Assess sociological explanations for the types and patterns of state crimes (21 marks)

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A state crime is a crime committed by the government. They include direct attacks against their civilians, torture and the inhumane treatment of prisoners. McLaughlin is useful as he broadens the definition of state crimes. He identifies four types: Political, security forces, economic crimes and social/cultural crimes. However, I think the patterns of state crimes maybe manipulated within the official statistics. The state is so powerful that it can disguise their behaviour to minimise the chances of it being discovered. The state can control news channels, control what news is released or suggest that it isn’t in the public interest to declare. From an interpretivist position there is a ‘dark figure’ of state crime as not all crimes of committed by the state are recorded as a crime, either because no one can apply punishment or no one finds out about the crimes. Some examples include the war in Iraq when the USA and the UK went into the country without UN permission. Does this not constitute a state crime? Are Bush and Blair not war criminals? Another example is when the French state blew up a Greenpeace ship during a covert operation. No one faced punishment for this act, but it was a state crime. We can use work by Social Psychologist Philip Zimbardo to show how the state change people and turn them evil. The Lucifer effect explains how the state try to absolve itself from specific crimes by labelling an individual a ‘bad apple’. He did his own experiment where he got normal people, some acted as guards and others as prisoners. The experiment had to be stopped when the guards began to act violently and take their role too seriously. I think it successfully showed how powerful the state can be and how easily they could commit crime. Some other useful research is the work done by Kelman and Hamilton who looked at ‘The social conditions of state crime’. They looked at 400 American soldiers massacred 400 civilians at My Lai in Vietnam. The social conditions and power of the state made them soldiers act in the way they did. In conclusion I think there is a dark figure of state crime. The patterns of state crime may be manipulated to hide the abuse and torture states commit in their own countries and in other countries. Using examples from the Iraq war, Vietnam and Zimbardo’s experiment we can clearly show how states avoid being labelled criminal. They otherwise blame individuals and label them as ‘bad apples’.


We can further the definition of state crime further by incorporating human rights violations. Critical criminologists Herman and Julia Schwendinger argue that states practise imperialism, racism, sexism and economic exploitation. This means that states that deny individuals human rights must be regarded as criminals. The Schwendinger’s object to the idea that ‘a man who steals a paltry sum can be regarded as a criminal, while agents of the state can legally reward men who destroy food so that price


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