Textbook on Criminology

In 1995 writer and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was found guilty of involvement in four murders and subsequently executed in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Mr. Saro-Wiwa insisted he was framed because of his opposition to the oil industry in the Niger-Delta region. He said the case was designed to prevent members of his tribe, the ogoni, from stopping pollution of their homeland and getting a fair share of oil profits. Conversely, the Nobel peace Prize 2000 was awarded to Kim Dae Jung for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.

Most responsible members of society would without question agree that the Turkish genocide of at least a million Armenians, the Holocaust against six million Jews, the mass political killings in East Timor and Uganda, the 'autogenocide' in Cambodia and the 'ethnic cleansing' in Bosnia have all been atrocious crimes but would these same people so readily apply the term crime to the genetically modifying of crops or mandatory taking of DNA samples – doubtful.

It is also worth mentioning that to return to the question of terminology raised earlier there is no logical reason why the identity of the offender should be assumed to be citizen against citizen rather than state against citizen. The long proposed introduction of a national database of DNA samples is one human rights issue under current debate, although not of global proportion nor as dramatic, horror filled or appalling as genocide or mass political killings brings discontentment and disagreement from some and complacency and apathy from others.

The positive view being the most immediately obvious, why not if you have nothing to hide? If it helps save just one life/bring one more rapist or murderer to justice then it must surely be a good thing? Others could quite reasonably argue that it would be a direct violation of their human rights where the ramifications could be quite horrific if through human error innocent people were convicted of heinous crimes and subsequently incarcerated. They may also be concerned that allowing this seemingly innocuous sampling may lead to further violations of their human rights.

With human rights explore albeit briefly should this subject (in its' entirety) be included in the definition of crime? The Marxian theory of criminal law – For Marx there were two main groups in society, the Bourgeoisie or owners of the means of production and the Proletariat, those who had only their labour to offer or sell. In the first half of the nineteenth century Marx was already predicting a collapse of the existing idea of social order. He saw this decline as an unavoidable aspect of a capitalist society.

Labour and capital were obviously divided very unfairly and this would lead, through conflict, to the otherthrow of capitalist ideals. Put into criminological terms those who form powerful groups and/or those who have vested interests create laws which benefit some groups and are detrimental to others. An important force behind the creation of criminal law is doubtless the economic interest and political power of social classes who either own or control the resources of society or occupy positions of authority.

Today, we are taught that we live in a democracy but whilst it remains a statistic that 10% of the population own 90% of the wealth, is this really the case? There are many recent cases where these statistics are proven. In the US, new laws were created in an attempt to control the distribution of amphetamine drugs, however, analysis of the legislative process has also shown how the owners of the means of production (in this case the large pharmaceutical companies) were involved in writing or lobbying for laws which affect their profits.

James M Graham investigates this further in his book 'Profit at all costs – amphetamine profits on Capitol Hill'. Gabriel Kolko's studies of the creation of laws controlling the meat packaging and railroad industries in the US have also shown how the largest corporations in these industries were actively involved in a campaign for federal control meaning increased profits for large manufacturers and industrialists.

Through power, influence and massive wealth large organisations are able to be active in writing legislation and lobbying for new laws, these owners of the means of production serve to empower themselves, amassing huge personal fortunes for their Chairmen and Directors. Simultaneously keeping the labourers at a social and economic level where they can to a certain extent be controlled.

It is therefore only through organised groups, public support and lobbying that they can be heard and hope to bring about changes to legislation that benefit all of society, although generally they are less successful than the wealthy owners due to their lack of social standing. Bonger who along with Marx, Turk and Quinney is known as a conflict theorist, actually argued that crime arose out of the dehumanising effect of capitalism whilst Turk considered it to be explained by the different social and cultural norms within a society which makes the actions of some necessarily criminal.

Quinney spoke of the way in which crime was politicised. i. e. crime was the way in which the powerless could express their dissatisfaction with the political system and try to bring about change. Even today statistics show that 50% of crime is committed by 5% of offenders and almost 90% of those offenders are male, with low means tested intelligence and from poor economic circumstances. In fact a Home Office report in 1995 stated that one third of all males have a conviction for a relatively serious by the time they are 30.

These statistics could however be distorted, as perhaps those with the financial means that afford them the services of a top barrister will be less likely to receive a conviction. Another consideration is that more resources go towards policing crimes such as theft and assault than white collar crimes such as fraud.


Textbook on Criminology – Katherine S Wiliams Criminological Perspectives – Muncie, McLaughlin and Langan