The Analysis of the Poor and Less Privileged as the Victims of the Criminal Justice System while the Rich and Powerful evade Justice
Part of the ‘dark figure of crime’ which goes unreported in criminal statistics is the corporate or white-collar criminal (Slapper and Tomb, 2002). The crimes committed by the corporate offender, according to Slapper and Tomb (2002) ‘far outweigh those associated with ordinary or conventional criminality’ (p.105). There is little knowledge about the level of damage caused in the society by the corporate offender since their offences feature in neither daily discourses nor media reports nor crime drama. Although not all rich and powerful people are in the corporate sector, the ones that are do commit crimes on regular and massive scales, yet evade justice for so long or completely because of their privileged positions or affiliations with the high profile officials who could protect them from the hands of the law.
This essay will explore the inherent mechanisms on how the law enforcements and criminal justice target the poor and less privileged for minor offences, while the rich and the powerful commit arguably worse crimes, yet live their lives without facing the consequences of the law. It will explore how ethnic minorities can become a preoccupation of the police because of their poor socio-economic backgrounds, hence get more police attention than their white counterparts. This essay will highlight how corporate offenders manipulate the media in their favour to safeguard them from detection. It will look into how IQ differences between the rich and the poor contribute to inherent injustices. Finally, the essay will draw on ‘broken windows’ theory to explain this social injustice before arriving at conclusion.
Zastrow (2010) referred to a recent survey which aimed to uncover how virtually everybody within the legal age gets away with any behaviour that is described as ‘crime’ by the criminal law. The study found that nearly 100 percent of the population had committed one crime or another, usually very minor, although only a fraction of them had been caught. It was found that the frequency of offence commitment somewhat determines the possibility of being caught. However, an intriguing breakthrough emerged from the finding which showed that offence type significantly determines the possibility of arrest even after considering the crucial factor which is ‘frequency of criminal engagement’. The study found that those committing conventional crimes which are the main targets of enforcement face the risk of being caught, even when the crimes were less frequent. On the contrary, the individuals committing corporate crimes even much more frequently that their counterparts in conventional offences rarely come to the attention of the law enforcements, let alone being arrested. Zastrow (2010) offered the following explanation regarding this:
The poor, for example, may be more likely to commit high-risk crimes, low-yield crimes such as larceny, burglary, or robbery. In contrast, the wealthier are more likely to commit low-risk high-yield crimes such as income tax evasion and false advertising.
Zastrow (2010) argued that the criminal law focuses on such acts likely among the lower socio-economic status and if the acts among those in higher socio-economic status were severely enforced by the authorities, then the ‘profile of a typical criminal would very likely be older, wealthier, whiter and more suburban’ in contrary to the conventional view of the criminal (p.287). Zastrow included race and age in his description, perhaps due to the frequent overrepresentation of the ethnic minorities as well as the juveniles as criminals. This is remarkable since the ethnic minorities usually suffer from marginalization which places them in the position of committing those low-yield crimes.
With regard to race in a multicultural society, it is widely accepted that more crime is committed by blacks more than their white counterparts. The media play an equally significant role in over-depicting some particular ethnicities as constituting social problems (Gandy, 1998; Hall, 2003); they are more likely to be portrayed in a negative light, such as the ‘Asian immigrant, the Black mugger, or the bogus asylum seeker’ (Malik, 2002, p.359). Although Malik (2002) also reported that these demeaning reports have been recently challenged by the activists, hence there are less such reports. Meanwhile, the negative schemas and stereotypes formed by the media are still active in several countries; hence, the law enforcements specifically target those poor ethnic minorities, ignoring the majority. The Metropolitan Police, for example, have been recurrently accused of ‘institutional or unwitting racism’ over the time (Green et al., 2000, p.2).
Martin Bentham (the Home Affairs editor) reported in London Evening Standard Newspaper (2009) that the UK DNA database is made up of 30 percent of Black men, whilst Asian and White men made up only 10 percent of it, despite the fact that both the later races outweigh the Blacks in overall population. Although Asians are not completely immune from this racially motivated profiling, they have better image than the Blacks which have been notoriously depicted across history. Bentham continued that ‘too many Black people are still being stopped and searched by the police in spite of significant progress to improve officers’ attitudes on race’. These stereotypes and discriminations form the integral part of race versus power relations, thus one could not ignore race when discussion the phenomenon of the “powerful” and the “powerless” in a multicultural community, such as the UK. For instance, if Metropolitan Police stop and search a man based on his colour, this means that the man in question is likely to be prosecuted for an offence even in a case whereby his crime is very minor and less frequent. On the contrary, the so called ‘crime-free-race’ who is not the centre of investigation evades justice, even for more frequent and grave offences because he is not being profiled. It must, however, be noted that the vast majority of street crime (80%) is thought to be committed by young black men, and also that both blacks and Asians tend to live in urban areas more, and that is where the police stop and search most people. Thus, the allegation that the motivation for these searches is somehow ‘racist’, rather than logical and justifiable, is a moot point.
The ethnic minorities become the focus of investigation in the first place because of their “powerless” status, while the Whites who profile them are the “powerful”. The ethnic minority are similarly poor in relation to Whites, hence they commit low-yield crimes, as highlighted by Zastrow (2010) which are usually highly enforceable while their White counterparts are rich and engage in high-yield offences which do not attract the attention of the law enforcements. Of course, there are also a great many poor white people and a lot of rich black and Asian people, so one must be careful not to generalise too much: perhaps the real issue here is social class, actually, and not race at all? So of course, this does not mean that all Whites are rich and commit better rewarding crimes; they just form the rich majority in relative comparison to the ethnic minorities (although some ethnic groups, such as Indians, are more middle class across the board than whites!). For example, it is common to see a White person working in a high profile financial company while the Black person working in a cleaning industry, though this of course in no evidence of racial discrimination, and one must accept that immigrants are more likely to be ethnic minorities and thus more likely to do low level jobs.
In a detailed analysis of why the poor are over represented as criminals why their rich counterparts rarely appear in the picture, Slapper and Tombs (2002) stated that the notifiable offences in official crime statistics in England and Wales ‘reveals the extent to which they focus upon conventional as opposed to corporate crimes’ (p.106). If reports exaggerate conventional crimes without emphasizing corporate crimes, then law enforcement would focus on those reported crimes to prevent and reduce them, hence those committing conventional crimes would be arrested on a daily basis while their white-collar counterparts go free. Waddington (2004) argued that the neglect of crimes of the powerful in the mainstream criminology is based on the notion that the public sector would not sponsor a research which would find out, write about and expose its illegitimate dealings to the general public. The corporate class manipulate several events which all help them maintain their status quo and avoid being labelled criminal (Wells, 1993). Slapper and Tombs (2002) added that ‘this is hardly surprising given the privileged access to, and indeed the ownership of, all forms of mass media by large corporate interests’ (p.112). However, Zedner (1993) acknowledged that media do expose certain white-collar crimes, especially depicting the hopeless states of the victims which then brought the offender to the attention of the public and law enforcements.
There are several mechanisms on how the rich and powerful do go undetected and unpunished. In some cases, the powerful controls the state resources and apparatuses, hence promoting any criminal activities they have interests in, thereby protecting the chief actors to evade justice. Zastrow (2010) illustrated this with drug trafficking; ‘in drug trafficking, drugs are smuggled into a country and distributed on a large scale, with corrupt officials paid off to reduce the risks of arrest and prosecution’ (p.295). Consider the recent case in Mexico where up to 93 police officers were arrested for aiding the leading drug cartels to ensure their crimes ran smoothly without interruption nor prosecution by the law enforcements (MSNBC News, 2009). The police involvements in these crimes did not come all of a sudden; MSNBC reported that ‘corruption scandals have long plagued Mexican law enforcement, but the detentions represented one of the biggest roundups of suspected officers in recent years’. It is worth stating here that most would argue that in no way are the British police as corrupt as those in places like Mexico!
Although the Mexican officers were successfully arrested, this case is significant and worthy of analysis in this essay, despite the fact that the essay focused on undetected crimes by this class of people. The relevance of this case for analysis is the fact that criminal engagement ‘have long plagued’ the enforcement systems for years, if not decades, but they were only arrested recently because of some recent concerns which brought about their prosecutions, possibly because of US pressure too. The MSNBC News (2009) reported that the case involves law enforcement in the local, state and federal governments, indicating that it is a widespread culture in all the government levels.
It is worth stating that all the people of higher socio-economic status are not all corporate staff; some people are very rich as a result of their engagement in certain high-yielding crimes, such as drug trafficking. This includes the very rich all over the world too. This statement applies to the drug dealers themselves and not the government officials who are corporate staff by their nature. However, the traffickers were among the powerful in the country because of their illegitimate wealth. They evaded justice as a result of their symbiotic relationships with the government officials who control the state and its apparatuses. Drug dealers had been constantly arrested in Mexico prior to the mass swoop, but those cartels that were punished earlier than the swoop seemed to be the ones who did not pay the prize to the law enforcements in such a manner to facilitate the dealings. Other arrestees were those who did not have ‘significant others’ within the law enforcement to protect them from hands of the law.
In countries where there are high rates of corruption – (arguably all of the Third World) – the rich commit tremendous amounts of grave crimes, including assassination of market competitors, yet go undetected. This is because they can always afford to pay the law enforcements any amount they demand to disguise the case. In those countries, such as developing countries, the notion of social class operating on ‘exchange relations or market situations’, according to Max Weber is very visible. The bourgeois elite controls the capital which is the chief commanding instrument in any capitalist economy (Marx and Engels, 1998). Life is about the survival of the fittest in such countries; thus, the bourgeois pay the police to protect them, including safeguarding them from any criminal accusations, while the proletariat who have little or no capital to compete with the bourgeois suffer the consequences. In such ‘do or die’ market economy, the poor face the absolute consequences of any minor offences, even face intimidations and the consequences of miscarriage of justice for crimes committed by the rich and powerful.
Another strategy worthy of analysis on how the powerful evade justice comes from the issues regarding the level of intelligence inherent in people from different socio-economic classes. Several researchers have reported that criminals have low IQ relatively to their non criminal counterparts. It is not a surprising phenomenon for a street criminal to have low IQ because their poor socio-economic backgrounds have a lesser education since education sometimes operate on ‘exchange relations’ too; also there may well be genetic and innate factors at work here, though the idea is extremely controversial. Owing to their low IQ, some scholars have argued that individuals with low IQ do not necessarily commit more crimes than their higher IQ counterparts; rather, the less intelligent are unlikely to consider and guard against issues which would implicate him/her while perpetrating the offences (Feldman, 1993). On the contrary, the highly intelligent do consider these issues to ensure that anything likely to implicate them is guarded against, including creating alibi where and when necessary. More so, the less intelligent rarely understands police psychology, hence Quay (1987) argued that ‘yea-saying’ is common among the low intelligent to please the police during questioning which police then use against them. So the advantage of better education by the person of higher socio-economic status always put him/her ahead of his/her counterpart from the low socio-economic background in evading justice even when both groups engage in conventional crimes. While the corporate offender might not go equipped for robbery or burglary, he could go equipped for self-defence purposes. Carrying a knife or a gun/firearm (without licence) for self protection is a already a crime (Barman, 2010) punishable by imprisonment, yet the powerful might be doing this on a daily basis and never get caught because he is being respected by the police as a law abiding citizen who is already rich, hence would not carry a gun to burgle a house or rob someone to obtain a fraction of what he had already owned in quantity. The powerful sometimes engage in certain violent crimes that cause losses of life, such as killing of one’s business rivals, which is often seen in places like Russia and Asia. Thus, Kiehl (2010) reported that studies indicate that white-collar criminals do actually display violent propensities and demonstrate dangerousness in contrary to popular idea that they are harmless sorts of individuals.
What the criminological theories tell us about how the rich and powerful evade justice while the poor and powerless face justice is that the law enforcements and criminal justice operate based on the ‘broken windows’ theory. In broken windows theory, Wilson and Kelling (2003) maintained that police should focus on places characterised by litter, dog fouling, poorly maintained houses and structures, etc. Such areas are likely to be occupied by the poor people who are unlikely to afford whatever it takes to live a comfortable life. Thus, police have seen such individuals as likely to commit crimes, such as robbery, larceny, burglary in order to earn a living, thereby ignoring the fact that the so called wealthy people could sit in their office desks and commit crimes which could cripple the entire economy and trigger global recession, such as the one we are currently struggling to recover from. Duckett and Schinkel (2008) have analysed such situations to argue that the criminal justice system operates on social injustice because ‘the system criminalizes those who previously have been socially and economically disadvantaged’ (p.518).
In conclusion, this essay has given account of the social injustice practised by the criminal justice system by prioritising street crimes to target the poor, whilst ignoring the corporate crimes to enable the rich escape justice. It has examined how the politics of race has made the ethnic minorities vulnerable to aggravated police profiling. It has highlighted how the corporate class manipulate the media industries in order to cover their illegal dealings. It has examined how the academic background of the wealthy and powerful enables them to manipulate the criminal justice system to the detriment of the poor and disadvantaged who are often not able to access justice due to their low IQ and inability to understand proceedings. The essay has explained these phenomena in relation to the broken windows theory. Criminal activities are not necessarily the preoccupation of the poor and less disadvantaged as previously believed, rather the poor have been the centre of police profiles –‘easy pickings’ to boost arrest rates and meet police targets. Evidence suggests that the rich and powerful may well commit even more damaging crimes in society but fail to be caught because they are not viewed as constituting social problems in any way. It is recommended that the criminal justice system is reformed to ensure that the rule of law prevails in the society which will put an end to all ‘social injustices’. How exactly to do this, however, is another matter.
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