The Crime Complex

With a new president in office, it is important to be reminded of the economic and political factors that increase crime and violence in America.

Merlene's Memos

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The Crime Complex

by Merlene Reynolds

New crime control strategies are rooted in a reactionary thematization produced not just by crime; but by the whole reactionary culture and politics. The primary themes of these new strategies of crime control are expressive, punitive, victim-centered and politicized efforts to control the attitudes and behaviors in a high crime society. The liberation dynamic of the 1960’s ‘late modernity’ emphasized freedom, openness, mobility, and tolerance; whereas, the reactionary culture stresses control, closure, confinement and condemnation (Garland, 2001, pp. 165; 198).

The widespread feeling that crime and violence are rapidly spinning out of control contributes to the reactionary behaviors of citizens and government authorities. Even during the good times of economic growth and higher standards of living, explains Garland (2000), “there is every sign that the shift towards punitive justice and a security build-up is continuing unabated” (p. 203). The “unabated” shift towards punitive…

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Crime Policy and the American Ideology

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My vision of an ideal crime policy is one that supports and upholds the Constitution of the United States and the U.S. Bill of Rights by preserving the American ideology that all men are created equal and, thus, are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights with the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.

The balance of power would be maintained in thought and deed without loss of integrity by either individual or state. Justice for one and all would be chanted and sung in the streets. The scales of justice would weigh equally with criminal and victim. Due process of law would be exercised without excessive bail or fines imposed. Cruel and unusual punishments would be forbidden.

            The ideal crime policy would definitely include specific mention of the eighth article of the U.S. Bill of Rights ensuring that in all criminal prosecutions:

“The accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence”.

            Cost-saving measures and other fiscal shortcuts would not be allowed if they infringe on an individual’s dignity or the judicial process. Fiduciary responsibility remains integral.

Any crime policy would also include specific mention of the fourth article of the U.S. Bill of Rights in order to preserve the right of the people to keep and bear arms. In an ideal world, this right would never be infringed upon with gun control laws.

            The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses and papers against unreasonable searches and seizures by government is also of utmost importance. Thus, the sixth article of the Bill of Rights would be upheld in any crime policy. Self-defense from any enemy whether foreign or domestic or even one’s own spouse is also a God-given right that no government can deny.

            When in the Course of human events, “it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation” (United States. The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. Kindle Edition, 2016).

Merlene’s Memos (2016)

The Crime Complex

merlene_blkhat_thinker_bw

The Crime Complex

by Merlene Reynolds

New crime control strategies are rooted in a reactionary thematization produced not just by crime; but by the whole reactionary culture and politics. The primary themes of these new strategies of crime control are expressive, punitive, victim-centered and politicized efforts to control the attitudes and behaviors in a high crime society. The liberation dynamic of the 1960’s ‘late modernity’ emphasized freedom, openness, mobility, and tolerance; whereas, the reactionary culture stresses control, closure, confinement and condemnation (Garland, 2001, pp. 165; 198).

The widespread feeling that crime and violence are rapidly spinning out of control contributes to the reactionary behaviors of citizens and government authorities. Even during the good times of economic growth and higher standards of living, explains Garland (2000), “there is every sign that the shift towards punitive justice and a security build-up is continuing unabated” (p. 203). The “unabated” shift towards punitive justice is cause for alarm. Heightened security is never good.

High crime societies are characterized by a distinctive cluster of attitudes, beliefs and assumptions which creates the development of a ‘crime complex’ producing a series of psychological and social effects that exert an influence upon politics and policy (Garland, 2001, p. 164). Citizens become crime conscious, attuned to the crime problem, and may exhibit high levels of fear and anxiety (Garland, 2001, p. 164). This cultural formation, states Garland (2001), is distinguished by the following characteristics:

  1. High crime rates are regarded as a normal social fact;
  2. Emotional investment in crime is widespread and intense, encompassing elements of fascination as well as fear, anger and resentment;
  3. Crime issues are politicized and regularly represented in emotive terms;
  4. Concerns about victims and public safety dominate public policy;
  5. The criminal justice state is viewed as inadequate or ineffective;
  6. Private, defensive routines are widespread and there is a large market in private security;
  7. A crime consciousness is institutionalized in the media, popular culture and the built environment policy (p. 163).

High crime rates combined with societal insecurities heightens anxiety and increases tension in an already high-stress, high-technology, profit-driven environment with daily demands compounded by mergers and acquisitions at the corporate level and additional legislation at the government level. Injustice is experienced at many levels in many forms provoking daily frustrations and potential outbursts at an individual level causing escalated fear, anxiety and other emotional responses that potentially evoke outrage and action at massive scales. These same fears and anxieties operate at an individual level and, thus, fuel the collective national consciousness from one end of the spectrum to the other prompting populist politicians and politicizing presidents to contribute to the reactionary thematization with campaign slogans and promises to provide change. Reactionary thinking promulgated through mass communication creates a vicious cycle that degrades and demoralizes the collective consciousness of a society. Ye reap what ye sow.

The distinct cluster of attitudes, assumptions and beliefs that characterize the ‘complex of crime’ phenomena permeates through society creating volatile reactions on the street and at the desk. The reactionary thematization is further distributed in various forms and formats from social media to mass communication with politicians and reporters producing massive amounts of information with innate biases and preconceived perceptions. The words, pictures and meanings change in intonation and connotation. The advertisers promote the current theme and consumers pay the price.

Realist criminology asserts that relative deprivation in certain conditions is the major cause of crime (Beirne & Messerschmidt, 2000, p. 231). When people experience a level of unfairness in their allocation of resources and utilize individualist means to correct the situation, it is a reaction to the experience of injustice (Beirne & Messerschmidt, 2000, p. 231). The experience of injustice provokes an “everyman for himself” attitude which is prevalent in the United States (Beirne & Messerschmidt, 2000, p. 231).

Corporations, as another example, are inherently crimogenic because of the intrinsic aspects of profit-making and the obstacles a corporation must overcome to achieve its primary goal (Beirne & Messerschmidt, 2000, p. 447). The fundamental social structure of the United States is thus equally crimogenic due to its intrinsic aspects of rebellion and defense which comprises the collective consciousness of the American citizen. Governments are thus inherently crimogenic due to the obstacles a government must overcome to achieve its primary objective of maintaining peace and goodwill for mankind while simultaneously collecting enough revenue to do so.

The comparative perspective of criminology identifies five factors that distinguish the social structure of the United States from ‘comparable societies’ and considers its social structure a contributing factor to its high crime rate (Beirne & Messerschmidt, 2000, p. 501). These five factors are:

  1. The United States has had one of the highest rates of structural unemployment since 1945.
  2. The United States has the largest underclass of persons economically, socially, and politically discriminated against because of race and ethnic background.
  3. The United States has inferior support systems of welfare, social security, health, and education.
  4. The extreme commercialization of U.S. capitalism provides incentives and motivations to circumvent acceptable (namely, legal) means of achievement.
  5. The U.S. criminal justice system is one of the most punitive control mechanisms in the world (Beirne & Messerschmidt, 2000, p. 501).

Economic and political factors have historically influenced the levels and types of crime committed. The quality of work is a consistent influence on the street crime, particularly in lower- and working class communities (Beirne & Messerschmidt, 2000, p. 446). The oil crisis of the 1970s ushered in a period of economic recession and political instability throughout the Western industrialized nations (Garland, 2001, p. 81). From the 1970s onwards, the labour markets became increasingly precarious and ‘dualized’, explains Garland (2001), and “the life-time job security that industries and the public sector had offered in the post-war years became a thing of the past as workers were forced to become mobile, more willing to develop transferrable skills, more used to retraining and relocating” (p. 82). Employees had to be flexible in response to managements’ constantly changing priorities, deadlines and stated objectives. Corporate America reflects this same type of reactionary thinking in its policies and practices which was seen when it implemented crisis management in its daily operations and, then, boasted about it.

The specific policies and practices that have emerged “are adaptations to the world in which crime control now operates and to the practical predicaments that this world creates” (Garland, 2001, p. 194). The risky, insecure character of today’s social and economic relations is the social surface that gives rise to our newly emphatic, overreaching concern with control (Garland, 2001, p. 194); and, the urgency with which we do so. It is the American mentality and the everyday circumstances that prompts our obsessive attempts to monitor individuals, to isolate dangerous populations, and to impose situational controls (Garland, 2001, p. 194). The desire for security, orderliness, and control, for the management of risk and the taming of chance, according to Garland (2001), is an underlying theme in any culture (p. 194). However, in Britain and America, “that theme has become a more dominant one, with immediate consequences for those caught up in its repressive demands, and more diffuse, corrosive effects for the rest of us” (Garland, 2001, p.194).

Control is now being re-emphasized “in every area of social life – with the singular and startling exception of the economy” (Garland, 2001, p. 195). The “capitalist rationality outlived the spiritual vocation that originally gave it impetus and meaning” (Garland, 2001, p. 204). The new culture of crime control, explains Garland (2001), was born of the fears and anxieties of the late twentieth century and could well continue long after its originating conditions have ceased to exist (p. 204).

If late modern societies are to uphold the ideals of democracy, equal rights for all, and a minimum of economic security for the whole population, states Garland (2001), “they will need to ensure that moral regulation and social control are extended to the mainstream processes of economic decision-making and market allocation – not confined to the world of offenders and claimants” (Garland, 2001, p. 203).

High crime societies, such as the United States, are particularly vulnerable to the phenomena of the crime complex. The psychological and social effects that influence politics and policy needs to be met with caution to prevent further erosion of human rights and civil liberties that ironically were diminished not just by governments acting alone or by extremist groups seeking radical changes; but, instead, were inspired and laws subsequently enacted by the voting American public. We did it to ourselves and continue to repeat the same errors of thought. We are reactionary by nature. Reactionary thinking promulgated through mass communication creates a vicious cycle that degrades and demoralizes the collective consciousness of a society. Ye reap what ye sow.

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References

Bierne, P. & Messerschmidt, J. (2000). Criminology. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Garland, D. (2001). The culture of control: Crime and social order in contemporary society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Copyright 2016 Merlene’s Memos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crime and Violence in America

Merlene_2014_Fedora_BlkWhiteThe United States is a violent society. It is thoroughly violent, even, ironically, in its response to crime (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000). The United States has both the highest rate of violent crime and the highest rate of incarceration of all industrial nations (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000). Approximately 2 million people are victimized by violent crime every year, according to Bierne & Messerschmidt (2000). Simple assault is the most common type of workforce violence with the majority of offenses against strangers (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000). The United States also has a higher level of interpersonal violence than any other country (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000). Routine activities theory shows that high crime rates have become a normal part of life in the United States (see Garland, 1999) (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000). Punitive control and high rates of violent crime are both symptoms of the same problem (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000).

High rates of violence are ignited due to excessive punitive and social control. Stricter discipline (including corporal punishment) may actually encourage delinquency (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000). Stricter discipline, explains the liberal critics of control theory, neither deters nor controls delinquency (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000). Instead, stricter discipline teaches children that physical force is the appropriate way to solve interpersonal problems (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000).

Durkheim identified the sociological links among crime, law, punishment, and social organization (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000). Durkheim demonstrated that in any given society the amount and the types of crime relate directly to the basic ways in which that society is organized (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000). He further stated that crime must be explained sociologically rather than in terms of an individual’s psychological state or biological nature (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000). Crime must be viewed in the political, social and economic environment in which it occurred. The context of the crime is critical.

High violent crime rates in the United States, argue other critics of control theory, do not have to do with lax social control but, instead, have much to do with the “logic of free economic enterprise and its unfortunate consequences” (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000, p. 169). The unfortunate consequences, according to Elliot Currie (1997) as stated by Bierne & Messerschmidt (2000), include:

  • the progressive destruction of jobs and livelihood
  • the growth of extremes of economic inequality and material deprivation
  • the withdrawal of public services and supports, especially for families and children
  • the erosion of informal and communal networks of mutual support, supervision, and care
  • the spread of materialistic, neglectful, and “hard” culture
  • the unregulated marketing of the technology of violence, and
  • the weakening of social and political alternatives (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000).

Adolphe Quetelet (1796—1874) held similar views and considered crime as a constant and inevitable feature of social organization (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000). In addition, Quetelet further claimed that society itself caused crime (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000). Quetelet’s intuition that society somehow caused crime was a profound theoretical departure from the crude realism of public opinion and classical criminology (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000). Notably, Quetelet’s theory is similar to the social learning theory which states that “social behavior is a cognitive process in which personality and environment interact reciprocally” (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000, p. 209). Individuals and society, therefore, are interdependent with the state holding the power and authority over the actions, behaviors and consequences imposed on members of society. Thus, a social contract is formed with an intrinsic obligation on both parties that they be fair and just in the government of the people. This social contract asserts that society is held together by a contract between citizens and property owners. The fulfillment of this contract requires a governmental authority (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000). The state’s ability to impose ‘law and order’, explains Garland (2001), came to be viewed not as a hostile and threatening power but as a contractual obligation owed by a democratic government to its law-abiding citizens (Garland, 2001). Crime, therefore, is likely to occur when the social bonds between an individual and society are weakened or severed (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000).

The causes of crime are still speculative with theorists debating the most probable influences or causations. The incontestable social fact, however, is that the growth of crime in the two decades after 1960 was massive (Garland, 2001). Furthermore, for some sections of the population, ‘deviance’ came to be a badge of freedom and ‘conformity’ a sign of dull, normalized repression (Garland, 2001). The type of criminal changed from the needy delinquent to the more threatening crack heads, thugs, and predators (Garland, 2001). Worsening street crime, urban race riots, anti-war demonstrations and political assassinations reshaped the attitudes of the middle-American public in the 1960s (Garland, 2001).

Despite the increasingly high-crime rates, the larger concern is the reactionary laws that have been enacted with legislators, particularly in the USA – now on a ‘war footing’ with respect to crime and exercise direct control over sentencing levels (Garland, 2001). The system is set up to produce an instant response to public outrage while simultaneously demonstrating that the state is in control and is willing to exercise its powers to uphold ‘law and order’ to protect the law-abiding public (Garland, 2001). Law making, thus, became a matter of retaliatory gestures intended to reassure a worried public without addressing the underlying problem (Garland, 2001). Punitive force against individuals is used to repress any acknowledgement of the state’s inability to control crime to acceptable levels (Garland, 2001).

Some of the key developments of the 1980s and 1990s have been political attempts to recover public confidence following the discrediting of adaptive strategies that become a source of political embarrassment (Garland, 2001). “A willingness to deliver harsh punishments to convicted offenders magically compensates a failure to delivery security to the population at large” (Garland, 2001, p. 134). One such embarrassment was the re-appearance of ‘negative growth’ which exposed the underlying problems of the UK and US economies and opened them up to harsh competition from newly developing economies abroad (Garland, 2001).

These economics hardships combined with the current social tensions further complicates the daily routines of the average American by adding stress and strain to the individual. Institutionalizing additional social controls through policies and informal practices does not reduce criminal activity or prevent crime; instead, it fuels the emotions of the stressful public prompting fear, panic and anger in an already volatile society. Punitive control and high rates of violent crime are both symptoms of the same problem (Bierne & Messerschmidt, 2000).

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References

Bierne, P. & Messerschmidt, J. (2000). Criminology. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Garland, D. (2001). The culture of control: Crime and social order in contemporary society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Copyright 2016 Merlene’s Memos

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