Understanding White-Collar Crime, Essay Example

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Essay

The term “white-collar crime” covers a broad area of behaviors and actions. In recent years, as headlines have been dominated by corporate and banking scandals, the notion of white-collar crime has received a significant amount of attention. Generally speaking, white-collar crime covers crimes committed by persons employed in non-labor, “blue collar” positions, and involve actions intended to achieve financial gains through illegal means. Not all white-collar crimes fall under the purview of criminal justice, however; some actions taken by white collar employees or their related companies might be considered actionable in civil, rather than criminal courts. For the purposes of this discussion, “white-collar crimes” will be understood to be crimes committed by upper-class individuals during the course of their occupation or employment. Understanding what motivates white-collar criminals has been a concern of psychologists and criminologists since the term was originally coined in the 1930s.

White-collar criminals typically differ in many respects from so-called “street criminals”(Braithewaite, 1985). They are more likely to be college educated, older white males who have not spent a lifetime as criminals (sagepub.com). These white-collar criminals often have certain personality traits, such as being extroverted and manipulative. White-collar crimes are sometimes committed by individuals alone, while others are committed by small or large groups of conspirators who find opportunities to profit illegally within the context of their employment. Because there are a variety of different types of white-collar criminals, it is difficult to say with certainty what drives this behavior.

A number of theories have been presented to explain the behavior of white-collar criminals, including Social Control Theory and Organizational Theory (Coleman, 1987). In the end, most of these theories fall short, as there is such a broad number of types of white-collar crimes and white-collar criminals. It seems that in most cases, white-collar crimes are crimes of opportunity; in that context, white-collar criminals have not been involved in a lifetime of crime, but instead find themselves in a position to take advantage of a particular situation in the course of their employment. It is this disparity between street criminals and white-collar criminals, and the disparity among the different types of white-collar criminals, which makes it so difficult to come up with an all-encompassing theory to explain the behavior.

References

Braithewaite, John. White Collar Crime. Annual Review of Psychology. Vol. 11. 1985.

Coleman, John William. Toward an Integrated Theory of White-Collar Crime. American Journal of Psychology. Vol. 93 No.2. September 1987.

Understanding White-Collar Crime: Definitions, Extent, and Consequences. Sagepub.com. http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/43839_2.pdf

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