State Crime

State Crime - Introduction

  • Green and Ward: state crime can be defined as 'crimes committed by or with the complicity of, government and its agents'. It includes actions by one country against another, such as the illegal invasion or declaration of war against United Nations resolutions.
  • State crime can often involve the illegal activities of a state's official or agents, such as politicians or senior civil servants allocating contracts in return for bribes, favours or donations to political parties.
  • State crime can also apply to the activities of agents like the police.
  • Michalowski and Kramer argue that state crimes are so serious because the state has a monopoly on violence, it can conceal it's crimes and avoid punishment, it is hard to police the actions of these states (by other states) and it makes laws and can use them to control/persecute their enemies.
1 of 5

Types and Extent of State Crime

  • McLaughlin identifies four types of state crime:
    • Political crimes: Corruption, censorship
    • Crime by security/police forces: Genocide, torture and disappearences of dissidents
    • Economic crimes: official violations of health and safety laws
    • Social/cultural crimes: institutional racism
  • Rummel: estimated that the last century governments murdered at least 169 million people. This excludes those killed in warfare.
  • However: These figures are guesses as those trying to research these deaths will come up against walls of secrecy, or excuses that they were 'enemies of the state' or 'terrorists'
2 of 5

Human Rights and state crime

  • Herman and Schwedinger argue that state crime should be defined as violating basic human rights rather than breaking legal rules, meaning that states that deny basic human rights should be seen as criminal.
    • Thus states which practice racism, sexism, or inflct economic exploitation on their citizens, are committing crimes because they are denying people basic human rights (e.g. the Nazi state attacking the human rights of Jews legally by passing laws that persecuted them.)
      • By not accepting a legal definition (that crimes are simply whatever the state says they are), sociologists avoid becoming subservient to the state that makes the law and can defend human rights.
  • Usefulness: It is transgressive and considers acts and issues which are not defined as crimes but which cause enormous harm.
    • It reveals how the state defines laws and hide crimes.
  • However: Cohen: Although acts such as genocide, torture and murder as clearly crimes, other acts, such as economic exploitation, are not in themselves criminal, even if we think they are morally unacceptable
    • There is limited agreement on what counts as human rights.
3 of 5

Marxism and State Crime

  • Marxists argue that laws reflect the interests of the rich and powerful, namely the ruling class. As the state represents ruling-class interests, it follows that when deemed necessary, the state will break international laws and even its own domestic laws.
  • State crime is therefore to be expected if ruling-class interests e.g. as owners of major capitalist indutries are threatened directly and indirectly.
  • In addition, as states can use official secrets and general restrictions to giving out information, they can prevent sociologists from study state crime.
  • Strengths: Highlights the criminogenic nature of capitalism and that crime takes place amongst all strata of society, including states.
  • However: States do pass laws that benefit the population (human rights act)
    • The UN can act against states that break international law.
4 of 5

Explanations for/Patterns of State Crime

  • Strain: Chambliss: State crim eis often the result of strain as it is torn between different sets of objectives e.g. crimes carried out by the CIA at times when they felt under extreme pressure to guard against the threat posed to the country by communism
  • State Crime and Matza's techniques of neutralisation: States use techniques of neutralization when they are attempting to justify human rights violations:
      • Denial of victim
      • Denial of injury
      • Denial of responsibility
      • Condemning the condemners
      • Appeal to higher loyalty
    • These techniques do not seek to deny that the event has occurred. Rather they seek to negotiate or impose a different construction of the event from what might appear to be the case.
  • State crime and the culture of denial: Cohen identified how states attempt to conceal or justify thier illegal activities via a three stage spiral of denial:
    • Stage 1: It didn't happen
    • Stage 2: If it did happen 'it' is something else
    • Stage 3: Even if it is what you say it is it is justified.
5 of 5


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Crime and deviance resources »