Answer each question in 1.5-2 preferably single-spaced pages.
1. Use social structural theories to explain how the structure of U.S society may cause minorities to be over-represented within the criminal justice system. You should pay specific attention to social disorganization theory, strain theory, and culture conflict theory.
The fact that minorities are over-represented within the criminal justice system in the United States is an implication of greater issues within society. These issues are essentially rooted in the interplay between the political and cultural realms in the United States throughout its history. This has led to a culture in which laws have been directed at specific minorities as well as those who are both economically and politically challenged due to the underrepresentation of their position in the national government. This has occurred from the state of relationships between various cultures within the country. These relationships have essentially led to a higher amount of minorities being arrested due to the stance that the criminal justice system has taken on their situations.
These issues are a result of the displacement of these cultures in areas where they may be more susceptible to crime. Social disorganization theory represents the idea that those who are in areas with less economic, social, or political stability will typically end up committing more crimes than those in better areas. This directly links the behavior of a criminal to the location in which they live. In this way, those living in poor or crime-ridden neighborhoods will be more likely to commit crimes than those in better neighborhoods. This is due to a variety of factors. In some cases, the individuals are attempting to provide basic necessities to their families. In others, however, these individuals might fall into crimes such as selling narcotics, extortion, or robbery.
There are also many economic factors leading to this disparity within the United States incarceration system. The ideas of strain theory present a basic framework for the case of financial disparity being linked to criminal behavior. The basic nature of society dictates that there will be those who have more and those who have less. This is due to the difference in the ability of various racial groups to achieve the objectives that society has set for them. In this way, the expectations that society has set into its laws are simply disparate from the ability of many different racial groups to achieve. For this reason, many individuals often take part in crime and engage in criminal acts.
One of the most prevalent factors leading to this problem, however, is the difference in perspectives between the dominant culture and those minorities that are affected by the laws that this culture has created. Due to the fact that differing cultures and racial groups have different perspectives on morality and other areas of political and social life, issues will often arise in the way that the laws governing these individual’s behavior come into conflict with the cultural or religious traditions. Furthermore, those of different economic or social strata often have differing perspectives on what is right and wrong, which can often lead to issues in regards to how these groups view the laws that have been made and are enforced in their everyday lives. Differences in these perspectives has been a factor in the detention of these groups in the United States prison system.
2. Use social process theories to critique social structural theories. Pay specific attention to differential association theory and labeling theory. Explain why these theories may better explain the over-representation of minorities in the criminal justice system.
While social structural theories represent arguments made based on the economic disparities between different racial groups, those made from social process theory represent arguments made from the interaction between individuals and the societies of which they are a part. In this way, individuals are affected by their ability to relate to the greater social order more than any economic factors that they might face. In this way, the theory focuses on the institutions within society, rather than simply assuming that these individuals are simply unable to address the economic issues that they face. In doing so, the theories are able to direct their attention at the fundamental problems within this structure and change those institutions by addressing their core disparities with these minority groups.
In this way, social process theories indicate that anybody in society can become criminals, depending on various factors that they might face in their daily lives. This theory decouples the idea of criminal behavior with economic or racial associations. In doing so, it is able to better address the primary issues that are leading to criminal behavior and the disparity between racial groups in the United States. Social structure theories, on the other hand, is related to strain theory and presents an economic argument for the root of crime within society. The issue with these types of theories is that they focus more on the symptoms of crime than the fundamental roots of it. Rather than addressing the sociological or psychological factors that individuals develop in their daily lives, structural theorists address the economic factors, which might very well be a result of the conditioning that individuals go through growing up in various families and around various people (Inchaustegui, 2013).
These issues can stem from the social interactions that individuals have within their communities, from problems at school to those with the offender’s family. Friends and family are a prevailing factor in this theory and have a direct impact on the actions that individuals in society have in regards to criminal or deviant behavior. The actions that individuals have and the habits that they obtain are directly associated with the individuals who are in their lives. These arguments are fundamentally based on both the differential association and labeling theories of criminal behavior. These arguments present the association between criminal behavior and a person’s identity within society. These identities are essentially extensions of the people that these individuals have been in contact with throughout their lives.
Differential association dictates that individuals pick up behaviors from those around them. In this way, the societies that individuals have direct contact with, those they grow up in spend a lot of time in, will have a direct impact on their future behavior. This theory essentially relates criminal behavior to habit, and argues that those who commit crimes more often are those who are exposed to crime more often. This theory does not attempt to address the contacts that might lead to more or less amounts of crime, but simply addresses the direct correlation between those who are in contact with criminal behavior and those who commit those criminal behaviors. This theory, then, is the attempt to directly correlate criminal behavior with the individuals who are in a criminal’s lives. In this way, those who come from families or who have friends who engage in criminal behavior are more likely to do so themselves.
Labeling theory attempts to address the way that individuals within society identify themselves, in relation to how they are viewed by society as a whole. In this way, labels that stereotype or discriminate minorities can have a direct impact on how their self-image is built within their minds. This essentially dictates how these individuals see their own places within society. Those who are fed self-images that paint them as criminals are, therefore, more likely to commit criminal acts. This is primarily due to the way that they identify themselves, and how they see their role in society. These theories are able to better address the disparity in the United States criminal justice system than structural theories because they are able to adapt better to the dynamics of society and the interactions that individuals have, as well as their development before they engaged in criminal acts.
3. Survey the various radical theories of crime as presented in chapter 9 of your text book. Briefly use these theories to critique both social structural theory and social process theories. Explain how radical theories of deviance can provide an alternative explanation of why minorities are over-represented in the U.S criminal justice system.
Radical theories of crime focus on the fundamental aspects of society that lead to the development of criminal behavior. This can be the country’s political, social, or economic structures as a whole. These theories can relate to issues stemming from the political framework of a country to the economic institutions that it has created. These concerns can relate to not only those institutions that make up a cultural, religious, or economic traditions, but rather attempts to address the makeup of society as a whole. In this view, the government itself might be the cause of the disparity in criminal behavior. While these ideas might address economic or political concerns, they are generally a critical examination of the overall political or economic philosophies of a country, and can be critical of the government that has be institutionalized as a whole.
Conflict criminal theory, for example, is a Marxist theory that bases criminal behavior in the fundamentally disparate nature of capitalist societies. In this view, criminal behavior is a result of the natural tendency of capitalist societies to become separated between the rich and the poor. In this view, crime is the result of those in society who have been exploited by the wealthy. Crime is, therefore, a result of capitalist society in general, and the only way to alleviate crime is to fundamentally alter the economic system. Similarly, postmodernity theory presents the notion that the general state of western culture is the cause of crime. In this theory, crime is the direct result of the moral nature of those in the western world and fundamentally associated with the ideologies of western countries.
These theories, due to their radical nature, create the context for revolutionary effects when applied to society. While this can be destructive, careful examination of the issues facing society can often lead to the revelation that some fundamental ideology is in conflict with the needs of individuals. While theories such as social structure and social process are adequate at addressing various issues that underlie a society’s cultural disparities, those issues that are rooted in the fundamental ideologies of the county, or are enamored in the political or economic institutionalization of injustice, then the radical views of these theories are necessary in examining issues and enacting change. In this way, these theories can provide important insights that are necessary in resolving these injustices.
These radical theories provide an example of why minorities have become overrepresented within the United States criminal justice system. This overrepresentation is the result of the fundamental disparities in the political and economic systems of the country. According to conflict criminology, this problem is due to the natural result of the implementation of a capitalist economic system. This economic system has led to a growing disparity between those who own production and those who labor. Due to the economic divide that grows, those who are at the bottom of the rung will inevitably engage in criminal behavior in order to even out the division of labor. This is essentially an address of the economic conflicts that naturally arise in a capitalist system, which promotes competition between individuals and, inevitably, inequality among various groups of people. In this way, the theory is a good example of why minorities are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
The ideas of postmodernity can also present arguments for why these disparities have occurred within the country. Due to the western ideologies that are inherent in the United States political and economic systems, those who are not from cultures as adapt to these positions often end up in the criminal justice system (Plummer, 2006). This is due to the underlying ideologies of western society, which place emphasis on different factors than those in eastern countries. These differences results in a different interpretation of what is right and wrong, and so there are disassociations between the laws that the country has put into place and those that individuals in specific communities view as either commonsense or nonsensical. In this way, minorities are overrepresented in the criminal justice system due to either misunderstandings or conflicts that arise between their own cultural traditions and the greater political system that they are a part of in society.
4. Finally, apply one of these theories to the first op-ed included with this assignment. The author in the first op-ed is suggesting that the United States is not a color blind society – do you believe that this is true? Use theory and evidence to support your argument. Feel free to either agree with or critique the author’s opinion.
While there have been significant advances in racial relations within the United States, it has definitely not become a color blind society. The history of racial tensions within the country is evidence in and of itself that the issue could not be resolved so easily. The Civil Rights movement occurred nearly forty years ago, which, while at first glance seems as though it should be enough time to heal these wounds, if looked at in some context, it becomes evidence that this is not the case. This is due primarily in the difference in how those in the dominant cultures and those who are in the minority perceive, or identity, themselves, and their relationship with society as a whole. While some might identify themselves as non-racial, many of the institutional practices that they face every day might be, contributing to this disassociation in identities.
The ideas of labeling theory present an argument for why this disparity has continued, despite the attempts by society to alleviate the issue. While many individuals within society view themselves as a part of the larger social process, those who are of minority groups often face a different reality than those in the dominant culture. While many white individuals in society might not themselves discriminate, and so don’t identify themselves or those they associate with as racist, many of the institutions that are in place in the country still reflect the disparity, and give those of minority background a different identity than those of the majority, even if those in the majority might not purposely be pressing that identity upon them. There are disparities in how these cultural groups view their places in the world.
The opportunity to grow and make mistakes is important for those in society. Without this ability, many might begin to identify themselves solely with the mistakes they have made, even if they were only children. This has an effect on how individuals within society perceive themselves and their positions within society. While many white children are given the opportunity to make mistakes, black children are learning to try not to stand out so that they will not invite trouble. In this way, their self-identification is being constrained by the rules of society, and the institutionalized racial disparities that still exist in various functions of the communities around the country.
Through the implementations of labeling theory, these issues can be brought to light and discussed to a greater degree. The author of the article has presented an argument that discusses the various experiences that African Americans have in their own country. This has a profound impact on the way in which these individuals self-identify. This identification is due to the way in which the institutionalized laws of the country tend to target those of this community. “The experience of being mistaken for a criminal is almost a rite of passage for African-American men” (Staples, 2009). In this way, the article represents the experiences that shape these citizen’s view of themselves, and their roles within society as a whole. By arresting these individuals and locking them up, the criminal justice system is simply pushing an identity upon them that results in the likelihood that they will commit future crimes.
Inchaustegui, Shanali. (2013). Criminology: A View Of Social Structure Theories. Justicia
Plummer, Ken. Labeling Theory. (2006). Historical, Conceptual, and Theoretical Theories.
Staples, Brent. (2009). Even Now, There’s Risk in ‘Driving While Black’.
Sykes, Greshem M. (1976). The Rise of Critical Criminology. Journal of Criminal Law and
Criminology. Vol. 65. Issue 2.