Discussion Questions: Conflict Criminology
The consensus theory approach to criminal law posits that the society forges its way of co-existence, and it is based on the social values and needs. Consensus theorists further identifies that criminal law exists to serve the interests of the society. Laws are utilized by the society for the purposes of controlling its members and maintaining order. A violation of the set law is normally punished in a manner that the society deems fit. The gravity of the crime is assessed by the society together with the recommended punishment. The society first establishes what is considered as acceptable behavior and any deviation from the established acceptable behavior calls for punitive measures in accordance to the significance of the crime. Laws therefore serve the main purpose of normalizing the society and ensuring that it exists in an orderly manner. Conflict theorists, on the other hand, understand that the society exists in perpetual conflict as the members compete for the limited resources that are available. Conflict theorists therefore posit that laws and norms are designed to reflect the interests of the higher caste members of society. Social order is therefore maintained through conflict and competition where the winners are those with the most power and the highest percentage of social and economic resources as they end up taking advantage of those who lack such. As far as crime is concerned, deviant behavior is dependent on the party wielding the most power.
Lochner vs. New York, 198 US 45 (1905) is a controversial Supreme Court decision that is based on the views of conflict theory. Before the court ruling, the government, both at the federal and state level, had attempted to protect the interests of the American workers by enacting federal and state laws that sought to regulate working conditions. These federal and state laws were in response to the plight of the American employees who appeared to be oppressed by the strenuous working conditions and low pay. The Supreme Court ruling however, invalidated these federal and state statutes holding that limiting the employee working hours were in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, the court held that a New York law requiring bakery employees to work for not more than 10 hours a day and 60 hours a week was in violation of the ‘due process’ clause that appeared to provide for the right to of ‘freedom of contract.’ The situation clearly portrayed the conflict theorists’ idea that the society is in constant conflict between the wealthy and the poor and the wealthy normally end up having their way. The Supreme Court ruling clearly served the interests of the investors and company owners as it allowed them to bargain for lower wages and longer working hours at the expense of the employees.
Black (1976) The Behavior of Law mainly attempts to explain the existent differences between the quantity and style of law. The theory holds a significant amount of similarities with the conflict theorists’ understanding of the law. Black’s theory posits that the quantity of law is not consistent in nature and tends to be applied in a rather biased manner. The law tends to be applied in a strict manner at certain times and places and sparingly in others. The execution of law normally involves the activities such as reporting a crime, reporting to an incident, making an arrest, prosecution of the crime, deciding on the crime, and sentencing. Black’s theory holds that these activities are not executed in the same manner and severity in all situations but variedly. Black’s theory is therefore consistent with the conflict theory to law where the latter also posits that the establishment of law and its execution is not standardized but biased to serve the interests of those in power. The biased execution of law is clearly evidenced in the criminal justice system. Statistics indicate that a crime committed by a individual from a minor ethnic group or economic status is normally treated differently from a similar one committed by an individual of a higher economic status. Additionally, blue collar crimes do not also receive the same treatment as white collar crimes whereby the law seems more lenient on the latter in comparison to the former.
In essence it is less likely for white collar offenders to be criminally prosecuted in comparison to those who commit blue collar crimes. The disparity in prosecution is explained by the conflict theory approach to crime and the law whereby these structures of the society are mainly established by the upper class to protect their interests. Interestingly, the legal system appears to be biased since white collar crimes, which are mostly committed by the wealthy, have a small penalty when compared to the blue collar crimes that are most committed by the poor. In addition, most white collar crimes are often undetected when compared to the blue collar crimes.
One of the ways that a conflict theorists explains irrational and impulsive criminal acts that are not aligned to a specific interest group is that different groups normally hold different interests and that when the values of the different groups collide, a conflict of interest normally ensues. In essence, criminality does not merely exist in behavior but in the social system that holds the responsibility of regulating and controlling the behavior. Irrational and impulsive criminal acts therefore based on the existing social system and not necessarily on the individuals committing the crimes.
Conflict theorists agree that the people of low social power tend to commit more crimes and explain the phenomenon with the concept that criminal acts are normally defined by the law, which is also established by those of high social power. Those of high social power mainly set up laws and norms that serve to protect their interests, of increasing and maintaining power and resources while at the same time in contrast to the interests of the people of low social power. In the attempt of protecting their interests, the people of low social power therefore end up committing more criminal acts.
Quinney explains that those in power promote specific perceptions of crime for the purposes of legitimizing their authority. Such an approach is highly necessary since the basic purpose of the law is to promote social order and the status quo. Therefore, by promoting particular conceptions, the powerful individuals and groups are able to convince the masses that indeed the law is not biased and it merely reflects what the entire society considers to be the norm and not basically the reflection of a few individuals or groups.