Green and Ward define state crime as 'illegal or deviant activities perpetrated by, or with complicity of, state agencies.' It includes all forms of crime committed by or on behalf of states and governments in order to further their policies.
McLaughlin identifies four categories of state crime; Political crimes e.g. corruption, Crimes by security and police forces e.g. torture, Economic crimes e.g. violation of health and safety laws and Social and cultural crimes such as institutional racism.
· State crime is one of the most serious forms of crime for two reasons:
1. The scale of state crime - The power of the state enables it to commit extremely large scale crimes with widespread victimisation. The state's monopoly of violence gives it the potential to inflict massive harm, while its power means it is well placed to conceal its crimes or evade punishment for them.
2. The state is the source of law - It is the state's role to define what is criminal, and to manage the criminal justice system and prosecute offenders. State crime undermines the system of justice. Its power to make the law also means that it can avoid defining its own harmful actions as criminals.
Human Rights and State Crime..
· One approach to the study of state crime is through the notion of human rights.
Crime as the violation of human rights
Critical criminologists argue that we should define crime in terms of the violation of basic human rights, rather than the breaking of legal rules. This means that states that deny individuals' human rights must be regarded as criminals. E.g. States that practice racism are commiting crime as denying basic rights.
If we accept a legal definition (that crimes are simply whatever the state says they are), we risk becoming subservient to the state that makes the law.
· However, Cohen criticises this view. For example, while 'gross' violations of human rights e.g. torture are clearly crimes, other acts, such as economic exploitation, are not self-evidently criminal, even if we find them morally unacceptable. Other critics are that there is only limited agreement on what counts as a human right e.g. while there would be little disagreement that life and liberty are human rights, some would argue that freedom from poverty is not.
State crime and the culture of denial..
Cohen sees the issue of human rights and state crime as increasingly central both to political debate and criminology, as a result of two factors;
The growing impact of the international human rights movement and the increased focus within criminology upon victims.
The spiral of denial
Cohen argues that while dictatorships generally simply deny committing human rights abuses, democratic states have to legitimate their actions in more complex ways. In doing so, their justifications follow a three-stage 'spiral of state denial':
· Stage 1- 'It didn't happen' e.g. the state claims there was no massacre but then human rights organisations, victims and the media show it did happen. - War in Sirea
· Stage 2- 'If it did happen, "it" is something else'. The state says it is not what it looks like- it's 'collateral damage' or 'self-defence'.
· Stage 3- 'Even if it is what you say it is, it's justified'- e.g. 'to protect national security' or 'fight the war on terror'. - USA- Killing Bin Laden
Cohen examines the ways in which states and their officials deny or justify their crimes. He draws on the work of Sykes and Matza, who identify five neutralisation techniques that delinquents use to justify their deviant behaviour.
1. Denial of victim- They exaggerate; they are terrorists; they are used to violence; look what they do to each other.
2. Denial of injury- They started it; we are the real victims, not them.
3. Denial of responsibility- I was only obeying orders, doing my duty.
4. Condemning the condemners - The whole world is picking on us; it's worse elsewhere; they are condemning us only because of their anti-Semitism.
5. Appeal to higher loyalty- Self-righteous justifications- the appeal to the higher cause, whether the nation, the revolution, Zionism, Islam, the defence of the 'free world', state security etc.
· These techniques do not seek to deny that the event has occurred. Rather, as Cohen says, 'they seek to negotiate or impose a different construction of the event from what might appear to be the case.'
The social conditions of state crime..
It is often thought that those who carry out crimes such as torture must be psychopaths. However, research suggests that there is little psychological differences between them and 'normal' people.
· Instead sociologists argue that such actions are part of a role into which individuals are socialised. They focus on the social conditions in which such behaviour becomes acceptable or even required.
Kelman and Hamilton identify three features that produce crimes of obedience:
· Authorisation- When acts are ordered or approved by those in authority, normal moral principles are replaced by the duty to obey.
· Routinisation- Once the crime has been committed, there is strong pressure to turn the act into routine which individuals can perform in a detached manner.
· Dehumanisation- When the enemy is portrayed as sub-human rather than human described as animals, monsters etc, the usual principles of morality do not apply.