Blue-collar crime

In criminology, blue-collar crime is any crime committed by an individual from a lower social class as opposed to white-collar crime which is associated with crime committed by individuals of a higher social class.

The opportunity to commit crime

Every potential criminal is limited in the opportunity to commit crime by the "situation" in which he or she occupies in society. If the individual is employed in a low or unskilled job and lives in an inner-city environment, stealing inventory from the workplace may not produce value and not many neighbours may have valuable property to steal. This has significance both for the type of crimes likely to be committed and for law enforcement. Because there are fewer opportunities to use skill, more blue-collar crime may involve the use of force and, because more people are injured, there is a greater chance that the victim will report the crime (contrast white-collar crime where it shades into corporate crime and there is less chance that any crime will be reported).

Situational analysis

Situational crime prevention, as proposed by Clarke (1995, 1997), focuses on reducing crime opportunities rather than on the characteristics of criminals or potential criminals. The strategy is to increase the associated risks and difficulties, and reduce the rewards. It asserts that crime is often committed through the accident of a practical or attractive opportunity, e.g. that a car is found unlocked or a window left open (see also Fixing Broken Windows). Patterns in criminal activity are not simply based on where criminals live, but also reflect a concentration of opportunities for crime constituting "hot spots". For example, theft may concentrate on particular "hot products" and some repeat victims are more likely to experience crime than other people.Shoplifting and mugging may be endemic to identifiable locations. Hence, by using statistical crime mapping data, enforcement resources can target areas, and education can reduce the number of opportunities. This approach is characteristic of Right Realism and matches the analytical approach of Environmental criminology which, inter alia, proposes crime prevention through environmental design.

Policing strategies

The statistical data is likely to show that there is more crime in high-density, inner-city areas and such data is used to justify targeting such areas with more police officers. More recently, zero tolerance policies have been adopted which are not uniformly successful and usually simply displace crime into less intensively policed areas. But, most of the areas targeted will be "blue-collar" areas and, with higher arrest rates, the "hot spot" label becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. An additional factor is identified by Kicenski (2002) who argues that, because states privatise the prison system, corporate profitability depends on building more prison facilities, managing their operations, and selling inmate labour. Hence, large corporations have a direct interest in ensuring a steady supply of inmates with useful skills (see Dyer: 2000 who demonstrates that while the statistics for violent crime have remained steady, the prison population has grown significantly as the "prison-industrial complex" preys on largely minority and underclass segments of society). Michel Foucault (1977) argued that the "failure" of the prison institution to deter criminals or to prevent recidivism is not a failure at all, but serves the interests of society in the same way that the Poor Laws benefited English society through the operation of workhouses.

Crime and unemployment

The International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ILO) defines the unemployed as persons above a specified age who, during the reference period, were without work, were currently available for work, and were seeking work. The process of industrialisation encouraged working-class incorporation into society with greater social mobility being achieved during the twentieth century. But the routine of policing tends to focus on the public places where the economically marginal live out more of their lives, so regulation falls on those who are not integrated into the mainstream institutions of economic and political life. A perennial source of conflict has therefore involved working-class youth but, as long-term structural unemployment emerged, an underclass was created. Ralf Dahrendorf argues that the majority class did not need the unemployed to maintain and even increase its standard of living, and so the condition of the underclass became hopeless. Box (1987) sums up the research into crime and unemployment at pp96–7:

The relationship between overall unemployment and crime is inconsistent. On balance the weight of existing research supports there being a weak but none-the-less significant causal relationship. However, properly targeted research on young males, particularly those from disadvantaged ethnic groups, which considers both the meaning and duration of unemployment, has yet to be done. The significance of unemployment will vary depending on its duration, social assessments of blame, previous experience of steady employment, perception of future prospects, comparison with other groups, etc. Hence, there is likely to be a causal relationship between relative deprivation and crime, particularly where unemployment is perceived as unjust and hopeless by comparison with the lot of other groups. Thornberry and Christenson (1984) analysed data from a longitudinal cohort study of delinquency in Philadelphia and found (at p405):

Unemployment exerts a rather immediate effect on criminal involvement, while criminal involvement exerts a more long-range effect on unemployment. What this and other empirical research demonstrates is that crime-rates, especially for property offences, were higher during periods of unemployment than of employment. This suggests that holding constant other variables, the same youths commit more crimes while unemployed. This is not surprising since unemployment provides an incentive to commit offences and erodes the social controls which would otherwise encourage conformity. But crime also rose during the so-called period of affluence, prompting the Right Realism of James Q. Wilson and his associates in the United States who argued that the criminal justice system was failing, and theLeft Realism attributed to Jock Young, which argued for situational changes to reduce the availability of criminal opportunities in the environment. More generally, the growth of anomie (see Durkheim and, more recently, the Strain Theory proposed by Merton), predicted a strong correlation between unemployment and property crime. But Cantor and Land (1985) found a negative association for unemployment and property crime in the United States. They argued that unemployment decreases the opportunity for property crime since it reflects a general slowdown in production and consumption activities and it increases the ability to guard property due to a greater concentration of time at home.

Conservatism alleges the failure of state agencies charged with the task of socialisation to instil self-discipline and moral values resulting in permissiveness, a lack of conformity, and liberalisation. The "evidence" that there are new affluent criminals allows populist politicians to deny any link between inner-city deprivation and crime. The Left avoids the issue of morality and crime which denies earlier work in Marxist criminology linking crime and the culture of egoism stimulated by economic advance under capitalism as a more amorally materialistic culture emerges. As Durkheim asserted, moral education cannot be effective in an economically unjust society. Thus, additional research is required, using a more complex model of crime and control to include variables such as opportunities or incentives relative to a country's standard of living, potential punishment, chance of being caught, law enforcement efforts and expenditures on theft and property crime relative to other crimes, size of the country's criminal population, education levels, and other socio-economic factors. A further factor currently being researched is the role of the media in the social construction of "hot spots" or dangerous places within a city. Crime is a substantial element in media news reporting. Media research is now determining whether the coverage of crime is spatially representative of where crime occurs, or disproportionately presents crime as occurring in certain areas of a city, thereby skewing public perceptions and the political response (see Paulsen: 2002).


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