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Issue of Professional Crime in Criminological Theories

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 5358 words Published: 18th May 2020

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­­­Professional crime and crime within organisations pose special problems for theories of crime because many of those involved have a high social status. Why should this be a problem, and how can such crimes be explained?

This essay will begin by focusing on the criminological theories relating to professional and organisational crime. Secondly, we will explore the limitations involved in developing theories and finally, conclude our argument and outline the key concepts discussed. In order to discuss these types of crime, we need to define them.

Offences that involve a person using their professional status to abuse the trust of patients, clients or other individuals are identified as professional crimes (FBI.gov 2019). The term organisational crime is used when an individual carries out such offences while at work or as part of their employment role (Criminal Justice 2019). An accountant that uses client money to pay their personal bills could be seen as a professional crime, whereas sexual assault by a Priest within the church, which is then covered up by other offending priests, could be seen as an organisational crime. Many have developed theories to try and explain these types of offences.

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Cesare Lombroso’s ‘The criminal man’ (1876) explored the notion of a born criminal. He suggested that criminal activities were an inbuilt process of deviance and that it was biological. His studies led him to explore the idea that these biological traits could be seen as physical differences in appearance (Ellwood 1912). English criminologist Charles Buckman Goring’s study ‘The English Convict’ (1913) elaborated on Lombroso’s concept but found statistical differences. Goring didn’t argue Lombroso’s theory of anthropology as such, however, he did criticise the method in which Lombroso arrived at his findings (Driver 1957). Both studies imply that someone is biologically destined to engage in criminal behaviour. However, if this was the case the law of mens rea would be difficult to enforce. Mens rea is the knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime (Lexico 2019) and many argue that if a person is biologically programmed to engage in crime how can they be held accountable for their actions.

By the 1950s the concept that criminals could be depicted by their physical appearance had declined and the notion that criminals were different changed from the external appearance to the internal mind. Classicism theories explored the concept that crime is rational, self-interested behaviour based on an individual’s pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain (Muncie and Wilson 2004). Becker, Rational Choice Theory (1968), developed this further suggesting that a decision is made to commit a crime after weighing up all the potential benefits and consequences. By the 1990s neurocriminology was developing and at the forefront was Adrian Raine. Raine was not totally against Lombroso’s concept of a born criminal, however, the conclusion he came to was that criminals had neurobiological abnormalities that made them different from other men (Raine 2013). With the help of colleague William Laufer, Raine explored white-collar criminals and started to argue that perpetrators of these offences were less likely to be impulsive and likely to be more calculated than other offenders (Lerner 2011). Given these points, how can these differences be explained through human behaviour.

Many criminologists imply that white-collar crimes can be explained through a deficiency of self-control, these people being more likely to be lured by temptation.  Why some individuals have lower self-control than others has been a long-running debate. One explanation is that it is due to bad parenting (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990) while others argue it is hereditary (Ersche et al., 2012) However, whether self-control is, in fact, nature or nurture, or a combination of the two, it is agreed that once it is set self-control remains stable throughout life (Vazsonyi and Jiskrova 2018). The Stanford Marshmallow Test conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel (1990) tested children’s self-control by offering one marshmallow straight away or two if they could wait until the examiner returned. Some children resisted, whereas others could not avoid the temptation. Researchers restudied these children later in life to find significant differences between the two groups. As adults, those who resisted temptation were seen to have received higher education, have better relationships and were less likely to be obese (Brueck 2018). Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) agreed that people with low self-control are more likely to engage in deviant behaviour throughout their lives. However, the study was criticised for testing a limited sample. All the children chosen were enrolled in the pre-school on Stanford University campus, so the children’s parents were professors or graduate students (Brueck 2018).  When the study was replicated in the late nineties they used a larger pool of participants and included an option of snack, because who is to say that the experiment wasn’t flawed because the children disliked marshmallows. Taking into account learning abilities and socio-economic variables, like did their mother graduate school, the conclusion of the new test showed that there was no link between a child’s self-control and their later life success (Brueck 2018).

If an individual’s lack of self-control could have such an effect on their ability to resist temptation and in turn potentially lead them to engage in white-collar crimes, this lack of resistance should also be visible within their everyday life. It could be said that someone with low self-control would be more likely to engage in other types of criminal behaviour, like assault or drug use, or non-criminal offences like excessive gambling and alcohol use. A study conducted by Robert Davidson, Aiyesha Dey and Abbie J. Smith (2012) examined a group of executives, outside of work, in an attempt to measure if their low frugality, ownership of luxury goods, and previous criminal offences could affect their risk to commit fraud. They concluded that there was no correlation found between an executive’s frugality and the likelihood of them to commit corporate fraud. However, they did find that executives, who demonstrated low frugality, also operated a loosely controlled working environment that increased the possibilities of others committing fraud or unintentionally reporting errors (Davidson et al. 2013). If this is the case it could not be said that white-collar crime is instigated with financial motive, as suggested by Durkheim’s Anomie theory (1893) and Merton’s Strain Theory (1957). If these types of offences are not fuelled by an external source, money, could they be fuelled by an internal source, weakness?

Although some see self-control as a fixed entity, many argue that it is a limited resource (Quist n.d.). Psychologists refer to your ego as the conscious part of the brain (Quist n.d.). Roy E Baumeister developed the concept of ego depletion, exploring the notion that you only have so much conscious self-control and things like stress and tiredness can reduce a person’s decision-making abilities (Quist n.d.). During a series of experiment’s, to test ego depletion, Baumeister concluded that the “results point to a potentially serious constraint on the human capacity for control (including self-control) and deliberate decision making” (Quist n.d.). If ego depletion, due to tiredness or stress, can affect an individual’s ability to make deliberate decisions, it could be argued that corporate offences could be due to momentary lapses of judgment, made by executives, due to high-pressure roles creating extenuating circumstances. This being said it would not be an inevitable act due to biological factors as suggested by Lombroso (The criminal man 1876). Coupled with self-control, a lack of empathy can also be seen as a factor in the motivation of white-collar crimes.

Parsons (1951), functionalism, view depicts men as having more ‘instrumental’ roles and women having more ‘expressive’ roles, he also argued that women show more empathetic tendencies than men. Lack of empathy in a corporate setting could result in a professional failing to understand the consequences of his actions. This lack of empathy, in extreme cases, can be linked to psychopathy (Wellons 2012). Robert Hare conducted a study to access a group of professionals for psychopathic tendencies (Babiak et al.2010). The conclusion of the study suggested that professionals displayed more psychopathic traits than the general public (Babiak et al.2010). The study also showed that those identified as showing these traits, had more effective communication skills, were more creative and displayed better strategic thinking (Babiak et al.2010). With the old fashioned view, that the idea of a professional is an elite middle-classed man (Croall 2003) we must consider the role that empathy could play in a professional’s ability to avoid or engage in white-collar crimes. It could be argued that white-collar criminals never physically see their victim. In crimes like assault and rape, an offender can feel empathy for that individual because they can physically see the damage caused. However, many white-collar offences have an impact on employers and investors, not a specific person. It would not be out of the question to find a correlation between a professional inability to feel empathy for their victims and their likelihood to engage in corporate misconduct. Many could say that with the professional title come status, power and control. 

Early functionalism looked to explain deviance through the social class hierarchy. Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto acknowledges this hierarchy system, stating that the capitalist bourgeoisie cruelly exploited the working class proletariat (Friedrich and Marx 1848). However, while Marx’s concept only explored two levels of class, upper and lower, Weber developed a three-dimensional theory known as The Social Stratification. Weber’s theory suggested that social difference is determined by more than just class but also status and power (Aafi 2014). However, status and power can be perceived in very different ways. In a journal by Steven Blader and Ya-Ru Chen (2012) status is depicted as the social worth and respect given to an individual or a group, whereas power is theorised as control over resources to create more power (Groth 2012). Blader and Chen conducted a study in order to test this hypothesis, it involved 188 students who participated in a negotiation exercise. Some were assigned power roles, others status roles and they also included a control group that was not assigned to either. The study concluded that the participants assigned to status roles treated other group members more fairly, as opposed to those assigned to power roles that were more dismissive. Sutherland differential association theory draws attention to the crime committed by a person of respectable and high social status (Sutherland 1939). Sutherland’s belief that white-collar crime was the same as any other type of crime was criticised by Tappan (1977) who argued that white-collar offences could not be labelled as a crime due to the nature in which they were handled (Meier 2001). Tappan argued that most offences of this type were handled outside of normal criminal proceedings, away from police, prosecutors and courts, and often settled in administrative courts with very different rulings and sanctions (Meier 2001). It could be proposed that the power and status, that Weber suggests, gives the upper classes the resources to avoid investigation and potential prosecution (Aafi 2014).

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Many efforts have been put in place to address white-collar crime. Measures such as; the Corporate Fraud Task Force; Sarbanes-Oxley Act 2002 and the Sherman Act 1890. When we think about professional and organisational crime, we think of the most common of offences such as fraud, tax evasion and sexual misconduct of a teacher or doctor. However, if we explore these crimes deeper, we find ourselves far beyond the traditional concerns of criminology. Looking into wider areas of financial regulations, politics, the environment, food regulation and health and safety (Croall 2001).  Marx’s prediction of the lower class revolution against capitalism is still very much present in our society. We can see how public sector fraud is reducing the resources we have for the lower classes in forms of health, education and welfare (Croall 2001).

Marxists argued that upper-class professionals are less likely to be investigated for white-collar crimes, yet with the increase of women holding positions of power throughout the government and the corporate world, could it not be said that female professionals are even less likely to be investigated for white-collar crimes? It seems, however, that females being underestimated for committing white-collar crimes is not where it ends, research shows that women are not largely studied as victims either. Studies surrounding male victimisation is plentiful but “to ignore female victimisation of white-collar crime is to accept the dominant world view which values men over women” (Weeks and Gerber 1992). Women’s victimisation is very much overlooked and more research needs to be done in order for gender to be used as a variable in white-collar crime research (Weeks and Gerber 1992).

Victimology identifies victims of white-collar crimes as ‘critical victimology’ meaning ‘victims we cannot see’ (Walklate 1999). However, when we explore most professional crimes it can be suggested that woman are more susceptible to be victims of white-collar crime; sexual harassment in the work place, cosmetic surgery error due to medical negligence, even wrongful testing in the cosmetics industry. A study carried out to compare victims of different crimes concluded that “victims of white-collar crime, as opposed to victims of violent crime, tend to be older, more affluent, and relatively more likely to be female” (Ganzini et al.1990).

Further limitations revolving around professional and organisational crimes include the policing and prosecution of such offences. Many white-collar crimes are very complex with most cases requiring a thorough investigation, usually outsourced to a specialised company. However, this requires sizable funding and many government bodies are underfunded, under-prepared and under-resourced (Tennant 2017). If funding is granted an individual or organisation will be notified of the investigation and instructed to sort legal advice. Many cases are settled out of court during the investigation process, which leaves very little evidence of an offence at all. If a case makes it to trial the prosecutor will have the job of explaining all evidence to a judge and jury. The limitations to this can be vast depending on the complexity of the case and the overall understanding of the evidence presented in court. Even the geography of a crime can be important. Within the United States if fraudulent money has crossed state lines it escalates the complexity of a case, as a lawyer will need to understand the court procedures in different states (Dougherty n.d.). This has been studied on a larger scale through transnational crimes. Money that is exchanged around the world relating to drugs, arms, toxic waste and even trafficking of women has become an issue in international affairs. Organised crime on this level has the capability of undermining the law because what is illegal in one country may not be illegal in another (UNODC n.d.). It is generally perceived that with high social status comes great privilege in every part of the legal process including the punishment received. Some argue that many professionals receive lenient sentences including fines; loss of professional licences; probation. In a book titled ‘Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison’ author J Reiman explores this very concept, arguing that the upper classes are less likely to receive a prison sentence than the lower classes, even when they have committed the same crime. He also suggests that the justice system is far more lenient towards white-collar crimes than nonviolent crimes (Reiman and Leighton 2016). However, a study carried out in 1990 titled ‘Class, Status, and the Punishment of White-Collar Criminals’ concluded that contrary to this preconception, individuals of higher social status were not only more likely to be imprisoned for white-collar crimes but were likely to receive longer sentences compared to lower class offenders (Weisburd et al.1990). However, it could be argued that due to the limitations and restrictions involved in white-collar crime and the low possibility of reaching trial, let alone prosecution, that cases presented to a judge are more likely to be made an example of and receive harsher sentences to potentially act as a deterrent to other offenders. 

Merton’s strain theory was criticised for failing to take into consideration the communal aspects of deviance, which was later explored through subcultural theory (Jones 2014). It is suggested that white-collar criminals are driven by the inequality between corporate goals and some of the limitations available to them through legitimate business means (Braithwaite 1985). It has been suggested that organisational crimes are retaliation against inner corporate structures that create unequal opportunities for employees to progress (Braithwaite 1985). It has been argued that these limitations of resources and legitimate opportunities can cause severe frustration within a structured organisation. Cohen’s study ‘Delinquent Boys 1956’ concluded that these frustrations can lead to an invert of middle-class values, creating a delinquent subculture. Cloward and Ohlin (1960) sought to combine Merton and Cohen’s theories to explain the different types of criminal structure. They recognised Merton’s legitimate opportunities structure but also introduced the concept of an illegitimate opportunities structure. 

Humans are very complex, Lombroso’s biological theory may have been right in highlighting different biological traits to identify criminals, but he was wrong to assume that all criminals are born to inevitably engage in criminal behaviour as this undermines all cultural and environmental factors. Different crimes have different motives and while crimes of passion and crimes of opportunity may be impulsive, it is heavily suggested that white-collar is more rational and calculated in its nature. If professional misconduct can be seen as momentary lapses of judgement, due to lack of self-control, we must also explore the notion that these misconducts are not because of bad people but from poor decision making. Many traits of a professional can be linked to lack of empathy and psychopathic tendencies, however, it could be argued that many elements of good business are linked to a professional not being too emotionally involved. The powerful will forever exploit the powerless. In order for society to function there needs to be a hierarchy. However, unequal opportunities to progress within an organisation, organically, can cause frustration and make professionals more likely to engage in misconduct. Transnational crime is a growing concern for our global economy. In an effort to increase the knowledge of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime have produced a global report documenting threat assessments across the globe (UNODC n.d.). However, if we accept the benefits of a more globalized society, do we also have to accept the accompanying risks of globalized crime? (Carrabine et al.2014). Professional crime is ever-changing and has created a new generation of ‘full time’ career criminals. These types of criminals are always on the edge of new developments whether it’s related to the financial sector or seeking out a loophole to exploit. In order for the justice system to police these types of offences, they need to keep up with these cutting edge developments. Criminologists know relatively little about the world of professional and organisational crime. In order for this to change more is needed on the modus operandi to explore how? And why? (Carrabine et al. 2014).


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