Crime Theory: Organized Crime
The term "organized crime" refers to highly structured criminal groups who engage in illegal activities for financial gain. While they can operate on local, regional, and national levels, the greatest challenge for law enforcement organizations is international organized crime. Estimates by the Federal Bureau of Investigations place the costs of organized crime worldwide at $1 trillion per year. Technological advancements in communications and global financial deregulation has resulted in a global boom in organized crime. In order to launder money and exert control over various businesses and industries, organized crime has taken over legitimate enterprises through corruption, intimidation, and extortion. Cooperation from political, judicial, and law enforcement officials is gained in the same manner, allowing organized crime to flourish throughout the world. Numerous terrorist groups worldwide utilize organized crime to generate millions of dollars in capital, which they use to acquire weapons and technology.
Keywords Bribery; Extortion; Gross Domestic Product; Mafia; Prohibition; Racketeering; Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organization Act (RICO); Tongs
The Organized Crime Control Act defines organized crime as "The unlawful activities of…a highly organized and disciplined association," usually for the purposes of financial gain (U.S., 1970). It can and does exist on any scale, whether local, state, national, or international. In order to thrive, however, organized crime has to have strong ties into legitimate business entities so that money can be moved throughout the economy. Often, the cooperation of respected members of the business community is gained through bribery, extortion, and blackmail. Added protection for criminal endeavors is achieved by bribing judicial and law enforcement officials. Politically motivated organized crime is referred to as terrorism.
The impact of organized crime is difficult to measure since this type of crime is involved in so many legal and illegal enterprises. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates that its illegal annual profits globally exceed $1 trillion per year (FBI, n.d.b). Glenny estimates that this shadow economy nets about 15% to 20% of global GDP (gross domestic product) annually (2008, p. xv). The illegal enterprises organized crime engages in include drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering, gambling, murder for hire, prostitution, bombings, extortion, kidnapping, fraud, political corruption, loan sharking, blackmail, human smuggling, counterfeiting, illegally dumping toxic waste, and terrorism. Not counted in these statistics, however, are the actual and indirect costs and hardships inflicted upon individuals and communities through the violence, intimidation, and corruption used by organized crime to control their criminal enterprises. One trend in organized crime is the increased ability of these organizations to work with one another around the world to achieve their illegal ends. This has increased the need for the FBI to work with its counterparts in other countries in order to disrupt these costly criminal activities.
The Organized Crime Section at the FBI is divided into various geographical units. It also maintains a Sports Bribery Program aimed at ensuring the integrity of American sporting events by educating sports officials and players about the role of organized crime in gambling, corruption, bribery, and drug trafficking. Additionally, the program investigates and prosecutes offenses related to federal gambling and corruption laws in sports.
Within sociological theory, many of the activities engaged in by organized crime come under the concept of white-collar crime. Analysis of white collar crime focuses on two types: the individual perpetrator having special knowledge or occupational expertise and access that permits him or her to gain illegal financial advantage over others; and, corporate or organizational perpetrators, including organized and governmental crime. Since white collar crime is intermingled with legitimate business activities and often involves complex and sophisticated technical actions, detection is very difficult. Although white-collar crime is a $300 billion dollar annual harm to our society, few perpetrators are caught and even fewer receive any sort of punishment.
Technically speaking, when a corporation commits an offense, this is called "corporate crime" or "organizational crime," which is considered one type of white-collar crime. This division of white collar crime categories into two types, occupational and corporate, was advanced by Clinard and Quinney in the 1960s, and it remains influential to this day (Green, 2006). Another aspect of white-collar crime that can be either individual or organized is governmental or political crime, for instance, lawmakers trading their influence and legislative votes for money and gifts.
In an effort to combat organized crime, in 1970 the federal government passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act (18 U. S. C. A. § 1961 et seq.) In addition to crimes deemed to be white collar in nature, RICO provides penalties for gambling, extortion, prostitution, narcotics trafficking, loan sharking and murder. Punishment under RICO can be extremely harsh, including fines and up to 20 years in prison. Additionally, the defendant must forfeit any claims to the money or property obtained from the criminal enterprise or obtained from any criminal enterprise barred under RICO (White-collar, 2008).
Despite decades of corporate criminal offenses, it was not until 2002 that Congress enacted legislation that seriously penalized corporate wrongdoing. The Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act, also known as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (Pub.L. 107-204, 116 Stat. 745), increased penalties for mail and wire fraud to 20 years in prison. Those convicted of committing securities fraud faced up to 25 years in prison. Additionally, the act criminalized the falsification of corporate financial reports, with fines of up to $5 million dollars and 10 years in prison (White-collar, n.d.). Also contained within the act was the directive that the Federal U.S. Sentencing Commission increase the penalties for other white-collar crimes. These new regulations have changed the historical landscape of both public and law enforcement attitudes towards white-collar crime.
In addition to traditional views on the causes of crime and deviance that focus on an individual's motivation or character, several other theories of crime deserve brief mention in relation to organized crime. "Critical criminology" often has been called the Robin Hood theory of crime in that it argues that deviance is a choice and a political act made in response to the inequities of capitalist societies. Based upon Marxist views of capitalism, Taylor, Walton, and Young argued that oppressed groups, such as the working class, women, and minorities, may take action against the dominant, capitalist culture in order to counteract that culture's social, economic, and political power (1973). The dominant culture then labels these actions as criminal in order to maintain its power. In other words, under critical criminology, what constitutes criminal behavior is contingent upon social and historical context, meaning that the definition of criminal behavior can vary over time in relation to the interests of the dominant group. Critics of critical criminology argue that it romanticizes violent, disruptive, and harmful acts and that it has little interest in the realities of crime.
Left Realism Criminology
Although "left realism criminology" developed out of the theoretical framework of critical criminology, it focuses upon realistic approaches to crime. By studying crime victims, left realists focus on the marginalization or powerlessness of both the victims and the perpetrators of crime. Furthermore, relative to most members of society, these individuals are deprived of financial, social, and political resources. Left realists, therefore, advocate crime interventions that create a more egalitarian relationship between the police and the public. One of left realism's contributions to criminology has been the expansion of the basic traditional triangle view of crime as involving an offender, a victim, and the state, by adding the public or a civil society to create the square of crime. Conceptually, public attitudes and policies are brought into crime analysis in addition to law enforcement agencies.
Right Realism Criminology
"Right realism" criminological theory developed out of the rational choice and social control theories of crime. Its focus is less theoretical and more oriented towards the prevention and control of crime from a conservative "law and order" perspective. Basically, right realism advocates believe that crime is a choice and that...
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