are ignored for purposes of this definition. Perhaps the criterion of recording as crimes only indictable offenses was at one time related to levels of public disapprobation. Today it has no very strong association with public opinion, particularly in the distinction between offenses of larceny and vandalism. In England and Wales, larceny of any value is an indictable offense, but vandalism is a misdemeanor. For example, it would be regarded as an indictable offense for a person to open the doors of a parked car and remove a half-empty package of cigarettes from the glove pocket, but not an indictable offense to carve his name on the windshield or twist off the door handles. This illustration is not universally applicable, but in all legislations some similar event can be found.
The problem of trends and comparisons
It is generally agreed that precise cross-cultural comparisons of crime are impossible. Attempts have been made by committees of the United Nations to establish some form of comparison for the most serious offenses, like homicide and robbery, but even at this level of seriousness no strictly comparable basis can be found. In the case of murder, the social significance of weapons differs among countries, and vestigial traces of the dueling cultures of the past still remain in the legal codes of many countries. Comparisons have been attempted in terms of legal definitions, because it is believed that the legal basis for crime cannot be avoided. It might be possible to find some basis for comparisons if crimes were described in terms of exactly what happened, as perceived in the current cultural setting, but even this would be difficult. Add to the difficulty of cultural differences, which are current in their effects, traces of history preserved to greater or lesser degrees in the laws of different countries, and exact cross-cultural comparisons are impossible.
For legal purposes, and not without good reason, there is a tendency to try to preserve a law that has worked in the past to suffice for the newer conditions for as long as possible. The horse was a factor to be considered in relation to economic and criminal behavior in the past, but it is very doubtful whether the transition from horse to “horseless carriage” is a sufficiently direct one for the continuity of legal definition and sociological and psychological inferences based on this transition.
Perhaps the main problem in the study of trends arises from the fact that changes in the law can be made only in discrete steps, whereas the processes of technological change are continuous. Changes in perceptual processes that follow upon and are related to technological changes as well as value systems are also continuous changes. Some items in legal classifications must, no matter how much the law is changed, be out of step with social and economic conditions. The changes will be made in different countries and different states at different rates and with respect to different parts of the law. But these discrete adjustments immediately prejudice the study of trends. Trends seem to require a stable definition, but changes are essential if the law is to have any meaning in a changing society.
Clearly, the law cannot be in a process of continuous change if it is to function for the protection of society, although society, in order to preserve itself, must be continuously adjusting to change.
Changes within a culture
It may be thought that although the problem of trends and comparisons is difficult and complex when cross-cultural analysis is being attempted, something more positive may be said about trends within a culture. But even here there are serious problems.
It may seem a simple matter to adjust the figures for crime within a country or state according to changes in the population. The total amount of crime is expected to change because, if the population of a country increases and the definitions remain constant and are constantly interpreted, more persons would be expected to commit more crimes. But in some parts of the world it is not possible to estimate the population with any degree of accuracy during the years between censuses. In the United States this is particularly true for states with a rapidly growing or declining population. Even an accurate estimate of the total population may not provide sufficient information for adjustment of crime data to be meaningful. It is obvious that a better crime rate is provided if the crude number of crimes is modified by the number of persons available to commit them. The rate per 100,000 of population (the conventional rate) provides something which is obviously better than rates that make no allowance for population size. But the obviousness of the improvement may be a snare and a delusion. The majority of crimes, so far as is known from the persons identified as criminals, are committed by younger male persons. In all Western countries females commit from one-fifth to one-tenth of the amount of crime committed by males. Further, persons of either sex over thirty years of age commit (or are found guilty of) relatively few offenses.
Thus, if the age structure of a population is changing and if there are increasingly more young people in the population, then even with a constant population an increased amount of crime would be expected. The converse is also true. If a population is becoming older, the crime rate can be expected to drop, even if every person, age for age and sex for sex, remains as criminal as before. This argument assumes, of course, that crimes for which offenders are identified are similar, in respect to age and sex distribution, to crimes which are not “cleared up.” (The rate of clear-up varies between types of crimes and from place to place but is seldom greater than 50 per cent for crimes where the victim does not see the offender in a face-to-face situation.)
Taking all these points and bearing in mind others which could be raised, it is regarded as unsafe to make any statements about the state of crime or crime trends over time or between different countries, states, or districts, except perhaps in the crudest possible terms.
Crime and opportunity
Adjustments for changes in population are usually regarded as obvious and sound. But there are few crimes that relate to a basis of persons. Perhaps the number of murders may be expected to change in proportion to the number of persons available to commit murders or to be the victims of murder, but if adjustments are obviously necessary for persons whose crimes affect persons, why are other adjustments not equally obvious? If, for example, there are more cars available to be stolen, why should not the number of cars stolen be expected to rise proportionally to availability? If there is more money available for legitimate transfer, why should not the number of illegitimate transfers of money be expected to rise proportionally?
Some data relating to certain indictable offenses known to the police, adjusted for population, are given in Table 1. It will be observed that the adjusted number of murders has remained reasonably constant over the years from 1946 through 1959, whereas housebreaking has shown a fall and a rise, and embezzlement an almost continuous rise. Indeed, the figures for murder do not show
|Table 1 – Certain indictable offenses known to the police, adjusted for population changes, England and Wales, 1946–1959|
|a. Uncorrected for cases subsequently found to be manslaughter, infanticide, and so on.|
b. Base year 1946 = actual figures.
Source: Adapted from Wilkins 1964, based on Criminal Statistics of England and Wales, Annual Report.
any variation in excess of chance, whereas other offenses show considerable and significant variation. This raises the question of whether the murder figures remain constant because the factor used to compute these adjusted figures is based on the relevant “population at risk.” If equally meaningful bases could be used to construct rates for other crimes, it might even be discovered that the total amount of crime in this and other societies remains constant. However, it seems unreasonable to deny that major changes can occur in the long run; what is needed is a better understanding of both short-term fluctuations and long-term trends.
The problem of heterogeneity
It is possible to examine the problem of the heterogeneity of current definitions of crime in a number of ways. It may be postulated, for example, that if all types of crime tend to increase and decrease simultaneously over time, it does not matter which type of crime is selected as an index or whether all crimes are added together. It might seem desirable to select an offense that presents as little difficulty as possible in identification and classification. Another method is provided by an area analysis. It could be suggested that if different areas show different interrelationships between crimes, an index of crime should not mask these differences. But neither of these methods can begin with any finer breakdowns of the data than are provided by the original classifications. It is true that the law may subdivide into different crimes types of actions that may be sociologically and psychologically similar, but it may also place together into one category crimes that are dissimilar in other dimensions. Once information has been lost by coding it, it cannot be recovered without a basically new encoding system.
Despite these limitations, the writer has used both a historical analysis and an area analysis to gain information regarding ways of classifying similar crimes together and separating those which do not show similar patterns. The following classification system is proposed (Wilkins 1963a):
II. Serious crimes against the person (including sex offenses and violence)
III. Serious crimes against property (burglary, breaking and entry, robbery, etc.)
IV. Social disorganization (drunkenness, disorderly conduct, petty larceny, etc.)
In terms of variations over time and variations between districts, these categories tend to show different patterns and thus to suggest heterogeneity. In many jurisdictions the legal classification does not discriminate by degree of seriousness. Robbery, for example, will generally cover a bank robbery at one end of the scale and a small boy tripping another and stealing his pocket money at the other. Thus, the dividing line between serious and non-serious offenses against the person is not fixed in terms of injury to the victim or period of medical treatment occasioned. The perception of what is “serious” may well vary from time to time and from place to place according to the social attitudes of the culture in which the events occur.
Two comparisons. It would be unsatisfactory to leave the impression that all forms of research into crime which involve cross-cultural comparisons or even comparisons within one culture are invalid. It is true that it is difficult to sustain the common concept of crime and to make valid comparisons, and the legal definitions only make the problem the more difficult. Nonetheless, two examples will be given of comparisons that seem to be legitimate, and these may serve to indicate methods through which some positive contributions may be made.
Comparisons require well-defined and specific forms of behavior, and, with existing data, these are few. Larceny from motor vehicles and drug addiction are the examples used, the former for a comparison within one culture and the latter for a cross-cultural analysis.
Offenses of larceny from motor vehicles which
|Table 2 — Larceny from motor vehicles, adjusted for number of vehicles, England and Walesr|
|* Crimes known to the police.|
Source: Adapted from Criminal Statistics of England and Wales, Annual Report.
|Registered private motor vehicles, in thousands||Larceny from motor vehicles*||Rate per 100 vehicles|
were recorded as “known to the police” in England and Wales during the period from 1938 through 1961 are shown in Table 2, together with the number of motor vehicles registered. It will be noted that when we use as a divisor the number of motor vehicles “at risk,” the “crime rate” for this category of offenses shows a very different picture from that which would be obtained by dividing by the population. Were the moral values in England and Wales at a low ebb in the years 1944 to 1946, 1951, and 1961, when thefts from cars reached an index of 1.8 per cent or more? Or have moral values tended to deteriorate more or less steadily since the end of World War ii? Is the base of “opportunity” a meaningful base? Could thefts from other sources be better interpreted against the changes in the gross national product or some other economic measure of affluence? In this case, the highest rate of larcenies per 100 vehicles is only 1.9 times the lowest rate, although the largest absolute number of larcenies in any year is about ten times the lowest number. Would similar results be obtained for other crimes, or do these results represent a tendency toward a constant factor in crime after adjustment of crude figures to a suitable base? Whether any of these questions are answered one way or another, it would certainly seem to be meaningful to explore divergencies from the “constant” rather than to examine figures unadjusted by “vehicles exposed to risk.”
Can the study of crime be separated from economics and other forms of study of human behavior? Moral explanations are obviously not sufficient—unless it is seriously held that moral values have deteriorated (and improved) strictly proportional to the number of cars! Before there can be serious discussion of trends in crime, much more sophisticated models must be sought than the simple cause–effect models that have been considered so far. If “crime” concerns economic behavior, then other aspects of economic behavior must be considered in assessing its cause. If legitimate opportunities are increasing in any culture, it will usually mean that illegitimate opportunities are also increasing. If a society wishes to generate change in criminal behavior, it seems highly likely that it will have to consider changes also in economic behavior—at least insofar as the balance between legitimate and illegitimate opportunities for the exchange of wealth is concerned.
The need for more complex models seems to be illustrated by the cross-cultural comparison of drug addiction. The United States, and particularly the major cities on the east and west coasts, have a very serious problem of addiction. England has no such problem. Yet it is often claimed that the system of drug control in England is almost exactly the same as that in the United States. This point is argued, but it would appear that the difference in the addiction rates cannot be due to the small procedural differences—that is, if similar causes must have similar effects. But there are types of models, called “deviation amplifying systems,” in which similar causes can have different effects (Wilkins 1964). In order to illustrate such a model, let us reverse the present example and suggest how England might find itself with a drug addiction problem. One way could be if an attempt were made to reduce the number of addicts (at present about five hundred) by more stringent control. The existing “image” of addicts as sick persons might then be changed by increased pressure from the police authorities. The difference between the image of a sick person and a sinner may be unsubstantial, but it might generate considerable differences in behavior. No one goes out of his way to become sick, but sinning has some attractions! The deviation-generating model is very often found in economic behavior: what, for example, causes prices to fall on the stock exchange—a fall in confidence? Or does a fall in prices cause a drop in confidence? Clearly this is a mutual causal system where a small instability can cause a major deviation to be generated. The concepts of “image” and “confidence” are extremely similar; indeed, confidence in the market may be described as the “image” of the market.
Leslie T. Wilkins
Criminal Statistics of England and WalesAnnual Report. → Published since 1923.
Reiss, Albert J. JR.; and Rhodes, A. L. 1960 The Distribution of Juvenile Delinquency in the Social Structure. American Sociological Review 25:720–732.
Short, James F. JR.; and Nye, F. Ivan 1957–1958 Reported Behavior as a Criterion of Deviant Behavior. Social Problems 5:207–213.
Sutherland, Edwin H.; and Cressey, Donald R. (1924) 1960 Principles of Criminology. 6th ed. New York: Lippincott. → First published as a textbook, Criminology, under the sole authorship of Edwin H. Sutherland.
Wilkins, Leslie T. 1963a The Measurement of Crime. British Journal of Criminology 3:321–341.
Wilkins, Leslie T. 1963b What Is Crime? New Society 2, no. 42:15–16.
Wilkins, Leslie T. (1964) 1965 Social Deviance: Social Policy, Action, and Research. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
The concept of white-collar crime covers lawbreaking among the middle and upper (or “white-collar”) socioeconomic classes. This type of criminal behavior differs from that of the lower socioeconomic classes in several important respects; different, also, are some of the legal sanctions for the two classes of offenses. To include white-collar violations within criminology, crime must be defined in terms broad enough to cover any behavior punishable by the state, regardless of whether the penalty is criminal, civil, or administrative, and regardless of the offender’s social status.
Lawbreaking can be divided into two categories: conventional crimes (burglary, for example, or larceny), which are usually punishable under the criminal law, and white-collar crimes, which are not usually punishable in this manner. An apprehended burglar or robber is punished by a jail sentence, a fine, or probation; a doctor may be punished through revocation of his license. Penalties imposed on businessmen include enjoinment by the government, the levying of civil damages, suspension of license to do business, or (as in impure food cases) the seizure and destruction of commodities. All of these sanctions imply that the behavior is socially injurious; in each case, punishment is involved and society stigmatizes the offender.
History of the concept. The concept of white-collar crime is a relatively new addition to criminological theory, although the need for such a term had been apparent to at least one of the founders of American sociology (Ross 1907) and was reaffirmed in the 1930s (see, for instance, Morris 1934). However, the term itself did not gain wide currency until 1940, when Edwin H. Sutherland published a paper entitled “White-collar Criminality.” In it he developed the concept and outlined its widespread implications for criminology (Sutherland 1940). Nine years later, he published the first major study of white-collar crimes: those committed by seventy of the two hundred largest nonfinancial corporations in the United States (Sutherland 1949).
After World War ii, Clinard (1946; 1952) and Hartung (1950) published studies of white-collar crime in the form of black-market violations of price and rationing laws by United States businessmen during the war. Other offenses dealt with by social scientists that have the same general kind of orientation include employers’ violations of labor laws (Lane 1953), embezzlement and other violations of trust (Cressey 1953), violations of purefood laws (Newman 1957), and illegal activities of pharmacists (Quinney 1963). Theoretical articles on white-collar crime have been written by a number of American and European criminologists. But, with a few exceptions, such as Great Britain and Germany (see Mannheim 1946; 1965; Grygier et al. 1965; Strafrechtspflege … 1961; Zirpins & Terstegen 1963; Middendorff 1959), research in this field has remained a unique contribution of American criminologists, although white-collar crime occurs in nearly all countries.
Social status of the offenders. Sutherland used the term “white-collar crime” to refer to violations of the law by persons of relatively high social and occupational status. “White-collar crimes” are those crimes committed by “respectable” persons in connection with their occupations. The concept, therefore, does not include such conventional crimes as murder or robbery, offenses that are defined in the same way regardless of the status or occupation of the persons committing them. Nor does it include legal acts that are considered “unethical”; it cannot be a white-collar crime unless it is punishable in some manner by the state.
Sutherland was not specific about which occupations should be included in the concept, and as a result there has been considerable confusion. In his study of black-market violations, Clinard included all gasoline-station operators and anyone who rented property. Newman suggested that “farmers, repairmen, and others in essentially non-white-collar occupations could, through such illegalities as watering milk for public consumption, making unnecessary ’repairs’ on television sets, and so forth, be classified as white-collar violators” (Newman 1958, p. 737). Others feel that white-collar crime should be restricted to those in high status positions and that those with non-high status positions in the middle class should be dealt with separately (Mannheim 1965, p. 474). Consequently, some have suggested that it would be advisable to change the emphasis of the concept from “white-collar crime” to “occupational crime” (Quinney 1964); it would not include all violations of law by white-collar persons, such as income-tax evasion and rent-control violations, unless they occurred in connection with the violator’s occupational role.
White-collar criminal activities. Common forms of white-collar crime by businessmen include illegal activities of reorganization committees in receiverships and bankruptcies; restraint of trade, such as monopoly, illegal rebates, and infringement of patents, trade-marks, and copyrights; misrepresentation in advertising; unfair labor practices; financial manipulations; and wartime crimes, such as black-marketeering. In developing countries, businessmen are especially prone to violations of the income-tax laws, import and export regulations, and currency-control measures.
Embezzlement is an especially common form of white-collar crime. One classification of embezzlers identifies three types (Cressey 1953): “Independent businessmen” is the name given to violators who convert “deposits” entrusted to them for specific purposes while at the same time maintaining their regular businesses. The second group, the “long-term violators,” consists of employed individuals who convert funds belonging to their employers, or to their employers’ clients, by taking relatively small amounts over a long period of time. “Absconders” are persons who violate their trust by removing funds or goods entrusted to them and then severing connections with the trustor by leaving his employment or leaving the vicinity.
Politicians and government employees commit various white-collar offenses, including direct misappropriation of public funds as well as the indirect acquisition of these funds through padded payrolls, the placement of relatives on a payroll, or monetary payments from appointees. Their illegal activities are usually more subtle than this, however. Politicians and government employees make financial gains by granting favors to business firms, such as illegal commissions on public contracts, the issuance of fraudulent licenses or certificates, and tax exemptions or underestimated tax evaluations. Labor union officials engage in such criminal activities as the misappropriation or misapplication of union funds; failure to enforce laws affecting their unions; collusion with employers to the disadvantage of the union members; and the use of fraudulent means to maintain control over the union.
Doctors may illegally prescribe narcotics, perform illegal abortions, make fraudulent reports in accident cases, and split fees. Fee-splitting, wherein a doctor gives part of his fee to the doctor referring the case, is illegal in many places in the United States because of the danger that such referrals might be based on the fee rather than the practitioner’s ability. Lawyers engage in such illegal activities as the misappropriation of funds in receiverships; the securance of perjured testimony from witnesses; the practice known in the United States as “ambulance chasing,” that is, investigating as many accidents as possible soon after they occur in order to secure the damage-suit business of the victims; and collaboration in making fraudulent claims for damages. In these cases, an apprehended offender is more likely to be disbarred from practice than prosecuted.
Extent of white-collar crime. Obviously, to restrict the definition of “crime” solely to conventional crimes results in an underestimation of the extent of crime and its effect on society. Studies have indicated the widespread nature of white-collar crime; however, these crimes are far more difficult to tabulate than ordinary crimes. The categories of offenses covered by the term are not as precise as in conventional crime; the criteria for determining the social class of the offender are often not clear; and the criminal law, with few exceptions, makes no distinction regarding the social class of offenders (Caldwell 1958). National crime statistics, such as the Uniform Crime Reports of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States, tabulate only violations of criminal law and not those of administrative and civil law, and therefore include very little about white-collar crime. Some of the latter information may be obtained from reports of various other government agencies and investigations, but this requires considerable effort, and often the required information is not fully available. The financial losses to society in a single case of white-collar crime may be equal to the total amount involved in thousands of larcenies, burglaries, and robberies. However, society does not conceive of the white-collar criminal as a true criminal; this is reflected in the fact that poor and relatively uneducated offenders are usually sentenced to prison, whereas white-collar criminals are seldom imprisoned.
Sutherland’s study (1949) of 70 large nonfinancial corporations reported a total of 980 decisions rendered against them for violation of government regulations, an average of 14 per corporation. Restraint of trade, infringement of patents, and unfair labor practices were the most frequent violations. Sixty per cent of these decisions were rendered during a ten-year period (1935 through 1944) of increased government enforcement of business regulations. Although only 158 cases were dealt with by the criminal courts, crimes were actually committed in 779 of the 980 cases. Two-thirds of these corporations had been convicted in criminal court with an average of 4 convictions each; 97 per cent of the corporations were repeaters.
Violations of rationing and price-control laws by businessmen (black-marketeering) were a serious problem in many countries during World War ii. Clinard (1952) found that approximately one in fifteen of the three million U.S. business concerns were punished for such violations, but only 6 per cent involved the criminal sanction. Of the 250,000 concerns selling gasoline in the United States during the war, one in sixteen was punished for rationing violations, most of which were complex, evasive, and willful. A significant case of white-collar crime involved conspiracy in price-fixing and price-rigging violations of the federal antitrust laws by many leading U.S. electrical concerns (Herling 1962). Twenty-nine companies were convicted of illegalities in sales of heavy electrical equipment to both government and private purchasers; the federal court imposed fines totaling $1,924,000. Of the 45 company executives who were convicted, 7 at the policy-making level were sentenced to 30 days in jail, and 24 others received suspended sentences. These sentences, and the severity of the fines, are fairly unusual punishments for white-collar crimes. Civil suits involving millions of dollars were brought against many of the firms to recover damages.
The case of the electrical companies does serve, however, as a reminder that white-collar crime in many areas is a well-organized affair, ranging from the comparatively simple reciprocal relationships involved in doctors’ fee-splitting to the more complex illegal activities of large corporations. Most techniques of violation are, of course, selected because they involve the smallest danger of detection, but they may also recommend themselves, especially to a corporation, because the violators are confident that the case will either not be prosecuted, or not result in a conviction, or receive a minor penalty. Indeed, they may even hope to change the law itself, or at least demonstrate that it is unenforceable.
Punishment for white-collar crime. The punishments for white-collar offenses vary considerably, but almost without exception they differ from those given for ordinary offenses. One of the most significant of the many factors involved in this variation is the fact that many of these acts were not made illegal until recent years. For instance, the following practices were not made illegal in the United States until the beginning of the nineteenth century: restraint of trade, false advertising, insolvency of banks due to fraud or negligence of officials, sale of fraudulent securities, and misuse of trade-marks. Previously, the philosophy of laissezfaire (and its time-honored companion, the slogan caveat emptor) had completely dominated public thought and policy. Legislation directed toward controlling the more powerful economic groups was an inevitable, although somewhat tardy, outcome of industrialization, as the entrepreneur was gradually displaced by the corporation and large-scale labor unions began to appear on the economic scene. Public recognition of the socially injurious nature of white-collar crime has also developed slowly. White-collar crimes are usually both more complex and diffused over a longer period of time than ordinary crimes; and so the essential criminality of the acts tends to be obscured. Furthermore, the type of publicity given white-collar crimes, as contrasted with the more overt crimes like burglary or larceny, seldom creates much public resentment. It is therefore difficult to create and sustain the kind of public pressure needed for the enactment of stronger legislation designating this type of behavior, however antisocial, as “criminal.”
Most statutes outlawing white-collar crime differ from conventional criminal laws in five ways: origin, determination of responsibility or intent, philosophy, enforcement and trial procedures, and sanctions against violators (Newman 1958, p. 738). Responsibility for enforcement is delegated primarily to specially created agencies. The administrative process of hearing cases closely approximates juvenile court procedures, and the actions taken are more often remedial in nature—injunctions, for example, rather than fines or imprisonment. In fact, there has been a tendency in the United States to enact rather lenient statutes and then to enforce them in similar fashion, with favoritism shown to offenders of high social status. Even when criminal sanctions are included, they have generally been used hesitatingly. Criminal action against corporations presents difficulties, for even after long litigation, often the only result is a fine that is modest by corporate standards or a sentence for an officer that is light when matched against the gravity of the offense. Some of the specific legal problems connected with white-collar crime have been discussed by Mannheim (1965, pp. 481–484).
Criticisms of the legal concept. Some law professors and sociological criminologists have criticized the expansion of the concept of crime beyond the criminal law, stressing the criminal law’s more rigorous procedures, greater stability, and greater capacity to stigmatize the offender (Tappan 1947; Caldwell 1958). Such critics think that “crime” and “criminal” relate only to overt acts of ordinary convicted offenders: “there is an obvious and basic incongruity involved in the proposition that a community’s leaders and more responsible elements are also its criminals” (Void 1958, p. 253). Mannheim has pointed out that the basic issue involves the elements of conviction and stigma. He feels that the legalistic view that only punishable acts dealt with by criminal law are crimes and the view that punishable acts are always crimes are both unsatisfactory: “What is needed is an injection of sociological thinking into the whole administration of criminal justice to insure that the present incongruities between stigma and conviction will be reduced to an unavoidable minimum” (Mannheim 1965, p. 33).
It is true, of course, that the criminal law is more integrated into the mores than civil law, since the latter is more recent and derives largely from the prevailing economic system. But the boundaries have also expanded; indeed, the nature of modern criminal law has been used as evidence in favor of a concept of criminality that includes almost any behavior showing “a lack of a developed social feeling and ethical code” (Hurwitz  1952, p. 31). Such a view certainly includes white-collar crime, but it neglects the crucial factor of legality, which is an essential part of the definition (see Clinard 1952, pp. 226–262; Mannheim 1965, pp. 30–31). The concept of white-collar crime is not as tendentious and moralistic as has been claimed by some of its critics (see, for instance, Jones 1956, p. 8). It was not Sutherland who designated these types of behavior as undesirable; they had already been so designated by laws in the United States and elsewhere. We must therefore conclude that the white-collar offender is indeed a criminal; what kind of criminal remains to be seen.
Typologies of white-collar crime. The study of white-collar crime has been handicapped by subsuming under this term a large variety of behaviors needing different causal explanations. To avoid this, it has been suggested that white-collar crimes be separated into three categories: those committed by relatively autonomous professionals, such as lawyers or doctors; those committed by employees against corporations, for example, embezzlement; and those committed in the form of policy-making decisions by officers of corporations (Bloch & Geis 1962). Whatever scheme is adopted, there seems to be a need for some classification according to the occupational status of the offender. Geis has thought that white-collar crimes should be concerned with more homogeneous occupational groups; he therefore has restricted the concept to “corporate violations” (1962).
Quinney has argued that more homogeneous occupational units would be desirable, but that they have to be delineated by the researcher, since the construction and explanation of occupational crime rates is a task that has been largely neglected by sociologists. He therefore suggests concentrating on studies both of the violation of legal norms and of deviation from occupational norms; both types of deviance could then be related to occupational behavior in general. Occupations change, and so do the types of crime and other deviance associated with them; thus an increase in the extent of an occupational practice hitherto considered merely deviant may evoke a law that renders it illegal. In distinguishing categories of crime based on occupation, one should consider the kind of occupation, its position in the occupational structure, the occupational role of the offender, and the nature of the institutional setting. The researcher should also acquaint himself with the effect of the law on that particular occupation and with the relevant norms and values embodied in the law (Quinney 1964).
Theories of white-collar crime. The concept of white-collar crime, in the fifteen years since it became current, has had little effect on the theory and research of criminologists in the field of psychiatry and psychology. But a useful theory of crime should apply alike to the ordinary criminal and the white-collar criminal. Most current studies of ordinary criminals have largely disregarded this fact. On the basis of studies of offenders, chiefly of the lower socioeconomic groups, various theories have attempted erroneously to explain criminal behavior as the result of childhood emotional insecurity, unrepressed primitive desires, guilt feelings, and the like. Similarly, attempts have been made to explain crime as a result of poverty, poor housing, broken homes, and feeble-mindedness. Such writings have made almost no references to the contradictory evidence presented by white-collar offenders.
Sutherland stated that white-collar crime could be explained within the general framework of criminal behavior as a process of differential association, wherein the behavior is learned from those who consider it favorable, in isolation from those who do not. For example, lawbreaking may be normative in certain business concerns, and persons who are isolated from other situations may learn values, rationalizations, and techniques that will enable them both to violate the law and to feel justified in so doing. Several factors isolate businessmen from unfavorable definitions of illegal activity. The media of mass communication usually treat white-collar crime leniently as compared with their treatment of conventional crime. Furthermore, government officials often shield businessmen from severe criticism, since many of the officials either were formerly in business or may have accepted political contributions from business sources. In addition, businessmen associate chiefly with other businessmen, both at work and in their social activities, so that the implications of white-collar crime are removed from outside scrutiny (Sutherland 1949).
Clinard (1952) has pointed out that most white-collar violations appear to originate in behavior learned through association with others. But this does not explain why some persons engage in such behavior and others do not. Such an explanation would require an examination of the roles played by the individual. Also, some violations may involve the independent invention of complex techniques without learning from others.
Cressey (1953) has developed what he believes to be a universal explanation of trust violations by individuals entrusted with funds or property, although not an explanation of white-collar crime generally. He has identified three essential elements in a trust violation: a “nonshareable” financial problem, knowledge of how to violate, and rationalizations about the violations. Financial problems which are experienced as nonshareable include business reversals and important obligations involving the person’s status or sense of personal responsibility. Trust violators are aware that these problems can be resolved secretly by violating their positions of trust, and they have acquired knowl-edge of the techniques to do so. They define the situation through rationalizations in terms that enable them to regard their criminal behavior as essentially noncriminal. For example, they explain that they were “only borrowing,” that their behavior is part of the “general irresponsibility” for which they are not completely accountable, or that their behavior is due to unusual circumstances. Unfortunately, Cressey’s study does not describe the characteristics of trust violators and does not specify the situations that most often result in violations. Future studies may enable us to predict more accurately which persons will be violators and what situations are most conducive to violations.
Conception of self. The white-collar criminal is set apart by his distinctive conception of himself. He generally regards himself as a “respectable citizen” rather than as a “criminal”; at most, he sees himself as a “lawbreaker.” In this sense, he is similar to some offenders convicted of such crimes as statutory rape, nonsupport, and drunken driving. The white-collar criminal gains support for this image of himself from the general public, which, although it does not necessarily condone his activities, finds it hard to conceive of them as being associated with “real” criminal behavior. More-over, the white-collar offender usually suffers little loss of status among his associates. Although some of them may frown upon his behavior, others may even admire it, especially if his transactions reveal considerable shrewdness. This last reaction may be related to a general contempt for laws affecting them as well as for government (especially government personnel) as a whole on the part of large sections of an occupational group.
Role orientations. So far, we have emphasized characteristics that the white-collar offender shares with other kinds of criminals. But there is one important aspect in which he differs from them: he may play a variety of other, noncriminal roles, and the degree to which he recognizes the existence of conflict between these roles and his criminal role may vary considerably.
The theory of differential association, especially if there has been continuous and intimate association with unethical and illegal norms and some isolation from other norms, cannot explain why many people never become white-collar criminals at all, even though they are likely to have both the means and the opportunity to do so, as well as the inducement. Nor it is enough to say that most people are “honest,” but some are not. The known variations in individual rates of deviance cannot be explained simply in terms of the differential acceptance of general social values, although this is of course an important fact. The best available empirical evidence shows that people appear to accept or reject opportunities for white-collar crime according to their orientations toward the various roles they play in society, especially their occupational role.
But most criminologists interested in white-collar crime have been concerned more with establishing its existence than with studying variations in offense rates within various occupations. Quinney, who did study such variations among retail pharmacists, found that prescription violations are related both to the structure of the occupation and to the differential orientation of retail pharmacists toward it. The retail pharmacist was found to have two divergent occupational role expectations—that of the professional and that of the businessman; the structural strain inherent in this situation is usually met by the adoption of an “occupational role organization” that, in both including and emphasizing the “professional” aspect of the occupation, tends to restrain the pharmacist from violating the prescription laws. On the other hand, pharmacists who emphasize the “businessman” aspect of the occupation tend to have the highest violation rate, whereas those who emphasize neither aspect have a rate somewhere between those of the two other groups (Quinney 1963).
White-collar crime and the social structure. White-collar crime cannot be fully understood without reference to the value conflicts presented to people in higher-status positions. These vary according to the social structure and value system of society. For instance, the values involved in the state regulation of commercial transactions in the United States may conflict with those of the American free-enterprise system. When such conflicts occur, attitudes that are involved in selective obedience to a “good” or “bad” law become the key to compliance. “The demand for law arises out of the conflicts in cultures; and because there is a conflict in cultures, the law is not effective as a deterrent upon the other groups that did not at first demand the law” (Sutherland  1956, p. 108). Further research should focus on the conditions that lead to a definition of behavior as criminal and to a definition of the way in which legal norms intersect and are integrated with the norms of other institutional structures (Jeffery 1956). Study of the values, norms, and other aspects of middle- and upper-class subcultures and occupations may help to explain white-collar crime in much the same way that knowledge of the subculture of the lower class and the culture of poverty is necessary to understand many conventional crimes.
The recent concern of sociologists with white-collar crime brings into focus a long-neglected relationship between criminal behavior, criminal law, penal sanctions, and social structure (Aubert 1952). Studies of white-collar crime in highly differentiated societies have focused on the ambivalent attitudes of average citizens toward the law, with the result that structured conflicts have been discovered between social roles and the larger social system. In this way, as Cressey (1961, p. xii) has emphasized, there is need for study of the entire society if we are to understand why white-collar crime is often not reported or studied. White-collar crime can often be viewed as violation of laws which are not part of the moral values of the groups concerned (Fuller 1942).
Marshall B. Clinard
Aubert, Vilhelm 1952 White Collar Crime and Social Structure. American Journal of Sociology 58:263–271.
Block, Herbert A.; and GEIS, GILBERT 1962 White-collar Crime. Pages 379–404 in Herbert A. Bloch and Gilbert Geis, Man, Crime, and Society: The Forms of Criminal Behavior. New York: Random House.
Caldwell, Robert G. 1958 A Reexamination of the Concept of White Collar Crime. Federal Probation 22, no. 1:30–36.
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Clinard, Marshall B. 1952 The Black Market: A Study of White Collar Crime. New York: Holt.
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Cressey, Donald R. 1952 Application and Verification of the Differential Association Theory. Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science 43: 43–52.
Cressey, Donald R. 1953 Other People’s Money: A Study in the Social Psychology of Embezzlement. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.
Cressey, Donald R. 1961 Foreword. In Edwin H. Sutherland, White Collar Crime. New York: Holt.
Fuller, Richard C. 1942 Morals and the Criminal Law. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 32: 624–630. → Now called the Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science.
Geis, Gilbert 1962 Toward a Delineation of White Collar Offenses. Sociological Inquiry 32, no. 2:160–171. → The journal of the Alpha Kappa Delta National Sociology Honor Society.
Grygier, Tadeusz; Jones, Howard; and Spencer, John C. (editors) 1965 Criminology in Transition: Essays in Honour of Hermann Mannheim. London: Tavistock. → See especially “White Collar Crime,” by John C. Spencer.
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Hurwitz, Stephan (1947) 1952 Criminology. London: Allen & Unwin. → First published in Danish.
Jeffery, Clarence R. 1956 The Structure of American Criminological Thinking. Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science 46:658–672.
Jones, Howard (1956) 1962 Crime and the Penal System: A Textbook of Criminology. 2d ed. London: University Tutorial Press.
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Newman, Donald J. 1958 White-collar Crime. Law and Contemporary Problems 23:735–753.
Quinney, Earl R. 1963 Occupational Structure and Criminal Behavior: Prescription Violation by Retail Pharmacists. Social Problems 11:179–185.
Quinney, Earl R. 1964 The Study of White Collar Crime: Toward a Reorientation in Theory and Research. Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science 55:208–214.
Reckless, Walter C. (1950) 1961 White-collar Crime and Black-marketing. Pages 207–229 in Walter C. Reckless, The Crime Problem. 3d ed. New York: Appleton.
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Strafrechtspflege und Strafrechtsreform. 1961 Wiesbaden (Germany): Bundeskriminalamt. → See especially pages 81–118.
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Sutherland, Edwin H. (1929) 1956 Crime and the Conflict Process. Pages 99–111 in Edwin H. Sutherland, The Sutherland Papers. Edited by Albert K. Cohen et al. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.
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Sutherland, Edwin H. (1949) 1961 White Collar Crime. New York: Holt.
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Homicide is the killing of one human being by another and may be criminal or noncriminal. Noncriminal homicide is considered to be either excusable, that is, accidental or in self-defense, or justifiable, such as when a police officer shoots a felon or an executioner carries out a penalty of death. Criminal homicide, on the other hand, may be murder (first-degree or second-degree) or manslaughter (voluntary or involuntary). The legal distinctions are important because the sanction imposed on the offender in each case is a function of the adjudged degree of criminal homicide.
Among the different state and federal jurisdictions in the United States, there is considerable similarity in the meaning of these degrees of homicide, partially because the Pennsylvania homicide statute of 1794 was used as a model. First-degree murder generally means premeditated killing, “by lying in wait” or by poison, and with malice; all the states but Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin retain the death penalty as the maximum sanction. In addition, by statute any death that occurs during the commission of one or more types of felonies, which vary among the states, is a first-degree murder. Although some states include all felonies under this “felony-murder rule,” most restrict it to rape, arson, burglary, robbery, and kidnaping.
Second-degree murder refers to a killing without premeditation but with malice and in the heat of passion. A maximum sentence of 20 years is common. Voluntary (or nonnegligent) manslaughter is a killing that occurs with the presence of intent to do bodily harm; and involuntary (or negligent) manslaughter is unintentional killing, usually during commission of some criminal act other than a felony or through negligence during an act that is otherwise noncriminal.
Legal codes of other countries reflect different juridical situations. Mord and Totschlag have meant murder and manslaughter, respectively, in the German code. Meurtre in the French code is not murder but manslaughter, and premeditated homicide is assassination (assassinat), which is a common designation in Latin countries. The Italian penal code distinguishes between omicidio doloso (willful killing, which may be aggravated by premeditation or other circumstances); omicidio preterintenzionale (the intent is not to kill, only to do harm, but death results); and omicidio colposo (no intent, but death occurs by negligence or the like).
Like other crimes, criminal homicides may be reported by the police as the number of offenses known or the number of persons arrested, by the courts as the number of persons convicted, or by the prisons as the number of persons committed. Unlike most other crimes, offenses may be counted by the number of persons victimized; if two persons are killed in a single criminal event, the public authorities will generally count two criminal homicides even though there is only one offender. Moreover, because there is a death, governments at almost all levels, using the international list of causes of death, will record the act under the title of homicide in the mortality statistics.
Valid international statistical comparisons are difficult to make because of differences in the legal definition of criminal homicide and the range of variations encompassed by the term. Hence, all such references must be examined with caution and understanding of these variations. The Demographic Yearbook of the United Nations reports homicide data for many countries; in 1960 the rates (per 100,000 population) ranged from 34.0 for Colombia to 0.2 for Ireland (United Nations 1961). Although the United States does not have a criminal-homicide rate as high as those of Mexico, Colombia, and several other nations, the contrast with England, which is one of the leading low-rate countries, is dramatic. For example, the city of Philadelphia (population two million) has about the same number of criminal homicides each year as all of England, Scotland, and Wales combined (population 45 million). Yet the rate per unit of population for Philadelphia is about the same as that for the United States as a whole.
For the United States, one of the major sources of criminal homicide data is the Uniform Crime Reports, published annually by the Department of Justice. These are compilations of information submitted voluntarily by police departments through-out the country, and they provide interesting breakdowns by city size and region. The New England states consistently have the lowest rates; the southeastern states, the highest rates. In 1960 the regional rates (per 100,000 population) varied from 1.5 for New England to 9.7 for the South Atlantic states (U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation 1960). The criminal homicide rate in the United States has been declining since 1933, when the rate was 7.1. Although there were some slight upward changes in 1945 and 1946, the rate gradually fell to 5.1 in I960; this rate still means that as many as 9,136 persons met death as a result of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter. A breakdown by murder and manslaughter or degrees is not available on a national level. In Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas (county or counties having at least one core city of 50,000 or more inhabitants), the rate was 4.9 in 1960. All other cities had a lower rate of 3.8, and rural areas had a higher rate of 6.4 (U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation 1960).
Patterns in criminal homicide
Research has shown that although criminal homicide is largely an unplanned act, uniformities and patterns exist nonetheless. There is, for example, a statistically significant association between criminal homicide and the race and sex of both victim and offender. Negroes and males involved in homicide far exceed their proportions in the general population of the United States, and rates for these two groups are many times greater than the rates for whites and females. In a study of criminal homicides in Philadelphia from 1948 to 1952, the rate per 100,000 by race and sex of offenders was in the following rank order of magnitude: Negro males (41.7), Negro females (9.3), white males (3.4), and white females (0.4) (Wolfgang 1958). The association between race and homicide is statistically more significant than that between sex and homicide. Thus, the proportion (but not the rate) of female offenders is much higher in England than in the United States; it has been suggested that in those countries with high homicide rates the proportion of female offenders is low, while in countries with low homicide rates the proportion of female offenders is high (Verkko 1951, pp. 55–56). In fact, it seems likely that there is a greater constancy to female homicide.
Variations by age
Among offenders the age group 20–24 predominates, while the highest rate for victims is in the age group 25–34. Victims are generally older than their offenders; the median age of the former, in the Philadelphia study, was 35.1 years and of the latter, 31.9 years. The race differential by age is particularly striking; the lowest five-year age-specific rates for Negro males and females are similar to, or higher than, the highest five-year age-specific rates for white males and females, respectively. Although males of both races more frequently commit criminal homicide during their twenties than during any other period of life, Negro males in their early sixties kill as frequently as do white males in their early twenties. Sociocultural and psychological evidence appears to offer the best explanations for these age-race differentials.
Variations by method
Methods of inflicting death vary, but about one-third of criminal homicides in the United States are shootings, one-third are stabbings, and the remainder are mostly beatings, with a small percentage involving miscellaneous methods, such as poisoning. There appears to be some cultural preference for particular weapons: males, if Negro, usually stab and are stabbed, if white, beat and are beaten; females generally stab their victims with a butcher knife, but are themselves often beaten to death.
Although homicides tend to increase during the hot summer months, there appears to be no significant association by seasons or months of the year (Brearley 1932, pp. 189–190; Wolfgang 1958, pp. 98–100). But homicide is significantly associated with days of the week and hours of the day. The weekend in general and Saturday night in particular are related to homicide, as are the hours between 8 P.M. and 2 A.M. In one study (Wolfgang 1958, pp. 106–110) it was pointed out that about two-thirds of all homicides occur during the weekend, as compared to one-third from Monday to Friday.
The social significance of the weekend period as a time of increased social intercourse between persons of similar groups is even more strikingly revealed by data on the use of alcoholic beverages by both victims and offenders. Either the victim or offender or both had been drinking immediately prior to the slaying in nearly two-thirds of the 588 cases in the Philadelphia study (Wolfgang & Strohm 1956); other studies have shown slightly different proportions. Caution must be exercised in evaluating the presence of alcohol in homicides, because drinking—particularly on Saturdays, the day of highest incidence of homicide—is an integral part of the mores of the lowest socioeconomic group, whose members are most likely to be involved in this crime. The consumption of alcohol is involved in a significantly higher proportion of weekend homicides than of homicides occurring during the remainder of the week.
Victim and offender
Criminal homicide usually results from a domestic quarrel, jealousy, argument over money, robbery, or some more vaguely defined altercation. These are the “motives” that are commonly recorded by the police and that have been mentioned with only slightly varying terms and classifications in many studies over time and space (Gillin 1946; Hentig 1948). Most victim-offender relationships may be classified as “primary-group” relations, or those that include intimate, close, frequent contacts. Close friends and relatives alone usually account for more than half of the known relationships that involve male offenders, and much more than half of those that involve female offenders. Mate slayings are common and may constitute as much as one-fifth of the cases in some areas. Wives killed by their husbands make up nearly half of all female victims, but husbands slain by their wives rarely constitute more than 10 per cent of all male victims. When a woman commits homicide she is more likely than is a man to kill her mate; and when a man is killed by a woman, he is most likely to be killed by his wife. With rare exceptions, criminal homicide is an intragroup phenomenon; where there is racial heterogeneity, as in the United States, victims and offenders are of the same race in more than 90 per cent of the cases.
Previous criminal records
Many studies report that participants in homicide do not generally have previous criminal records (Brearley 1932, pp. 85— 86; Gillin 1946, p. 551). They have also proved to have good disciplinary records in prison and are among the best risks for parole. However, the definition of “previous record” is often unclear in reported studies and sometimes refers to prior police or arrest record, other times to prior conviction or prior institutional commitment. In contrast to earlier research, the Philadelphia study revealed that nearly two-thirds of the offenders and almost half of the victims had a previous arrest record, and that more male victims than female offenders had such a record. Moreover, when an offender had a previous record, it was more likely to be one of offenses against the person than against property; and when he had a record of offenses against the person, he was more likely than not to have a record of having committed a serious assaultive offense.
Rates of clearance and conviction
Among serious offenses, homicide has the highest rate of “cleared by arrest,” that is, the taking into custody by the police of one or more suspects held for prosecution. In the United States, among the seven offenses used by the Uniform Crime Reports to construct a crime index, the over-all “clearance rate” is usually less than 30 per cent, but that for homicide is consistently about 90 per cent. The intragroup, unplanned, primary-group character of the offense partially explains this high rate. However, the rate of conviction among persons charged with homicide is relatively low, often less than 50 per cent. The seriousness of the charge, the severity of the penalty, the greater use of a jury trial, the greater strain placed on the meaning of “reasonable doubt,” and the greater probability that cases of homicide will be disposed of by ways other than a conviction all contribute to a low conviction rate. Those who commit suicide (usually directly after homicide) and those who plead insanity may together constitute as much as 8 to 10 per cent of offenders known to the police. Homicide-suicide is relatively uncommon in the United States, however, for studies show that only about 2 to 4 per cent of offenders kill themselves after killing others. In England homicide-suicide has reached very high proportions: as much as half the homicide cases in 1939 and, not uncommonly, as much as one-fourth to one-third each year (Grünhut 1952). About the same proportions appear to hold for both the United States and England in regard to homicide offenders declared to be insane.
Theories about criminal homicide
There are more studies using descriptive data and case reports of homicide than there are acceptable theories. Unfortunately, there is little interdisciplinary theory or research, and most “explanations” of homicide are limited to the biological, psychological, or social aspects of the problem.
The published anthropometrical and medical studies are few and contribute little to explanation. It is generally asserted (Buss 1961) that the causative chain of aggression is traced back to stimuli that are external to the organism and that, although there may be individual differences in the reactivity to external stimuli evoking aggression, these inner characteristics do not by themselves explain aggressive, particularly homicidal, behavior.
With few exceptions, psychometric studies of homicide have not emerged from testable hypotheses; furthermore, they have failed to distinguish different types of homicides and have neglected the use of control groups and adequate statistical analysis. Most studies on the differential psychology of homicide have been exploratory and tentative. The intelligence of homicide offenders in different countries has generally been noted to be lower than that of property offenders (Berg & Fox 1947; Lazzari et al. 1958). However, the differences are not very discriminative, and the intragroup differences are greater than the differences between various criminal typologies.
Personality tests have been used to some descriptive advantage, indicating, for example, that with the Thematic Apperception Test, “heroes” of an antisocial type and themes of rebellion and impulsivity occur with high frequency (Paolella 1960). In a careful study of an aggressive-content scale applied to the TAT, Stone (1956) found that the scale was able to correctly identify murder cases. Most psychometric studies have used the Rorschach test; leading traits of homicide offenders as obtained from Rorschach protocols appear to be introversion, impulsivity, and explosive emotions. In summarizing several Rorschach studies of homicide, Endara (1960) stated that one of the most important findings is the fact that those who commit homicide produce about half the number of “human-content” responses as compared to other criminals, which indicates a lack of empathy and the presence of hostility and rebelliousness against authority. However, as Buss (1961) claimed in his review of studies assessing aggression through projective techniques and questionnaires, the tests appear to measure behavioral, not latent, aggression. Moreover, as Schuessler and Cressey (1950) earlier had stated in their criticism of studies on the personality characteristics of criminals, the studies generally apply a personality test without reference to any hypothesis about the relation of personality elements and criminal behavior.
The frustration-aggression theory (Dollard et al. 1939) was readily accepted by many sociologists and psychologists as a useful theoretical framework, but few psychologists today would assert that the presence of frustration inevitably leads to aggression or specifically to homicide. In a review of the literature on the social psychology of aggression (McNeil 1959) it was concluded that scientific research on this theory is difficult because of the nearly inherent problems of circular logic. However, Leonard Berkowitz (1962), using the theory, has been doing some very interesting experimental research on violence in general, and Lewis Coser (1962) in a theoretical paper demonstrated that violence can be viewed from a sociological perspective.
Henry and Short (1954) and, to a more limited extent, Palmer (1960) have used elements of the frustration thesis in specific analyses of homicide. Henry and Short assume that in American society such lower status groups as Negroes, females, and the elderly are socially deprived of upward status mobility opportunities; hence frustration will lead them to aggression. The hypothesis, they contend, is supported by data relative to Negroes but not to all females. Suicide has higher incidence among the aged than does homicide. They further argue that the degree of internal restraints is greater for members of the upper social classes, who commit suicide more frequently than members of the lower social classes. External restraints operate more among lower social classes, for whom other-oriented aggression is legitimized and manifested frequently as homicide. There is some theoretical connection in these terms to Reckless’ containment theory (1950) of criminal and noncriminal behavior. Palmer’s study (1960) defines frustration in such a general way that items like epilepsy, severe measles, head trauma, are taken as “frustrating” factors, with no concern for the aggressive personality deformations that they can cause by themselves, exclusive of any “frustration” hypothesis. Moreover, Palmer’s study lacks the more systematic logic and analytical consistency of the study by Henry and Short and is methodologically inadequate in many ways.
In sum, frustration, it is generally agreed, is an inevitable and necessary part of the socialization process. The frustration-aggression thesis is challenging and should not be abandoned, but its present value for research purposes in homicide studies appears to be limited (Buss 1961; McNeil 1959).
Homicide and suicide
Much the same may be said of the concept of anomie, although Bohannan (1960) has provided a taxonomy of homicide in primitive societies that follows the “anomie,” “egoistic,” “altruistic” classification earlier proposed for suicide by Durkheim (1897). It should be noted that theory and research on suicide and homicide often have considered these two phenomena to be related—either as complementary phenomena, as similar manifestations of the same stream of aggression, or as the antithesis of one another (Henry & Short 1954; Verkko 1951; Hentig 1948, chapter 12; Wolfgang 1959).
The subculture of violence
A sociopsychological theory of a subculture of violence has been suggested as an explanation for homicides, most of which are crimes of passion or violent slayings that are not premeditated or psychotic manifestations (Wolfgang 1958, pp. 188–189; Wolfgang & Ferracuti 1962). The empirical data have shown that homicide rather consistently occurs with highest frequency among certain social groups and that in these groups there is close contact between offender and victim. The group members’ characteristics and expected responses to certain stimuli, their perceptual differences in the evaluation of the stimuli, and the limited importance they place upon human life in the scale of values appear to be conducive to the use of violence as a principal way to solve everyday problems. If there exists among these certain social class-sexage groups a subculture of violence, it is further suggested that the greater the degree of integration of the individual into this subculture, the higher the probability that his behavior will often be violent; or, that there is a direct relationship between rates of homicide and the degree of integration into the subculture of violence to which the individual belongs.
This thesis has been used to view the high rates of homicide among nonwhites in American society. As a group nonwhites have been segregated both physically and socially and thus constitute to some extent a “subcultural” area. This subgroup is characterized by poor housing, high population density, overcrowded home conditions, and often by a system of values that condones violence and physical aggression, all the way from child-rearing processes to adult interpersonal relationships, which sometimes end in criminal slayings. To a lesser degree, whites in the lower socioeconomic class also are part of a subculture of violence and participate in criminal homicide. By the dispersal of this culturally isolated group and the integration of its members into the general community of morality and values, there may occur some reduction of the violence that results in homicide.
Finally, this theory contains working hypotheses that can be tested by psychological tools. The fact that an individual belongs to a deviant subculture, which is reflected in commitment to a set of values that is characterized by the ready use of violence, will cause him to adopt a differential perception of the environment and of its stimuli. In this subculture of violence, the continuous challenges and daily frustrations that are faced and solved by the adaptive mechanisms of the individual have a greater chance of being perceived and reacted upon as menacing, aggressive stimuli, which call for immediate defense and counteraggression. Such a hypothesis lends itself to objective study through appropriate psychological methodologies.
A review of homicide studies tends to reaffirm the contention of many criminologists that meaningful and significant contributions to an understanding of the phenomenon can occur only through parsimonious, integrated theory that generates hypotheses to be tested by the collection of data from allied disciplines.
Marvin E. Wolfgang
Bensing, Robert C.; and Schroeder, Oliver Jr. 1960 Homicide in an Urban Community. Springfield, III.: Thomas.
Berg, Irwin A.; and Fox, Vernon 1947 Factors in Homicides Committed by 200 Males. Journal of Social Psychology 26:109–119.
Berkowitz, Leonard 1962 Aggression: A Social Psychological Analysis. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Bohannan, Paul (editor) 1960 African Homicide and Suicide. Princeton Univ. Press.
Brearley, Harrington C. 1932 Homicide in the United States. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.
Buss, Arnold H. 1961 The Psychology of Aggression. New York: Wiley.
Coser, Lewis A. 1962 Violence and the Social Structure. Unpublished manuscript. → Paper presented at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Dollard, John et al. 1939 Frustration and Aggression. Yale University Institute of Human Relations. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.
Durkheim, £MILE (1897) 1951 Suicide: A Study in Sociology. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → First published in French.
Endara, J. 1960 Degradazioni e devitalizzazioni nei criminali, rilevabili per mezzo del test di Rorschach. Quaderni di criminologia clinica 1:21–36.
Gillin, John L. 1946 The Wisconsin Prisoner: Studies in Crimogenesis. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.
GrÜnhut, Max 1952 Murder and the Death Penalty in England. American Academy of Political and Social Science, Annals 284:158–166.
Harlan, H. 1950 Five Hundred Homicides. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 40:736–752.
Henry, Andrew F.; and Short, James F. Jr. 1954 Suicide and Homicide: Some Economic, Sociological, and Psychological Aspects of Aggression. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.
Hentig, Hans von 1948 The Criminal and His Victim. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.
Lazzari, Renato; Ferracuti, F.; and Rizzo, G. B. 1958 Applicazione della scala di intelligenza Wechsler-Bellevue, Forma 1 su un gruppo di detenuti italiani. Volume 8, pages 449–456 in Convegno Internazionale di Criminologia Clinica, Atti. Rome: The Congress.
Mcneil, Elton B. 1959 Psychology and Aggression. Journal of Conflict Resolution 3:195–293. MORELAND, ROY 1952 The Law of Homicide. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill.
Palmer, Stuart 1960 A Study of Murder. New York: Crowell.
Paolella, Alfredo 1960 Resultats au T.A.T. chez des homicides. Pages 669–670 in International Congress on Applied Psychology, Thirteenth, Rome, 1958, Proceedings. London: International Association of Applied Psychology.
Porterfield, Austin L. 1949 Indices of Suicide and Homicide by States and Cities: Some Southern—Non-Southern Contrasts With Implications for Research. American Sociological Review 14:481–490.
Reckless, Walter C. (1950) 1961 The Crime Problem. 3d ed. New York: Appleton.
Robin, Gerald D. 1963 Justifiable Homicide by Police Officers. Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science 54:225–231.
Schuessler, Karl F.; and Cressey, Donald R. 1950 Personality Characteristics of Criminals. American Journal of Sociology 55:476–484.
Sellin, Thorsten 1959 The Death Penalty: A Report for the Model Penal Code Project of the American Law Institute. Philadelphia: American Law Institute.
Stone, Harold 1956 The TAT Aggressive Content Scale. Journal of Projective Techniques 20:445–452.
Svalastoga, Kaare 1956 Homicide and Social Contact in Denmark. American Journal of Sociology 62:37–41.
United Nations 1961 Demographic Yearbook. New York: United Nations. → See especially pages 398–471, Table 17, on “Deaths and Death Rates by Cause, and Percentage Medically Certified: 1955–1960.”
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation 1960 Uniform Crime Reports for the United States. Washington: Government Printing Office. → See especially page 33, Table 1, on “Index of Crime, United States, 1960” and pages 36–37, Table 2, on “Index of Crime by Geographic Divisions and States, 1959–1960.”
Verkko, Veli K. 1951 Homicides and Suicides in Finland and Their Dependence on National Character. Copenhagen: Gad.
Wertham, Frederic 1949 The Show of Violence. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.
Wolfgang, Marvin E. 1958 Patterns in Criminal Homicide. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.
Wolfgang, Marvin E. 1959 Suicide by Means of Victim-precipitated Homicide. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Psychopathology and Quarterly Review of Psychiatry and Neurology 20:335–349.
Wolfgang, Marvin E.; and Ferracuti, Franco 1962 Subculture of Violence: An Interpretive Analysis of Homicide. International Annals of Criminology : 52–60.
Wolfgang, Marvin E.; and Strohm, Rolf B. 1956 The Relationship Between Alcohol and Criminal Homicide. Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol 17:411–425.
Wood, Arthur L. 1961 Crime and Aggression in Changing Ceylon. American Philosophical Society, Transactions New Series 51, part 8.
"Crime." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/crime
"Crime." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved October 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/crime
CRIME is any activity for which the law prescribes punishment, such as a monetary fine or a term of imprisonment. Many other activities are prohibited by law in a different way. For example, businesses are subject to a variety of regulations and may be fined or otherwise disciplined for violations. More generally, anyone who negligently harms a neighbor or breaches a contract violates the law and may be held to pay damages if the victim files a lawsuit. Those violations are said to be "civil" in nature in order to distinguish them from "criminal" infractions. A person who commits a crime may be charged by a public prosecutor regardless of whether any individual victim complains. Conceptually, the public at large is the victim of criminal lawbreaking.
Crimes are specified by statutes that are enacted by Congress or by state and local legislative bodies. Legislatures often change statutes according to contemporaneous attitudes about the activities that should be punished as criminal. Conduct that was criminal in one era may not be so in the next. The classic example is the Volstead Act, the short-lived federal statute in 1919 that made it a federal offense to sell or transport intoxicating liquor.
The Colonial Era
The idea that criminal law is a matter of legislative policy did not always prevail. The colonists understood deviant behavior to be a feature of divine order and acted in light of their religious beliefs. They expected individuals to misbehave and entertained no thought that they could or should determine for themselves what should be criminal and punish only that behavior. The colonists drew no clear distinction between crime and sin, and when they adopted criminal statutes they typically included religious offenses like blasphemy and witchcraft. They found it difficult to distinguish, in turn, between serious offenses and minor transgressions. All were of a piece; all were sins against God. By some accounts the colonists' sense of the unity of all crime led them to prescribe the same harsh punishments for widely divergent activities. Some offenders were fined, but many were put to death—or, if not hanged, were tortured, banished, or both. The point was neither to give offenders what they deserved nor to achieve some utilitarian objective. It was merely to vindicate God's will.
Colonial views and practices regarding crime and slavery were appalling by twenty-first-century standards. Slaveholders were permitted to whip and mutilate slaves as they saw fit, without concern that abuses would be regarded as criminal. By contrast, slaves themselves were routinely charged with crimes. Often they were punished summarily by their masters. In many instances slaves accused of crimes were brought before local boards composed of magistrates and slaveholders. The slaveholders participated to ensure that corporal punishments were not so harsh as to permanently damage their property. When states hanged slaves as punishment for crime, the slave owners were typically entitled to compensation for the loss of their assets.
The Nineteenth Century
American thinking about crime changed dramatically after the Revolution. Southern states perpetuated the harsh treatment of slaves. But apart from slavery, most states adopted new statutes specifying as criminal various activities that are still considered crimes. For example, nineteenth-century criminal statutes condemned homicide, assault, robbery, and other offenses against the person. They also identified a wide variety of property crimes such as larceny, embezzlement, and receiving stolen goods. The states did not regulate commercial affairs in the pervasive manner that later became common. But when they did regulate business, they often did it by making objectionable practices criminal. Individual states typically focused on the industries that were most important to their economies. For example, Maryland and Virginia used criminal law to regulate the production and sale of tobacco. Mississippi did the same with respect to cotton and the states in New England with respect to shellfish. Many states also used criminal sanctions to control hunting, to enforce public health regulations, and, in the last years of the nineteenth century, to limit monopoly power in the marketplace.
The growing mobility of Americans made it possible for itinerant rascals to cheat unsuspecting dupes by tricking them into surrendering cash. Schemes of that kind typically entailed gaining the victim's trust—hence the familiar term "confidence man." In some celebrated cases of the period swindlers from the lower classes represented themselves to be gentlemen and ran up extraordinary bills before they absconded. Many states responded by enacting new criminal statutes condemning rackets by which "con men" obtained money by false pretenses.
States in the nineteenth century formally recognized numerous "morals" offenses. They routinely condemned any kind of sexual activity outside the traditional monogamous, heterosexual marriage—namely, fornication, adultery, cohabitation without marriage, incest, prostitution, and bigamy. They also barred forms of sexual pleasure thought to be immoral. The "unspeakable crime against nature" (sodomy) was the chief illustration. Apart from sexual offenses, most states made gambling a crime,
and some flatly barred the manufacture and sale of liquor. In the latter half of the century many states also banned obscenity (variously defined) as yet another vice threatening moral decay. Evidence regarding actual prosecutions for morals offenses is incomplete. By most accounts, however, prosecutions were (or at least became) sporadic, and the punishments upon conviction were relatively modest by comparison to the penalties meted out in the colonial period.
The criminal regulation of abortion followed its own special path. Abortion was long formally condemned as criminal. Yet abortions performed prior to quickening (when fetal motion is felt) were typically treated as misdemeanors. Moreover, the evidence suggests that anti-abortion statutes often were not enforced.
The Development of Federal Criminal Statutes
Congress established very few federal crimes prior to the modern era. One reason was a perceived lack of authority to do so. The United States Constitution did not give the federal government power to create criminal law simply as a matter of legislative judgment. State legislatures had that authority, but not Congress. If Congress enacted a criminal statute, it had to be in service of some peculiarly federal interest.
Famous early criminal statutes were easy enough to justify. The Crimes Act of 1790 made it a federal crime to commit murder, but only if the offense occurred at a site under the control of federal authorities. Similarly, the Post Office Act of 1872 made it a federal criminal offense to use the federal postal service to deliver objectionable materials (like lottery tickets or obscene literature).
In time, Congress enacted federal criminal statutes under its authority to regulate commerce among the states. That was the theory underlying the Sherman Anti-trust Act of 1890 and the majority of federal criminal laws enacted in the twentieth century. The commercial regulatory basis of federal criminal jurisdiction was not disingenuous. As the interstate character of business activity grew, Congress's authority to use criminal law to enforce federal regulation of that activity grew in direct proportion. The Securities Exchange Act of 1934 exemplified the kind of national criminal law needed to police commercial activities that no single state could manage. In addition, however, Congress exploited its authority to control the channels and instrumentalities of interstate commerce in order to advance noneconomic objectives. The chief examples were the Mann Act in 1910, which made it a federal crime to transport a woman across a state boundary for the purpose of prostitution, and the Dyer Act in 1919, which made it a federal offense to drive or deliver a stolen car across state lines. Those statutes engaged the federal government in policing activities that previously had been left to the states.
Crime Rates in the Twentieth Century
By common account, the rate of violent crime in the United States increased significantly during the early part of the twentieth century. Violent offenses include murder, nonnegligent manslaughter, robbery, forcible rape, and aggravated assault. Reliable data are unavailable for most offenses during those years, but homicides (for which data were kept) rose dramatically. The reasons for the upsurge are elusive. The immediate spur may have been the conclusion of World War I. Soldiers returning from Europe often had difficulty finding work and may have become frustrated and, in some instances, violent. Prohibition offered organized crime the opportunity to profit from distributing illicit liquor. Crime "families" contributed to violence in major cities, particularly New York and Chicago. The exigencies of the Great Depression may have driven impoverished people to property crimes ending in violence. As the depression drew to a close, by contrast, the rate of violent crime leveled off and remained comparatively stable for roughly the next twenty years, albeit with shifts downward during the three wartime periods of World War I, World War II, and Vietnam and upward again when each group of troops came home.
There was, however, another significant increase in the rate of violent crime during the 1960s and 1970s. The homicide rate reached an all-time high in 1980, when there were more than ten homicidal deaths per 100,000 residents. Again, the underlying reasons for the increase are debatable. Certainly the acceleration of violence tracked the sharp increase in the number of young people. In the fifteen-year period from 1960 to 1975, the population of men and women aged from fourteen to twenty-four increased by 63 percent, more than six times the rate of all other age groups. That cohort of young people, known as the baby boom, had been born immediately following World War II, the sons and daughters of soldiers eager to resume their lives. In 1960 persons aged from fourteen to twenty-four accounted for 69 percent of all arrests for serious crimes. Many youths may have found it difficult to adjust to life as adults, especially if their economic prospects were bleak. Their frustrations may have played out in rebellious activities that ultimately led to violence.
In the mid-1980s the rate of violent offenses began to decline just as the baby boom generation passed beyond its most crime-prone years. The rate of violent offenses by teenagers continued to rise for some time before dropping; the analog rate for persons in their twenties fell more steadily. In 1985 the homicide rate diminished to just under eight deaths per 100,000 residents. That rate rose for a few years, reaching more than nine per 100,000 in 1991. Thereafter, however, the homicide rate steadily dropped to a low of less than seven per 100,000 in 1998. The rate of robberies followed roughly the same pattern.
Violent crime in the United States is necessarily associated with firearms (especially handguns) for the obvious reason that firearms are often the instruments by which violent offenses are committed. The data reveal, moreover, that the use of firearms varies according to offender characteristics. After 1985, when the homicide rate for adult offenders declined, the rate at which adults employed handguns to kill dropped proportionately. During the same period, when the homicide rate for young offenders initially increased and then declined, the rate at which young people used handguns to kill increased dramatically. In 1993, 90 percent of the homicides committed by offenders under twenty-five years of age involved firearms. The rate of gun violence was particularly pronounced among young male African Americans in depressed urban areas. The rate of firearm homicides in that group was twenty-one times higher than the rate for the American population as a whole. After 1993 the rate of firearm violence among all offender groups fell along with the general decline in the rate of violent crime.
Even considering the diminution at the end of the twentieth century, the incidence of violent crime is still much higher in the United States than in any comparable developed nation. The rate of deaths or serious bodily injury from personal attacks is four to eighteen times higher in this country than in the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, or Japan. The rate of non-violent crime in the United States has always been high, but not markedly higher than in comparable nations. In the 1990s, for example, the general crime rate in this country was higher than in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Japan, but not grossly higher than in Italy and about the same as the general crime rate in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.
Changes in Criminal Law Policy
By most accounts, the increase in the rate of violent crime that occurred in the 1960s deeply affected American attitudes about crime in general. Americans came to regard crime as an extremely serious problem meriting extraordinary efforts at control. That public sentiment persisted through the end of the twentieth century. According to a poll taken in 1994, when the rates of both violent and nonviolent crime had been declining for nearly a decade, more than 40 percent of Americans nonetheless viewed crime as the nation's most pressing social problem. Concomitantly, Americans came to regard criminal sanctions as the appropriate means by which to address an expanding variety of activities thought to threaten society. Many academicians contended that actual experience did not warrant the public insistence on anticrime measures, much less the wider use of criminal sanctions as a tool of social control. By some accounts, citizens who were concerned that they might become victims of violent assaults failed to distinguish between the violence they feared and other forms of criminal behavior. Accordingly, they supported a sweeping expansion of criminal law and its enforcement that bore fundamental implications for the prevailing social order.
Five developments illustrate the changes that have occurred in modern American criminal law policy: the adoption of lengthy terms of imprisonment as a routine punishment for all serious criminal offenses; the prosecution of juveniles as though they were adults; the expansion of the federal government's role in the making and enforcement of criminal law; the accelerating use of criminal law to regulate corporate behavior; and the escalating use of criminal law to address the social problems associated with drugs.
Longer sentences. Beginning in the 1980s, most states enacted arrangements under which persons convicted of crimes received much longer terms of imprisonment than had previously been prescribed. The shift in policy was deliberate and explicit. Legislatures largely abandoned the rehabilitative ideal that had dominated penal policy for more than a century and, in its place, recognized retribution and incapacitation as the primary purposes of punishment. Today convicts are chiefly punished with lengthy prison terms on the theory that they deserve it and because, during the period in which they are incarcerated, they are unable to commit more crimes. The terms of incarceration are extremely long. Life sentences have become common and terms of twenty or thirty years routine. Moreover, multiple-offender sentencing schemes often double or triple the sentences for offenders found guilty of more than one violation. So-called "three strikes and you're out" laws are not typically limited to violent offenders; anyone who commits three offenses of any kind may be sentenced to an extraordinarily long period behind bars.
Long terms of incarceration have significant effects throughout the system of American law. State courts send far more convicts to state prisons than existing institutions can accommodate. The crowding that ensues makes prison life, already harsh, more oppressive. Even before the flood of new prisoners in the 1980s, federal courts had held the poor conditions found in many state prisons to constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Constitution. Those courts ordered prison officials to make numerous adjustments and to eliminate crowding. With the subsequent flow of prisoners increasing so dramatically, most states have responded by constructing more penal facilities. New prisons, in turn, are little more than human warehouses confining prisoners for ever increasing periods of time at the least possible cost.
Treating juveniles as adults. The prosecution of juveniles as adults began in earnest in the 1990s. Previously, under juvenile justice codes adopted earlier in the twentieth century, persons under a certain age (typically eighteen) were formally regarded as unable to commit a serious criminal offense. They might engage in conduct that would be criminal if committed by an adult, but because of their immaturity (and thus their diminished culpability) they were treated differently. Young people were typically held to appear before special juvenile courts, which adjudicated them to be delinquent and, on that basis, specified remedial programs thought to be appropriate. In some instances, juveniles were sent to reformatories for vocational training; more often, they were channeled into some form of community supervision and counseling. In the 1990s, however, the extreme violence of which juveniles proved to be capable prompted many states to subject at least some of them to ordinary criminal charges, trial in ordinary criminal courts, and, if convicted, punishment of the ordinary (enhanced) kind.
The treatment of juveniles as adults also has important effects on the system as a whole. Tens of thousands of teenagers have received lengthy sentences, ostensibly to be served in one of the prisons designed to confine adults. Most penal authorities recognize that young offenders cannot easily be mixed with older convicts and have established special units for teenagers within larger institutions. Yet the length of the sentences imposed on young prisoners guarantees that they will eventually be assimilated into the adult prisoner population.
Expansion of the federal role. The idea that crime is a serious problem has led to the (quite different) idea that it is a national problem as well. Congress has responded by extending federal criminal jurisdiction on a host of fronts. In most instances Congress continues to base federal criminal statutes on its authority to regulate commerce among the states. Yet modern enactments dramatically extend that authority to activities with little demonstrable connection to interstate commerce. Toward the end of the twentieth century Congress enacted federal criminal legislation in virtually every session. Examples include the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1984, the Anti-Drug Abuse Acts of 1968 and 1988, the Crime Control Act of 1990, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. Those statutes did not consolidate federal crimes in a coherent code but rather added numerous freestanding offenses to the sprawling body of federal law. By the year 2000 there were more than three thousand separate federal offenses. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, not only were more activities considered federal crimes than ever, but those crimes, like their state counterparts, typically carried extremely long prison sentences as well.
The federalization of American criminal law has significance for a variety of other governmental agencies and functions. Certainly the growth of federal crimes demands a consequent growth in federal law enforcement agencies and personnel: the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the United States Marshal Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and related organizations. For the first time in its history, the United States has commissioned a powerful central police force. The introduction of federal criminal law into spheres of local affairs also creates conflicts with state authorities. In many instances, suspects can be charged with violating a federal criminal statute, a similar state statute, or both. That overlap demands cooperation between federal and state law enforcement officials that was unnecessary before the 1990s. Federal criminal cases dominate the dockets of federal trial courts, forcing other judicial business to be postponed. The courts, in turn, sentence large numbers of convicts to lengthy terms of imprisonment at federal penal facilities that have no room for them. Thus the federal government, like many states, has launched a major prison-building campaign. Where once the Federal Bureau of Prisons operated only a few federal prisons like Leavenworth and Alcatraz, in 2002 the Bureau controlled 102 institutions.
Regulating corporate behavior. The use of criminal law as a means of regulating corporate behavior is a twentieth-century innovation. So-called white-collar crime, committed by comparatively wealthy people holding positions of trust, has substantial historical footing in American law. In many cases individual perpetrators commit familiar offenses for their own benefit: offenses like embezzlement, tax evasion, and fraud. In other cases, however, corporate officers and employees implicate their companies in criminal offenses like restraints of trade, unlawful manipulations of stocks and bonds, and violations of environmental protection statutes. Corporate crime thrives in the complexities of the modern technological economy and is characteristically difficult to detect and prosecute. The demand for effective enforcement has prompted the federal government to bring its considerable resources to bear on the problem. Congress has enacted a variety of statutes to contend with white-collar and corporate crime, most prominently the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act of 1970.
Individuals convicted of white-collar offenses are sentenced to some form of incarceration at about the same rate that street criminals are sentenced to prison. However, the terms for white-collar criminals are substantially shorter, measured in months rather than years. Of course, corporations cannot be given prison sentences for their crimes (though the individuals who act for corporations certainly can be). Accordingly, corporations are typically fined or subjected to some other form of economic penalty. Some academics contend that it is a mistake to subject corporations to criminal liability at all, because "civil" fines can achieve the same objective: the creation of economic disincentives to behave in a socially disadvantageous way.
Addressing drug problems. The policy of making it a crime to possess, manufacture, or sell hallucinogenic and addictive drugs has contributed significantly to the developing nature of American criminal law. By some accounts the criminalization of drugs increases the price that drug dealers can charge for their product and thus increases the resulting profits. Those high profits, in turn, perversely foster the very behavior that antidrug laws are meant to discourage. Certainly drug dealing has developed into a massive industry, stretching from source points both in this country and in foreign nations (principally South American states) through manufacturing facilities to "retail" sales on the streets. One-third of all state criminal prosecutions are for drug-related offenses, and one-fourth of the inmates serving terms in state prisons are there for possessing or selling drugs. A disproportionate number of those prisoners are young African Americans from inner-city areas.
The criminalization of drugs is also intimately linked with the expanding role of the federal government in crime control. Early in the twentieth century Congress enacted numerous federal criminal statutes regarding drugs, among them the Harrison Narcotic Drug Act of 1914, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, and the Opium Poppy Control Act of 1942. Subsequently, the growth of the drug industry, with its many international connections, prompted Congress to expand the federal "war on drugs" to much larger dimensions. The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 organized federal criminal drug laws, and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 established mandatory minimum prison sentences for many violators. Between 1980 and 1990, when the general rate of criminal prosecutions in the federal courts rose by 69 percent, the rate of federal prosecutions for drug offenses rose by 300 percent. Drug cases in 2000 accounted for nearly half the criminal trials in federal court. The federal government's commitment to antidrug laws generated a corresponding expansion in the federal bureaucracy. The DEA was established in 1973 to take primary responsibility for federal enforcement efforts. Not only the DEA and the FBI but many other agencies (including the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the navy, and the Coast Guard) are also engaged in interdicting the drug trade in this country, in foreign nations, and on the high seas.
All these features of modern criminal law have evoked intense controversy. With the exception of the prosecution of corporate crime, the practical consequence of each development has been the long-term imprisonment of a large and increasing population of Americans, a disproportionate number of whom are young, poor people of color. There is no discounting the profound social (and moral) implications of a system that incarcerates so many of its dispossessed members. Nevertheless, public concerns about crime, particularly violent crime, continue to drive American policy toward more (and more punitive) uses of criminal sanctions.
Blumstein, Alfred, and Joel Wallman, eds. The Crime Drop in America. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Friedman, Lawrence M. Crime and Punishment in American History. New York: Basic Books, 1993.
Geis, Gilbert, and Robert F. Meier, comps. White-Collar Crime: Offenses in Business and the Professions. New York: Free Press, 1977.
Gray, James P. Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs. Philadelphia: Temple University, 2001.
Robinson, Paul H., and John M. Darley. Justice, Liability, and Blame: Community Views and the Criminal Law. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1995.
Silberman, Charles E. Criminal Violence, Criminal Justice. New York: Random House, 1978.
U.S. Department of Justice. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Report to the Nation on Crime and Justice. 2d ed. 2 vols. Washington, D.C.: Justice Statistics Clearinghouse, 1988.
Zimring, Franklin E., and Gordon Hawkins. Crime Is Not the Problem: Lethal Violence in America. New York: Oxford University, 1997.
See alsoAbortion ; Drug Trafficking, Illegal ; Federal Bureau of Investigation ; Justice, Department of ; Juvenile Courts ; Mann Act ; Prohibition ; Salem Witch Trials ; Sherman Antitrust Act ; Volstead Act .
"Crime." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/crime
"Crime." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved October 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/crime
Crime is often defined as "conduct in violation of the criminal laws of a state, of the federal government, or of a local jurisdiction, for which there is no legally acceptable justification or excuse" (Schmalleger 2001, p. 700). Not only is a crime the commission of an act, it can also be an omission of an act, such as the failure to assure that a child has clothing, food, or shelter. In 1999, law enforcement agencies in the United States made approximately fourteen million arrests, excluding traffic violations. The offenses most frequently committed were driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and drug abuse (approximately 1.5 million arrests for each). The second most frequently committed was simple assault (approximately 1.3 million arrests).
Fifty-five percent of all crimes in the United States are committed by people under the age of twenty-five. Individuals in this age group commit approximately 44 percent of all violent crimes and 58 percent of all property crimes. Seventy-eight percent of all people arrested are men.
Crime has many detrimental effects on society. Victims of crime can suffer fear, stress, suicidal thoughts or behaviors, personal financial costs, medical costs, and health problems. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that the cost of crime to victims is approximately $17.6 billion a year. This estimate does not include the direct cost to the criminal justice system to process and punish/rehabilitate offenders.
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), approximately twenty-three million households in the United States are "touched" by crime annually. This represents approximately one-fourth of all homes, resulting in over thirty-one million victims of crime each year. Individuals who live in urban areas are two times more likely to be the victim of crime than are those who live in rural settings. Men are more likely to be the victims of a crime, and younger Americans are more likely than elderly Americans to be victimized.
Of those arrested for violent crimes and street crimes, including predatory crime, the number of African Americans arrested is roughly the same as, or higher than, the number of Caucasians. This is a major concern because African Americans make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population. Approximately 30 percent of African American males aged twenty to twenty-nine are under the control or supervision of the criminal justice system—four times as many as Caucasian men in the same age group.
Not only are African Americans overrepresented among criminal offenders, they are also overrepresented among victims of crime. While Caucasian Americans account for over 80 percent of the people living in the United States, they are the victims in less than 50 percent of the murders committed. According to the NCVS, African Americans are more likely than any other racial group to be victims of violent crimes. One out of every twenty-one African-American males is murdered.
In April 1990, President George Bush signed into law the Hate Crime Statistics Act, which requires that hate-crime data be collected and reported. Congress defines hate crimes as offenses "in which the defendant's conduct was motivated by hatred, bias, or prejudice, based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation of another individual or group of individuals." In 1998 there were approximately 8,000 hate-crime incidents; and racial hatred was the motive in 58 percent of these acts. Most hate crimes are acts of intimidation, vandalism, simple assault, or aggravated assault.
The majority of crimes in the United States occur in poor urban areas, and the majority of crime victims are poor. The NCVS reported in 1998 that violent-crime rates were greater for individuals living in lower-income families than individuals from more affluent homes. This puts a large burden on the health and medical systems in high-crime areas and strains community resources.
The types of crimes that law-enforcement agencies deal with are changing. Crimes such as cybercrimes (computer crimes) and crimes against the elderly are growing. Domestic violence, although always a criminal act, is being reported more frequently, and there are strict laws dealing with such offenses. It has been estimated that in 2001 the United States will spend over eighty billion dollars to finance its criminal justice system.
Tammy A. King
(see also: Domestic Violence: Fraud and Misrepresentation; Gun Control; Homicide; Prostitution; Violence )
Brownstein, H. H. (2000). The Social Reality of Violence and Violent Crime. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (2000). Uniform Crime Reports, 1999. Washington, DC: United States Department of Justice. Available at http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/htm.
Klaus, P. A. (1994). The Costs of Crime to Victims. Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief. Annapolis Junction, MD: BJS Clearinghouse.
Bureau of Justice Statistics (1998). National Crime Victimization Survey. Washington, DC: BJS.
Schmalleger, F. (2001). Criminal Justice Today. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
"Crime." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/crime
"Crime." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . Retrieved October 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/crime
For crime to be known as such it must come to the notice of, and be processed through, an administrative system or enforcement agency. It must be reported and recorded by the police (or other investigator); it may then become part of the criminal statistics; may or may not be investigated; and may or may not result in a court case. Thus, recorded crime-rates are socially constructed, and also leave out hidden crime. The latter can include, for example, unreported instances of domestic violence, of attacks on ethnic minorities, indecent assault, and rape. Self-report studies of those involved in delinquency and criminality have confirmed that a large proportion of such behaviour is not officially recorded. A more recent wave of studies of victims of crime has also supported the view that the hidden crime figure is very large. One could also include here various forms of economic crime, from workplace theft to large-scale fraud, industrial pollution, and contravention of health and safety legislation, all of which may not be officially recorded as crime but, according to some criminologists, contribute significantly to the hidden crime that affects society. What some have termed victimless crimes or crimes without victims (for example those involving drugs, prostitution, and illegal gambling) may break laws but go unreported because those involved enter into a form of agreement and support the transaction (see E. Schur , Crimes Without Victims, 1965
A legal definition of crime may therefore not be sufficient. What a society defines as crime is socially constructed and highly relative. Its definition and accepted aetiology (or cause) can be influenced by ideas of morality (in relation to responsibility), and by religious faith (the sinful nature of crime), as well as competing scientific claims as to its origins.
The perpetration of crime can be an individual act or be talked of in organizational terms (see M. McIntosh , The Organization of Crime, 1975
). The concept can also be loosely applied to actions which offend against a set of principles but which do not necessarily involve the breaking of a law—such as, for example, crimes of the powerful and crimes of the state. States can, of course, use the category crime and the criminal law for their own political purposes: exceptions to and expansions of the law can quickly be introduced in times of national emergency or in the interests of the state. The example of Nazi Germany provides a clear illustration of this process. Some anthropological and sociological studies would suggest that adopting a definition of crime derived from law, legitimated by the state, and administered by a bureaucracy, is ethnocentric and narrow, and that a wider consideration of the breaking of norms and the exercise of social control in simpler societies without formal law is illuminating. See also BROKEN WINDOWS THESIS; CORPORATE CRIME; INDEX CRIME; WHITE-COLLAR CRIME.
"crime." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/crime
"crime." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Retrieved October 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/crime
Anglo-Saxon law codes suggest a restitutive system, essentially a regulation of the feud. Post-Conquest England experienced a growing criminal justice system, the reign of Henry II (1154–89) providing the most durable elements. Interpreting the level and nature of medieval crime is difficult. There were criminal gangs who at times indulged in outright banditry, but criminal prosecutions in the 14th cent. suggest a more modern criminality in some areas, with theft as the most prominent offence. Certainly, although rates of homicide were high in the Middle Ages, the paradigm of a long-term shift from a ‘feudal’ criminality characterized by violence to a ‘modern’ criminality based on property crime remains unproven.
Record survival permits more systematic work from the 1550s, which has centred mainly on the study of felony (a category which includes serious offences such as homicide, burglary, theft, rape, and arson). Prosecution of these offences (especially property offences) reached peaks, according to region, in the late 1590s (a period of bad harvests) and the 1620s, a decade which experienced severe social and economic problems. When the running of criminal courts was resumed after the civil wars, however, levels of prosecuted felonies were low, and remained so until the mid-18th cent., when a resumption of population growth and the economic dislocation which attended the arrival of the industrial revolution caused them to rise.
During the early 19th cent. levels of crime rose alarmingly. Mass demobilization of soldiers and sailors after 1815 caused a crime wave, as had happened at the end of every war in the 18th cent., and this continued as industrialization and urbanization burgeoned. It was in the early 19th cent. that crime was identified as a social problem in the modern sense. The period saw the origins of criminology as a discipline, the introduction of national crime statistics, the emergence of such concepts as juvenile delinquency, and of professional police forces and prison as the standard punishment for serious offenders. With the emergence of some level of economic stability, and especially of improved living standards among the working classes, levels of prosecution dropped slightly in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. From the 1950s, however, levels of prosecution increased, and continued to do so alarmingly over recent decades.
J. A. Sharpe
"crime." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/crime
"crime." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved October 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/crime
See also 239. LAW ; 335. PUNISHMENT ; 391. THEFT .
- abetment, abettal
- the act of abetting or inciting another to commit a crime. —abettor, abetter , n.
- the condition of having two spouses simultaneously. —bigamist , n. —bigamous , adj.
- the practice of smuggling. —contrabandist , n.
- a person who practices or advocates corruption, especially in politics or public life.
- the scientific study of crime and criminals. —criminologist , n. —criminologic, criminological , adj.
- 1. unauthorized appropriation of money; embezzlement.
- 2. the sum embezzled.
- Obsolete, the act of stealing or embezzling.
- disseizin, disseisin
- the process of wrongfully or unlawfully dispossessing a person of his rightful real property.
- the crime of attempting to influence or suborn a judge or jury by bribery, threats, etc.
- a person who practices the crime of extortion or the obtaining of money by threat of violence. Also extortioner .
- fleeing from justice, as by a criminal.
- the world of gangs or organized crime.
- petty dishonesty or fraud. —knave , n. —knavish , adj.
- wrongdoing or improper or dishonest conduct, especially by a person who holds public office or a position of trust. Cf. misfeasance . —malfeasant , adj.
- fraudulent behavior, extortion, or corruption by a person who holds public office or a position of trust.
- Law. an intentional crippling, disfigurement, or mutilation of another.
- criminal action or behavior; wrong- or evil-doing. —miscreant , n., adj.
- a form of wrongdoing, especially the doing of something lawful in an unlawful way so that the rights of others are infringed. Cf. malfeasance . —misfeasor , n.
- improper conduct or neglectful behavior, especially by a person who holds public office.
- the practice of being a police spy. —mouchard , n.
- penitence, penitency
- the state or condition of regretting crimes or offenses and being willing to atone for them. —penitent , n., adj.
- 1. the science of the punishment of crime.
- 2. the science of the management of prisons. —penologist , n.
- the condition of having more than two spouses simultaneously. —polygamist , n. —polygamous , adj.
- a repeated relapsing into criminal or delinquent behavior. —recidivist , n. —recidivistic, recidivous , adj.
- Archaic. roguish or criminal behavior or action; conduct deserving of hanging.
- a detailed description of a person for purposes of identification by police.
- underhanded, dishonest, or deceptive behavior or actions.
- the condition of having three spouses simultaneously. —trigamous , adj.
- the actions of an Irish secret society (circa 1832) whose members committed murders and other crimes. —Whitefoot , n.
"Crime." -Ologies and -Isms. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/crime
"Crime." -Ologies and -Isms. . Retrieved October 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/crime
crime / krīm/ • n. an action or omission that constitutes an offense that may be prosecuted by the state and is punishable by law: shoplifting was a serious crime. ∎ illegal activities: the victims of crime. ∎ an action or activity that, although not illegal, is considered to be evil, shameful, or wrong: they condemned apartheid as a crime against humanity. .
"crime." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/crime-1
"crime." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved October 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/crime-1
See also poverty is not a crime.
"crime." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/crime
"crime." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved October 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/crime
So criminal XV. — late L. crīminālis.
"crime." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/crime-2
"crime." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved October 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/crime-2
"crime." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/crime
"crime." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/crime
"crime." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/crime-0
"crime." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved October 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/crime-0