How inequality produces crime and the strategies proposed to reduce crime in the view of Conflict criminologists

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How inequality produces crime and the strategies proposed to reduce crime in the view of Conflict criminologists


Evidence gathered from a single nation or from many nations at a given point in time indicates that an increase in inequality, whether social or economic, leads to a rise in crime or violence. A study by the Word Bank in 2003 drawing on data from the developing countries indicated that relative modest rise in inequality produces an increase in robberies by 30-45 percent, (Smith, 2005, p. 82). The results further showed that a drop of 5% in GDP would produce an immediate 50% jump in robbery late. This relationship reinforces Karl Mark’s view that “the decision to commit crime depends on whether the return, discounted by the likelihood of apprehension and punishment exceeds the gain from working” (McLaughlin et al, 2003, p. 250). This implies that the more unequal the distribution of income and wealth is in a community, the higher the rate of crime among those who are at the bottom of the scale. In view of this, this paper seeks to examine the general views of conflict criminologist on how inequality produces crime. Further, it looks in details into some of the strategies that these conflict criminologists have suggested to reduce crime.

How Inequality Produces Crime according to conflict criminologists

The current conflict criminologists’ perspective of inequality and crime can be traced historically to the 19th and early 20th centuries through the works of Karl Marx, W.E.B. Du Bois, Willem Bonger and Edwin Sutherland, (Flood, 2007, p. 89; Pare, 2006, p. 60). Generally, these conflict theorists suggested that the cause of crime is found in the ‘conflict that stems from the inequality produced by the capitalist society’ (Taylor et al 1973, p. 21; Flood, 2007, p. 89). They believed that capitalists’ economic systems actually produce inequality and leads to exploitation of the working class. As such, they held that capitalism generates high levels of crimes and violence due to the wide disparity of income that results.

Willem Bonger, in his book on Criminality and Economic conditions, argued that since socialism involves a collective experience of prosperity and hardship, it fosters humans’ altruistic tendencies and thus, forges a sense of community. As such, people living in socialist societies are more likely going to look out for peace and less likely to cause harm to one another. However, Bonger believed that with the emergence of capitalism in a community, the spirit of altruism and community is replaced by the spirit of egoism and demoralization. He suggested that, capitalism generates insatiable greed, ambition and excessive competition, which leads to increased inequality, erodes civilized social behaviour and leads to various types of violence and crime, (Wilcox & Cullen (2010, p. 474).

The early conflict theories have been criticized for being too simplistic in their notion that capitalism is the main cause of crime, as McLaughlin et al (2003, p. 258) notes. In response to this, contemporary conflict criminologists have expanded the early conflict theorists’ ideas to make them applicable to the modern society. A good example of these is found in the works of Richard Quinney. According to Quinney, inequality results from faulty political ruling. Thus, he argued that criminal acts results from revolutionally acts against the power of the state that causes inequality, (McLaughlin et al, 2003, p. 258, and Tombs & Whyte, p. 264).Other contemporary conflict criminologists such as Thorten Sellin and George try to explain crime within social and economic concepts and argue that there is a connection between social class, social control and crime, (Siegel, 2011, p. 266). They posit that social-economic economic inequalities undermine social integration within a community by creating multiple social differences that lead to increased gap between social classes and ethnic groups. This generates into a situation characterized by social disorganization and latent animosities.

Strategies suggested by conflict criminologists to reduce crime

According to the early conflict theorists, the problems of crimes in capitalist societies can only be addressed by first eliminating all kind of inequalities that arise from the conflict between labour and capital under the conditions of the private ownership of the means of production, (white, p. 37; White & Haines, 2008, p. 89; Lowman & MacLean 1992, p. 117; McEvoy & Newburn 2003, p. 124). The policy implications of Marxist theory are straight forward; overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism, and crime will be reduced. According to, Lowman & MacLean (1992, p. 117), this requires replacement of the all private means production and distribution with social means. However, contemporary criminologists realize that abolition of capitalism is unrealistic and thus, temper their views, while at the same time, maintain their critical stance towards the system.

For example, Quinney proposes that a government can address the problem of crime more effectively through the use of well designed c.............

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