The blue collar criminal faces much harsher consequences, even after the formal phase of their punishment is complete.
Social inequality can be seen in the punishments for various crimes. When the lower class commits a crime, such as theft, that threatens to dispossess the upper class, the punishments are much more severe than for "white collar" crimes. It is more likely that the white collar criminal is of higher socioeconomic status than the common thief. Therefore, these types of crimes are punished much less severely, once again to protect the status of the upper class. They must be able to take action, even if it is immoral to protect their social status. Any act that attempts to dispossess the wealthy of their material goods and status is viewed as much more "criminal" than when the wealthy attempt to further deprive the poor of material goods.
A prime example of social inequality in the criminal justice system is the scant punishment received by Ken Ley, as a result of the Enron scandal (O'Meara, 2003). When one strips away the facade of the actions of fellows such as Ken Lay and Arthur Anderson, what is left behind is the attempt to deprive those less fortunate of their wealth. This is a prime example of the wealthy attempting to steal from those of lower social class, such as the 401K plans of Enron employees. The only difference between this act and the poor person who robs a convenient store at gunpoint is the size of the "booty" and the use of physical force. The intention of the act is the same: to deprive someone else of material goods. However, no one can argue that punishments are equitable (O'Meara, 2003).
Relationship between Crime and poverty
If one examines the early beginnings of today's class structure, it is easy to see its beginnings in the early part of the industrial era. Factories were owned and controlled by the wealthy. The poor worked in the factories and provided the labor. The poor were subject to intolerable working conditions and did not receive even a fraction of the pay that was afforded the wealthy. The workers were relegated to certain sections of town, where they could be kept out of sight of the bourgeoisie class. The lifestyles of the wealthy and the poor contrasted such that they hardly resembled each other at all. Worker revolts were quickly squashed, as they threatened the power and position of the wealthy factory owner. Workers were not allowed to revolt, as it disrupted the established social order and threatened the position of the wealthy. These ideals were ingrained into the minds of children from an early age, which ensured that they would easily fall into their "proper place" in society (Doepke & Zilibotti, 2005).
Capitalist society is the domain of the upper class. They control almost every aspect of it from the laws to the punishments for those that break the law. They do not apply the same rules to themselves, creating punishments that are less for those crimes that they are more likely to commit, even if these crimes have a higher social price, or involve larger sums of material goods. Criminal punishment is meant to intimidate the remainder of society so that they will stay in place, securing the place of the wealthy. Inequalities between punishments for white collar crime and blue collar crime support the thesis that the criminal justice system is based on social inequality that secures power for the wealthy and diminishes power for the poor.
An important factor in our discussion of conflict theory is the relationship between crime and poverty. The connection between crime and poverty is an accepted paradigm. If one applies conflict theory to this connection, it would appear that social inequality and the power struggle created by it is the cause behind crimes committed by the impoverished. However, this is one area where conflict theory may not hold the answers. The direction of the causal relationship between crime and the impoverished is a classic problem that has plagued sociologists and psychologists for many years. The problem lies in human motivation. The question is whether poverty itself provides motivation for crime, or if crime is an effect of poverty and lower social status.
Regardless of the direction of the causality, it does not affect the concept that prisons have become a warehouse for the poor. People of all social classes commit crimes. However, when the time comes for punishment, the poor go to prison. The wealthy hire lawyers and may get off with community service. The wealthy seldom have to spend time in the social control mechanisms created by them. We discovered that the criminal justice system ensure a steady supply of lower level laborers to support the wealth of the upper class. This study supports that thesis that the criminal justice system is a tool for the upper social classes to control those of lower social status.
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