Ex-04: How far was organised crime responsible for the failure of Prohibition? (24 Marks).

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Ex-04: How far was organised crime responsible for the failure of Prohibition? (24 Marks).


  • The demand for illegal alcohol became a huge wealth-creating industry. It created the opportunity for organised criminal gangs to supply and control this demand. Gangs set up illegal production factories, organised imports from Canada and the West Indies and created nationwide centres for distribution
  • Organised criminal gangs were able to use their strength to control law enforcement forces through fear and bribery – there were few convictions for ‘bootlegging’. In Chicago 400 police were on gang payrolls. Such ‘graft’ undermined the law
  • Power struggles for territory between rival gangs created pockets of violence ( e.g. the St Valentine’s day Massacre) which produced a problem of public order and protests about the lack of effective law enforcement
  • The supplying of illegal alcohol was closely linked to other criminal enterprises such as gambling and prostitution
  • The media tended to glamorise criminal ‘bootleggers’ which created a kind of admiration for their activities among a sympathetic public in the cities.


  • Prohibition never had strong support in the cities and not all states (e.g. Maryland) passed enforcement acts. It was seen as an imposition by conservative rural parts of the USA on the more sophisticated urban centres
  • The law could not be effectively enforced. Congress never allocated enough money. There were too few agents who were paid low salaries, so open to bribery
  • The size of the USA, its long borders with Canada and Mexico and 29,000 km. of coastline made enforcement of prohibition almost impossible
  • Illegally made alcohol caused health problems such as poisoning and blindness, thus discrediting the law
  • Many Americans had no intention of obeying the law which turned them into criminals if they went to illegal bars (speakeasies) or had a drink at home – disobeying the law had an element of excitement
  • Prohibition never received the full support of the American people. The large working-class immigrant community tended to defy the law, as did the very rich.


Although organised crime did much to discredit Prohibition, it was a law unlikely to be fully accepted even without organised criminals and ways would have been found to defy the law. And if the law enforcement agencies had been strongly supported and financed, organised crime could have been controlled and thus Prohibition made more effective.


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