Crime: Normal, Moral, Profitable

Food for Thought: Durkheim

The term “social fact” became prominent through the work of French Sociologist Emile Durkheim. According to Durkheim, social facts are “ways of acting, thinking, and feeling, external to the individual, and endowed with the power of coercion, by reason of which they control him.” (Pavlich, 74) Notably, he contends that law and crime are social facts, which are “’visible symbol[s]’ of social solidarity” or collectivity (Pavlich, 79). Durkheim postulates that crime is a normal and necessary phenomenon in social life, as it is essential to establishing normalcy and morality. Without it, we would not be able to distinguish between criminal and normal actions (Pavlich, 79-80). But beyond establishing normalcy and morality, one can argue that crime serves another purpose in society – it is profitable.

In Durkheim’s division of labour, he contends that modern solidarity emerges from differences. That is, we become increasingly dependent on each other’s expertise to function. He calls this organic solidarity (Pavlich, 75-77). Unlike the repressive law of the past, Durkheim notes that modern society has moved towards restitutive law. Modern society is characterised by a weak collective conscience, in which citizens are asked to obey laws or pay restitution for breaking them. Ultimately, we rely upon the criminal justice system to enforce law and morality. Thus, because we are so reliant on law officials – that is, police, judges, lawyers, prison officials, etc. – we keep them employed. So, crime is not only profitable for offenders, but also for officials. One such example of the criminal justice system finding crime profitable is the so-called “prison-industrial complex.”

In America today, private prisons are big business. Like many other corporations, they have sought to lobby government officials, who stiffen laws and sentences in their favour. The more Americans that are incarcerated in their prisons, the higher the profits. Thus, there is always an incentive to incarcerate more of the general population. For example, in many instances, we see that drug laws are used to prosecute many petty drug users. Yet, corporations are not the only ones who rely on crime from profits, governments rely on it too.

In Canada, each municipality and province relies on taxes and fines for revenue. In recent years, as the cost of governmental responsibilities increase, we have seen municipalities ramping up their efforts to bring in revenue by issuing fines. One such example recently happened in Edmonton, Alberta, where police issued over 6, 000 traffic tickets during Thanksgiving weekend. So, as we can see from these examples and others, crime not only establishes normalcy and morality, it is also a part of our economy.

More on the Prison-Industrial Complex:

– Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prison%E2%80%93industrial_complex

– RT America: http://youtu.be/mZ3oJGqr6ls

More on Municipalities Issuing Tickets:

– Edmonton: http://www.inews880.com/news/edmonton/story.aspx?ID=1788652

– Yukon: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/story/2012/10/10/north-yukon-operation-impact-tickets.html

References

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Crime: Normal, Moral, Profitable

  1. This post touches on important issues. It is great to see someone raising the issue of crime control as an economic engine. I have conducted research on this issue. In a 2008 article, I noted that:

    The New York Stock Exchange ticker symbol ‘CXW’ currently trades at $45.20 per share, only a few dollars less than Wal-Mart’s $47.78 share price. Investors who own shares of ‘CXW’, if they know the nature of the company they have invested in, should feel elated when they hear news about America’s rising incarceration rate and growing criminal population. While some might interpret such news as symptoms of profound problems within the social fabric of the country, to the investors in the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, CXW on the stock exchange), it means an expanding market and a probable increase in profits. CCA is a leader in the private corrections industry, one of the pioneers of privatized incarceration who recognized the potential money to be made by capitalizing on the United States’ turn towards mass incarceration.
    Scandinavian criminologist Nils Christie (2002) describes CCA as a component of the emergent ‘crime control industry’, and cultural theorist Henry Giroux (2005) suggests that it is part of an expanding ‘military-prison-industrial-complex’. Both descriptions are accurate, and both Christie and Giroux recognize that the ‘bull market in corrections’ (Adams, 1996) that emerged in the United States in the 1980s and has since grown and expanded internationally is the product of a particular set of social and economic conditions, broadly understood as neoliberalism.

    “Crime control as industry”, as Nils Christie describes it, presents a challenge to Durkheim’s sociology of law. If the criminal sanction is not a manifestation of the ‘conscience collective’, but instead a practice subject to the supply and demand laws of the market, then ‘criminalizable acts’ become resources to be exploited.

    This would be an interesting term paper topic.

    Of interest:

    Critical Resistance, a California-based group active in opposition to the prison industrial complex: http://criticalresistance.org/

    My journal, the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, which regularly features prisoner-authored articles that critique the prison industrial complex: http://www.jpp.org/

    Nils Christie’s Crime Control as Industry: http://www.amazon.com/Crime-Control-Industry-Nils-Christie/dp/0415234875