State Crimes

State Crimes

  • Created by: Sarah
  • Created on: 06-06-11 10:17

State Crimes

State crime is another example of the crimes of the powerful. Penny Green and Tony Ward define state crime as 'illegal or deviant activities perpetrated by, or with the 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.


Eugene McLaughlin identifies 4 main catergories of state crime:

  • Political crimes, for eample corruption and censorship
  • Crimes by security and police forces, such as genocide, torture and disappearances of dissidents
  • Economic crimes, for example official violations of health and safety laws.
  • Social and cultural crimes, such as institutional racism.
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State Crimes

State crimes is one of the most serious forms of crime for 2 reasons:

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.

Britain and the United States have also been guilty of crimes such as the military use of torture in Iraq and Northern Ireland.

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 criminal.

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Human Rights and State Crimes

One approach to the study of state crime is through the notion of human rights.

Natural rights: that people are regarded as having simply by virtue of existing, such as rights to life, liberty and free speech

Civil rights: such as the right to vote, to privacy or to an education.

Crime as the violation of human rights

  • Herman and Julia Schwedinger 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 individual's human rights must be regarded as criminal. For example states that practice racism or sexism, or that inflict economic exploitation.
  • From a human rights perspective, the state can be seen as a perpetrator of crime and not simply as the authority that defines and punishes crime.
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The Spiral of Denial.

Cohen is particularly interested in the ways in which states conceal and legitimate their human rights crimes. He argues that while dictatorships generally simply deny committing human rights abuses, deomcratic states have to legitimate their actions in more complex ways. In doing so, their justifications follow a 3 stage 'spiral of state denial.'

Stage one: 'It didn't happen' for example, the state claims there was no massacre. But then human rights organisations, victims and media show that it did happen.

Stage two: ' 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 three:  'Even if it is what you say it is, it's justified' for example 'to preotect national security' or 'fight the war on terror'

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