The powerful refers to the influential people in our societies, the wealthy, rich and those individuals who hold key positions of leadership. They may also be people who own or manage large corporations. The type of people cannot be exempted from crime and thus they commit crime at varying level. In some cases it is important to note that some of their crimes go unexecuted which raises a lot of public concerns.
Crimes of the powerful according to are defined as offenses committed by influential persons or groups in society (Vito, Maahs & Holmes pg. 400)1. These offenses are often characterized as organized, white collar and enterprise crime. Vito, Maahs & Holmes (pg. 400)2 mentioned that in addition to the fact that both organized crime groups and white collar criminals have power they share other common characteristics. These group of individual's first struggle for economic control of financial markets both legally and illegally.
They also desire monopolistic control of a market so that they can control prices. Vito, Maahs & Holmes indicated that they work to circumvent not only criminal law but also government regulations that are aimed at governing the market and protecting consumers (pg.400)3. In addition it has been noted that the crime that they commit are costly to the society in the aspects pertaining human and financial terms. Also their goal is to accumulate wealth and exercise power for the benefit of the organization and its members, regardless of the cost to (1) others in the society (pg. 400)4.
Criminologists devote their attention to a number of important themes and concepts which include the use and misuse of power or the ability of person and groups to determine and control the behavior of others and to shape public opinion to meet their personal interests (Siegel, pg. 234)5. It is often noted that those in power shape the content of the law and therefore it comes (2) as no surprise that their behavior is often exempt from legal sanctions. According to Siegel (pg.234)6 those who deserve the most severe sanctions that is the category of wealthy white collar criminals whose crimes cost society millions of dollars usually receive lenient punishments while those whose relatively minor crimes are committed out of economic necessity petty thieves and drug dealers receive stricter penalties especially if they are minority group members who lack social and economic power (Siegel, pg.234)7.
In addition Stout, Yates & Williams stated that the definition of crime and correspondingly the boundaries of criminology are problematic (pg. 4)8. A more critical perspective sees crime as narrowly defined by governments who represent the interests of powerful groups in the society rather than as a reflection of consensus. Legal parameters of crime should not be given for example harms caused by powerful corporations, whose actions fall within governmentally defined criminality (Stout, Yates & Williams, pg.4)9. Crimes committed (3) by those in positions are not considered in the much broader context of the much harm that threaten and damage people's lives including pollutions of air, water or food, poverty, exploitation and abuse by powerful industrial and commercial interests.
Crime impacts disproportionately on vulnerable and disadvantaged communities who are also most at risk of other social harms and from the crimes of the powerful. Stout, Yates & Williams continues to say that "the crimes of the powerful and the processes of criminalization impact unfairly on disadvantaged communities" (pg. 4)10. They continue to mention that while crimes committed by those in leadership positions or by powerful business interests, they cost far more than street crimes and they are much less likely to be the subject of research.
The public in many countries question the role criminologists play in supporting the status quo and aiding in the oppression of the poor and powerless. Siegel notes that "criminologists may spend their time creating effective crime control mechanisms that swell the nation's prisons with indigent and desperate people while corporate executives make good profits" (pg. 234)11. He continues to indicate that crime is a political concept designed to protect the power and position of the upper classes at the expense of the poor.
The nature of a society controls the direction of its criminality; criminals are not social misfits but products of the society and economic system. This analysis of crime tells us that powerful criminals are not a group of outsiders who can be controlled by increased law enforcement. Siegel says that in our advanced technological society, those with economic and political power control the definition of crime and the manner in which the criminal justice system enforce the law (pg.
It is important to understand that the only crimes available to the poor are severely sanctioned street crimes; rape, murder, theft and mugging. Siegel continues to say that members (4) of the middle class cheat on their taxes and engage in petty corporate crime acts that generate social disapproval but are rarely punished severely (pg. 235)13. On the other hand statistics show that the wealthy are involved in acts that should be described as crime but are not such as racism, sexism and profiteering (Siegel, pg. 235)14.
The wealthy and rich are insulated from street crime because they live in areas far removed from crime while those in power use the fear of crime as a tool to maintain their control over the society. Siegel "established that the poor are controlled through incarceration and the middle class is diverted from caring about the crimes of the powerful by their fear of the crimes of the powerful" (pg. 234)15.
Jewkes & Letherby says that serious crimes are pathological which has been the favorite explanatory imagery of mainstream positivistic criminology (pg. 85)16. However if we focus on serious crimes being committed by the people who are respectable, well-educated, wealthy and socially privileged then the imagery of pathology seems harder to accept. The powerful persons commit crimes for rational, albeit disreputable motives which emerge under conditions that render conformity a relatively unrewarding activity for the society (Jewkes & Letherby, pg. 85)17.
Studies as indicated by Jewkes & Letherby show that to a certain extent being "a fair (5) reflection of those behaviors objectively causing us collectively the most avoidable suffering, criminal law categories are artful, creative constructs designed to criminalize only some victimizing behaviors, usually those more frequently committed by the powerful against subordinates" (pg. 85)18.
They continue to indicate that as such criminal law categories are resources, tools, instruments, designed and then used to criminalize, demoralize, incapacitate, fracture and sometimes eliminate those problem populations perceived by the powerful to be potentially or actually threatening the existing distribution of power, wealth and privilege. The people who hold key positions constitute one and only one way by which social control over subordinate but resisting populations is exercised.
Some legislation reflects temporary victories of one interest or allied groups over others and none of these are identical or coincide with the interest of the ruling class. Jewkes & Letherby the above argument does not demand or predict that every criminal law directly represents the interests of the ruling class (pg. 85)19.
It is important to note that some laws are passed purely as symbolic victories which the dominant class grants to inferior interest groups, basically to keep them quiet and once they are passed they need never be efficiently or systematically enforced. The ruling class is forced into a tactical retreat by organized subordinate groups and the resulting shifts in criminal law enshrine a (6) broader spectrum of interests (Jewkes & Letherby, pg. 87)20.
Powerful groups have ways and means of clawing back the spoils of tactical defeats. Jewkes & Letherby further notes that some criminal laws are in the interests of the dominant class while others which are not in these interests are ineffectively enforced, thus making them dead letter laws, it still remains true that law proscribing those types of victimizing behaviors of which we are all too aware and which set the nerve ends of conservative criminologists (pg. 87)21. When crime is committed some groups of people benefit more than others from the criminal laws. Jewkes & Letherby says that "other serious crimes are constructed as to exclude many similar and important respects; identical acts and these are just the acts likely to be committed more frequently by powerful individuals" (pg. 88)22.
The criminal law sees only some types of property deprivation as robbery or theft but excludes for example the separation of consumers and part of their money that follows manufactures malpractices or advertisers misrepresentations (Jewkes & Letherby, pg. 89)23. It excludes shareholders losing their money because managers behaved in ways which they thought would be to the advantage of shareholders even though the only tangible benefits accrued to the managers.
Jewkes & Letherby indicated that few people become aware of crimes of the powerful or how serious these are because their attention is glued to the highly publicized social characteristics of the convicted and imprisoned population (pg.
89)24. Jewkes & Letherby indicated that "their crimes may not be directed to the record files and occasional publications of (7) those quasi-judicial organizations monitoring and regulating corporate and governmental crimes" (pg. 89)25.
Watts, Bessant & Hil have indicated that criminologists have understood that the significance of white collar crime extends well beyond the study of corporate or economic crime per se encompass the very ways in which all kinds of crimes and criminal behavior are thought about (pg. 188)26. They also indicated that criminologists have used the idea of white collar crime to argue that mainstream criminology reveals certain deeply entrenched social and political prejudices.
Crimes committed by the powerful are as common as crimes by the powerless and are usually far more harmful in their effects yet they rarely get to be recognized as a serious problem. Watts, Bessant & Hil noted that the "preoccupation with ordinary crime in most cases renders invisible the incidence and severity of the major crimes committed by rich and powerful people" (pg. 188)27.
The indication is that the crimes of the powerful are often unnoticed while governments seem unable or unwilling to frame laws to deal effectively with these crimes. Watts, Bessant & Hil thus established that "white collar criminal or the powerful do not always get prosecuted and are more likely to escape conviction; the penalty was more likely to be a warning or a fine rather than prison while the consequences and severity of the effects of they were simply not noticed" ( pg. 190)28. Besides that, McLaughlin, Muncie & Hughes says that "few people become aware of (8) crimes of the powerful or how serious these are because their attention is glued to the highly publicized social characteristics of the convicted and imprisoned population" (pg. 280)29.
Crime and criminalization are therefore social control strategies which render underprivileged and powerless people more likely to be arrested convicted and sentenced to prison even though the amount of personal damage and injury they implicit may be less than more powerful and privileged cause (McLaughlin, Muncie & Hughes, pg. 280)30. Crime committed by people in authority or the powerful as indicated by McLaughlin, Muncie & Hughes "create the illusion that the dangerous class is primarily located at the bottom class of people in the society which is measured by occupational prestige, income level, housing market location, educational achievement and racial attributes" (pg. 280)31.
Crime committed by people in authority or the powerful render invisible the vast amount of avoidable harm, injury and deprivation imposed on the ordinary population by the state. McLaughlin, Muncie & Hughes further says that besides these arguments crimes in transitional and other corporations removes the effects of crimes from the causal nexus for explaining conventional crimes committed by ordinary people (pg. 280)32. Also it has been noted that the conditions of life for the powerless created by the powerful are simply ignored by those who explain crime as a manifestation of individual pathology or local neighborhood friendship and (9) cultural patterns.
Cohen says that in occupational crimes of the powerful criminalization is unreservedly supported despite or because of the demonstration of the actual normality of the activities in question (pg. 268)33. A good example is the criminological campaign against and study of arson. In this context, Cohen comments that from Brady's research it has provided evidence of the extent of the problem and the need for greater public awareness and the need to use the criminal justice system (pg. 268)34. With all this evidence it has been pointed out that the deviant nature of the offense is actually the opposite. Arson is primarily an outcome of routine business practices in the banking, insurance and real estate industries driven by powerful individuals
When compared to the occupational crime committed by ordinary powerless workers which involve acts of cheating, fiddling and pilfering, the scale of loss and damage is less than corporate crime but all the ethnographies of workplace crime point to much cumulative harm and loss, invisible damage and unaware victims (Cohen, pg. 268)35. In his opinion, from the above observations, it can be observed that political predilections lead to favoring criminalization in one case against big business and informal controls in the other for the ordinary worker.
Axelrod & Antinozzi argues that "economic crimes committed by the powerful include exploitation of labor, destruction of the natural environment for profit, fraud perpetrated on consumers, price gouging, price fixing and unfair competition" (pg. 69)36. They commit these crimes behind the motivation of some form of individual or corporate greed. Also, Axelrod & (10) Antinozzi indicated that "when the powerful commit crime they are intended to maintain or enhance their position of dominance while the underclass commits crime in response to inequality" (pg. 69)37. Research shows that crimes of the powerful are of greater consequence because they cause much greater economic and social harm than mere street crime
The governments law and order and the judiciary's sentencing practice as mentioned by Box are not responses to crimes of the powerful or crime problems as defined by the electorate, although there may be some fortunate and accidental coincidence with the latter (pg. 222)38. As a consequence the powerful commit devastating crimes and get away with it. On the other hand Box continues to say that "the powerless commit less serious crimes but get prison hence based on these arguments we can say that the powerful intimidate and manipulate the powerless to look upward like children for protection from those around or beneath them" (pg. 222)39.
Besides this McGuire & Donald argues that crimes of the powerful can be explained in various ways the goal being to suggest how the economic and social context creates conditions which are conducive to committing these crimes (pg. 268)40. Criminologists suggest that crimes of the powerful emerge because of great stress on material success with the ideology that more is always better. Unfortunately even the well to do feel the need to have more. McGuire & Donald further indicates that "if they cannot achieve more legitimately they can use their class position and occupational locations to access specific illegitimate opportunities" (pg. 268)41. The drive for success creates the motivation for powerful individuals to engage in illegal activities. Also the (11) law and law enforcement are mostly directed towards the crimes the lower class is most likely to commit. As a result McGuire & Donald says that the chance of an upper class individual being caught and if caught being punished for committing a corporate, white collar or governmental crime is greatly diminished (pg. 268)42.
Moreover, Ferrante indicated that "those members of the society with most wealth, power and authority have the power to create laws and establish crime stopping and monitoring institutions" (pg. 226)43. More importantly people especially those in criminology and law enforcement efforts tend to focus more on crimes committed by the poor and other wealthy and politically powerful. Ferrante thus says that "this uneven focus gives the widespread impression that the poor, the uneducated and minority group members are more prone to criminal behavior than are people in the middle and upper classes, the educated and the majority groups" (pg. 227)44.
However, crime exists in all social classes and settings but the type of crime the extent to which the laws are enforced; access to legal aid and the power to shape laws to ones advantage vary across class lines. Ferrante in his further studies says that "in the United States police efforts are largely directed at controlling crimes against individual life and property that is crimes such as drug offenses, robbery, assault, homicide and rape rather than against white collar and (12) corporate crime" (pg. 227)45.
White collar crime involves committed by persons of responsibility and high social status in the course of their occupations. Corporate crime in conjunction to crime committed by the powerful is crime committed by a corporation as it competes with other companies for the market share and profits. This demonstrates the level of involvement of the in powerful position in authority.
Escaping punishment is easier for perpetrators of white collar and corporate crimes as well as the powerful. Ferrante mentions that this is because of the offenders are part of the system; they occupy position in the organization that permits them to carry out illegal activities discreetly. Most of these crimes are without victims in the usual sense because they normally directed against a particular persons who goes to the police and reports an offense (pg. 227)46.
The rich and wealthy (powerful) also use the mechanism of plea bargaining as one crucial device on which it depends for making invisible the essentially property based nature of routine crime and therefore obscuring its class character (Hester & Eglin, pg. 177)47. In addition Hester & Eglin comments that to this must be added the making invisible of the crimes of the powerful that is ruling class crime (pg. 177)48. This is achieved through the defining of the potentially harmful acts of the powerless as crimes and the potentially harmful acts of the powerful as torts.
In conclusion, it should be noted that although some theories assume that crime is any action which is severely against the interests of the majority citizens other ideologies argue that crime is that behavior which violates the interests of the powerful. Just as the ruling class takes (13) working class demands for justice and entangles them in the maintaining of a class ridden society and therefore there is a great need for social order. Fitzgerald, McLennan & Pawson thus says that the existence of a class society leads to desperation, demoralization and war of all against all (pg. 299)49. The powerful individuals or community sometimes suffers immensely from the criminals in its midst. Law gains its support not through a mere mystification of the working class an ability to render people spellbound by its paraphernalia of pomp and authority (Fitzgerald, McLennan & Pawson, pg. 299)50. The state being and remaining the state of the ruling class sustains universal law and order and thereby guarantees at least a degree of equality and security for the whole society.