Crimes of the powerful are also known as white-collar crime. White collar crime can be defined as, “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of their occupation” (Sutherland, 1949).
This includes: Corporate or governmental deviance, Commercial fraud and embezzlement, Corruption, Crimes against consumers, Income tax evasion, Transgressing health and safety regulations, Industrial pollution amongst many others. Crimes of the powerless are also known as blue collar crimes. This term is used to describe crimes committed primarily by individuals of low socio-economic status. These crimes are often immediate and person in nature in contrast to white collar crimes which usually involve elaborate planning. Some examples of blue collar crimes include; armed robbery, sexual assault, burglary and theft, murder and other violent crimes, breaking and entering and drug abuse. According to Reiman (1995), “The rich get richer and the poor get prison”. This statement implies that there is discrepancy in the way the criminal justice system treats the rich and the poor.
Even from looking at the meaning of ‘deviance’, the poor are more likely to fit into this definition and as a result be discriminated against and this discrimination continues throughout the criminal justice system from the point of arrest through to sentencing. Many argue that the criminal justice system is there to benefit the rich and powerful. Marxist theories on the other hand, argues that the criminal justice system is there to benefit the wider society.
By analysing and examining sources, it can be argued that the law is biased against individuals from poor backgrounds, particularly those from Black minority ethnic groups. Corporate crimes however, which are more likely to be committed by those from affluent backgrounds, are often treated with leniency despite the fact that generally speaking they cause more damage to individuals and result in greater environmental and financial costs for society as a whole. One possible reason as to why the criminal justice system focuses more on crimes of the powerless than crimes of the powerful is because certain crimes are easier to police than others.
Generally speaking crimes committed by the powerless are the crimes that are easier to police and crimes committed by the powerful are harder to police. This is often due to the nature of the crimes being committed by each socio-economic class group. As mentioned earlier the powerless and the powerful commit different types of crimes due to the different opportunities they have to commit crime. People of a lower socio-economic status (the powerless) are rarely in the position to engage in tax evasion, corporate fraud and embezzlement or other white-collar crimes. They are more likely to commit conventional blue-collar crimes such as theft and robbery, violent crimes and other crime of this nature, these are often referred to as ‘street crimes’, which are the crimes that are easier to police. White collar crime is far less likely to be officially investigated and prosecuted in comparison to conventional blue-collar crime. This is because they are more hidden, in the simplest terms what occurs in the streets (street crime) is more visible and as a result easier to police than what occurs in behind closed doors. Detecting white collar crime usually requires expert knowledge and trained professionals as it is so well hidden however that is not the case for blue-collar crime, white collar criminals escape justice mainly because it is so difficult to establish that a crime has taken place, or even to distinguish between criminals and victims, this makes it more difficult for the police to investigate white collar offences.
White collar crime is harder to detect as it is often hard to notice when the crime occurs as it is usually kept quiet and not spoken about. An example of this would be fraud committed by a member of staff within a particular business or company, if this was to happen the company isn’t likely to publicize the incident or leak the story to media outlets because the firms may not want to admit that they have been victim of theft as this could potentially affect the business’ brand and image also they may not want to admit that their staff committed a crime as this may affect the public’s perception of the business. From the point of the law and police, the police devote few resources to identifying white collar crime.
This is due to a number of reasons, the first being that white-collar crime often occurs in private organisations, and rarely involves any violence therefore making it appear to be less serious than blue collar crimes as blue-collar crimes are often violent and involve physical harm to other people. This makes the police more likely to focus of blue collar crime rather than white collar crimes as the police’s priority is public order. In terms of the law, white collar crime is treated ambiguously within the law, there is a lot of gray areas in the law leaving certain things unclear as to whether it should be a criminal or civil offence. This comes down to the definition of crime, several white-collar offences may be defined as civil matters rather than criminal matters in addition to this there are loopholes in the justice system that white collar criminals are able to use to their benefit. An example of this would be how in the U.K. Amazon, Google and Starbucks don’t pay taxes on their British sales.
Starbucks, for example, had sales “of £400m in the U.K. last year, but paid no corporation tax. Amazon, which had sales in the UK of £3.35bn in 2011, only reported a “tax expense” of £1.8m. And Google’s UK unit paid just £6m to the Treasury in 2011 on UK turnover of £395m. ” (Vanessa Barford & Gerry Holt – BBC News, 2013).
What these companies are doing is legal. It’s tax avoidance and not tax evasion, this is a crime and should be treated as such however it isn’t because the companies are smart and use numerous techniques to artificially move their money around and to exploit loopholes in tax law to avoid paying the fair amount of tax to each country in which they operate. Crimes of the powerful doesn’t stop with just corporate crime, it also includes crime committed by government and social leaders. Because these individuals are of high social status and are very powerful there are able to use this power to hide their crimes. They can do this through influence and legislation. Political crimes are another form of crimes committed by the powerful.
Political crime refers to crimes committed or acts committed that injure – or are perceived as injuring – the state, the state’s government, or the political system. It is the attempt of the citizen to injure the state, at least in the state’s eyes. Political crime is defined in contrast to state crime, which refers to criminal acts or commissions of the state itself, typically those against its own citizens. (Quinney 1970) Some examples of political crime include; treason, espionage, bribery, theft, sedition, and terrorism. Much like white collar crime political crimes involve a lot of planning and are very thought out. Political crimes are always almost committed by Politians or by some form of social leaders Also, political crimes usually involve more than one person, it is usually a group or at very least two people coming together to assist each other to commit these crimes.
Because of this the question of who gets prosecuted arises. Due to the fact that political crimes often involves a number of people coming together to commit the crime it makes it harder to catch everyone involved. Although this may not necessarily relate to the U.K or other western societies but in some countries where the political leadership is corrupt, political theft is a major issue.
This is where political leaders steal the states’ money and use it for their own personal gain, in cases like this it would be extremely hard for the justice system to prosecute the offenders due to the amount of power they hold in society. As well as holding a lot of power in society, the political leaders are likely to control a lot of the justice system such as the police force as a result allowing them to get away with their crimes as the justice system is also likely to be corrupt. The media has a massive effect on the way crimes of both the powerful and the powerless are perceived by the general public. The media often over exaggerates crime of the powerless and portrays them as being more prominent than they actually are.
Whereas it barely informs the public about the crimes of the powerful. An example of this is the way in which the media portrays the issue of benefit fraud. Benefit fraud is an example of a blue-collar crime, The Department for Work and Pensions define benefit fraud as “when someone obtains state benefit they are not entitled to or deliberately fails to report a change in their personal circumstances” (The Department for Work and Pensions, 2017).
There are several campaigns that are run by the government and that are advertised through several media outlets that target benefit fraud and inform the public about the issue. There is even a television program called ‘Benefit street’. The show is a British documentary series broadcast on a national TV channel, the program follows the lives of several residents of James Turner Street in Birmingham which is said to be one of Britain’s most benefit-dependent streets.
However, The Department for Work and Pensions claim that fraudulent benefit claims amounted to around £900 million a year, although this figure is high and action needs to be taken in order for it to be reduced, the figure is still not as high as the figure for tax avoidance and evasion. HMRC estimates that £2.7 billion was lost through tax avoidance and £4.4 billion through tax evasion in 2013/14. £34 billion is the total value of tax that goes uncollected. “HMRC estimates that illegal tax evasion and legal tax avoidance together cost the government about £34 billion a year”. (Buzzfeed, 28 September 2016) Although the figure for tax avoidance and evasion is higher than the figure for benefit fraud there is barely any information given to the public about this issue.
Blue collar crime is portrayed y the media as being more of an issue where as in reality white-collar crime is the serious issue that affects the society more. Because the media gives the public limited information society in general tends to have an ambiguous view of white collar crime. A lot of individuals do not even view white collar crime to be crime, people often talk about “perks of the job”. In conclusion, this essay has analysed the way in which crimes of the powerful and crimes of the powerless are treated differentially throughout the criminal justice system. From the research undertook, it is evident that the criminal justice system is basis on the bases of socio-economic class as well as race and gender.
The criminal justice system is often harsh when policing crimes of the powerless but often ignores crimes of the powerful as a result of this, a lot of white collar crime goes undetected, unprosecuted, and unpunished. White collar crimes are often committed by individuals with high educated and have somewhat of a good knowledge of the law and how to get around it without technically breaking it. In contrast to blue collar crimes which are generally committed by individuals with minimal to no educational background making the crimes they commit less thought out and as a result making it easier for the police to catch and prosecute them.