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Archive for Social Deviance

Beyond Bystander Apathy

September 13, 2012 by and tagged

Bystander gold-digging? When opportunity knocks…

“Swedish police have released video footage showing a man leaving an unconscious man to die on the underground train track after mugging him at a station in southern Stockholm.

The security video from a Stockholm train station shows a 38-year-old drunk man falling on to train tracks last week.
A bystander who witnessed the accident jumps down after him, but not for a daring rescue before an approaching train arrives.

Instead, the witness steals the man’s valuables, climbs back on the platform and leaves his victim to be hit by the train.

The victim, who was on his way home from a party survived, but was seriously injured. Doctors had to amputate half his left foot, Sweden’s TV3 channel reported.

Swedish police now hope that surveillance camera footage of the incident at a Stockholm subway station early on Sunday will help them find and arrest the unscrupulous thief.”

Posted in Social Deviance | No Comments »

The Visual Du Jour – World Drugs Report 2012

July 16, 2012 by and tagged , ,

Anyone teaching deviance, criminology and other related fields should be interested in that one: the 2012 World Drug Report, published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. It comes with a lot of data and great visualizations.

WORLD DRUG REPORT 2012 from SocProf on Vimeo.

The report also contains some great static maps (Pdf) showing increases and decreases in seizures of various substances. [Click on the images for ginormous views)

Amphetamines:

Cannabis (herb):

Cannabis (resin):

Cocaine:

Ecstasy:

Opiates:

Posted in Organized Crime, Social Deviance, Trafficking | No Comments »

Gender Policing and Degradation Ceremonies

June 16, 2012 by and tagged , , , ,

So we have heard before of virginity testing in parts of the Middle East as well as hymen restoration that happen for fear a woman or a girl, found to no longer be a virgin might be the victim of an honorable murder.

In the same vein of degradation ceremony, meet the anal exams in Lebanon, performed by police to detect homosexuals (homosexuality is illegal in Lebanon). The article is in French. The physical consists of men being forced naked, required to bend over for a physician to take a picture of their anus to determine whether homosexual intercourse has taken place. This physical means absolutely nothing and is proof of nothing and the participating physicians know it.

This is pure degradation ceremony whose main purpose is to humiliate and dehumanize but also to extract confessions of homosexual activity. In many cases, the men are arrested based on what police officers determine to be effeminate behavior or just any subjective assessment about one’s sexual orientation. In other words, these men are arrested based on nothing except pure suspicion and then subjected to what the article and NGOs call the “physical of shame”, for shaming is its main purpose. The broader goal is to police sexual behavior and gender identity in conformity with cultural norms.

But policing gender through degradation also applies more generally, remember the case of Caster Semenya? Well, here is the version 2.0:

“There are female athletes who will be competing at the Olympic Games this summer after undergoing treatment to make them less masculine.

Still others are being secretly investigated for displaying overly manly characteristics, as sport’s highest medical officials attempt to quantify — and regulate — the hormonal difference between male and female athletes.

Caster Semenya, the South African runner who was so fast and muscular that many suspected she was a man, exploded onto the front pages three years ago. She was considered an outlier, a one-time anomaly.

But similar cases are emerging all over the world, and Semenya, who was banned from competition for 11 months while authorities investigated her sex, is back, vying for gold.

Semenya and other women like her face a complex question: Does a female athlete whose body naturally produces unusually high levels of male hormones, allowing them to put on more muscle mass and recover faster, have an “unfair” advantage?

In a move critics call “policing femininity,” recent rule changes by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the governing body of track and field, state that for a woman to compete, her testosterone must not exceed the male threshold.

If it does, she must have surgery or receive hormone therapy prescribed by an expert IAAF medical panel and submit to regular monitoring. So far, at least a handful of athletes — the figure is confidential — have been prescribed treatment, but their numbers could increase. Last month, the International Olympic Committee began the approval process to adopt similar rules for the Games.”

It is puzzling that the very same people who tend to adhere to gender essentialism (biology is everything) all of a sudden wish to “correct” biology when women and intersex people are involved (but not men). After all, wouldn’t it be unfair to have men with lower levels of testorerone compete with those with “normal” levels? Also note the arbitrariness of the rule. What level is the male threshold? The average? What average? Why is it at issue that a woman with higher level of testosterone be forced to undergo treatment to reduce her performance? And shouldn’t men levels be equalized before competition so as to have a level playing field?

 And guess who had to subject herself to this? Yes, Caster Semenya herself:

“Today, Semenya is cheering on her teammates at the South African open championships — for many, their last chance to qualify for the Olympics. There is no need for Semenya to race. She easily qualified weeks ago.

Instead, she stands in the stadium aisle, posing for the camera. In the background, Rihanna is on heavy rotation. “It happens all the time, all the time,” she says of the photo requests, laughing. “I’m used to it.”

She wears a tight turquoise polo over her fit, feminine body. Relaxed, poised and, it must be said, pretty, the young woman with an irresistible smile is almost unrecognizable from photographs taken during the height of the controversy.

“I know she gets treatment. What the treatment entails, I can’t give the details,” says Danie Cornelius, a track and field manager at the university.

“We all accept . . . and she accepts . . . within sports you have to perform within certain guidelines, or else it will be chaos,” says Cornelius.

“She feels it’s something she has to do.”

When asked about her treatment, Semenya demurred. “I can’t really say anything,” she said, looking at the ground.”

Funny how this came up only when a woman performed exceptionally. Exceptional performance from male athletes is never questioned in terms of gender or whether some male athlete had some extra testosterone and therefore some unearned, illegitimate advantage.

I am curious as to what chaos Danie Cornelius is referring to except to the challenge to the persistent phallocracy in the world of sports. And, exactly, how are women supposed to catch up (as they have been) in terms of performance if exceptional individual women are “corrected” to reduce their performance levels?

Posted in Gender, Patriarchy, Sexism, Social Deviance, Social Stigma, Symbolic Violence | No Comments »

What Does This Say About These Societies?

June 7, 2012 by and tagged , ,

Compare this:

“The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a federal lawsuit Thursday on behalf of prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison who have spent between 10 and 28 years in solitary confinement. The legal action is part of a larger movement to reform inhumane conditions in California prisons’ Security Housing Units (SHUs), a movement dramatized by a 2011 hunger strike by thousands of SHU prisoners; the named plaintiffs include hunger strikers, among them several of the principal negotiators for the hunger strike.

(…)

SHU prisoners spend 22½ to 24 hours every day in a cramped, concrete, windowless cell. They are denied telephone calls, contact visits, and vocational, recreational or educational programming. Food is often rotten and barely edible, and medical care is frequently withheld.

More than 500 Pelican Bay SHU prisoners have been isolated under these conditions for over 10 years, more than 200 of them for over 15 years and 78 have been isolated in the SHU for more than 20 years. Today’s suit claims that prolonged confinement under these conditions has caused “harmful and predictable psychological deterioration” among SHU prisoners. Solitary confinement for as little as 15 days is now widely recognized to cause lasting psychological damage to human beings and is analyzed under international law as torture.

Additionally, the suit alleges that SHU prisoners are denied any meaningful review of their SHU placement, rendering their isolation “effectively permanent.” SHU assignment is an administrative act, condemning prisoners to a prison within a prison; it is not part of a person’s court-ordered sentence for his or her crime.”

To this:

“Prison authorities are considering hiring people to socialise with the mass killer Anders Behring Breivik should he be found guilty and sentenced to a long spell in jail, to avoid him being kept in total isolation.

The director of the Ila prison, Knut Bjarkeid, told the Verdens Gang newspaper that security surrounding the man who has admitted killing 77 people last year would make it “impossible to allow normal contact with others”.

The prison may therefore allow him to “play sports with the guards and hire someone to play chess with him”, said Mr Bjarkeid.”

This is, of course, on top of a bloated American prison system that incarcerates a greater share of its population than any other country in the world, with very little to show for it beyond the general collective satisfaction of “locking them up and throwing away the key”. See the difference in rates between the US and Norway where Breivik is incarcerated:

But beyond that, there is a very different approach to punishment and its meaning. A crime as severe as the one for which Breivik is being tried would certainly carry either the death penalty or as the very least a life sentence without parole. He would be dumped into one of the hellholes across the US, AKA: maximum security facilities and that would be it: pure retribution, pure neutralization.

The Norwegian approach considers him still a human being and if the state takes complete control of his person for a certain period of time, especially if it is long, then the state has to provide some measure of mental care: still retribution, still neutralization, but some rehabilitation and care.

One society is perfectly satisfied with a highly expensive, counterproductive, and massive punitive system that is purely retributive (heck, prison rape is a source of jokes). Another one does not consider it should stop being humane because it has to deal with a really bad person in the context of a small carceral system.

Kinda says a lot about both societies, doesn’t it?

Posted in Culture, Social Deviance, Social Sanctions | No Comments »

The Social Construction of Mental Illness – Zombie Edition

June 1, 2012 by and tagged ,

So, by now, everyone has heard of the zombie shooting in Florida, and the human flesh eating murder in Maryland. ZOMBIES! This goes to one of my pet peeves: the social construction of mental illness. We often tend to think as mental illness or insanity (or whatever name we give it) as some objective medical condition that is disconnected from society. And of course, no form of deviance is by definition separate from society because deviance is only identifiable because it involves norm-breaking in behavior, ideas and attitudes or conditions. We also know that how we define, identify and treat what is socially-defined as insanity is a social matter through and through, involving culture, social institutions and social stratification mixed into social judgments that determine what happens to people so-labelled.

So, in the current cases that have made the news, it is rather clear that individuals are tapping into what is in the cultural climate in recent months (hard to avoid zombies… and vampires and therefore anything related to flesh tearing and eating and blood and gore),

This goes with the whole “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” rationalization. Well yeah, but people kill people more easily when (1) they have easy access to guns and (2) when there is a supportive culture as a mode of conflict resolution and other patriarchal ideas. Gabby Gifford was not just by just a deranged person. That deranged person was influenced by a specific political context. The same goes for the Breivik case.

So, when people with mental issues engage in courses of action, they tap into cultural repertoires (zombies and superbugs are definitely related) that present them with ideas that have been circulating through the media as part of the information society and through social networks. Crazy does not exist in abstract.

At the same time, we also make sense of deviant acts in terms of the very same cultural repertoires. Why does flesh-eating mean zombie to us if not because the figure of the zombie is a long-standing part of our culture, sustained through films, books and TV shows?

So why do we tend to consider crazy as disconnected from the culture and social structure? Because precisely we do not want to examine the culture and social structure that are the horizon of possibility of certain acts, either to deflect moral responsibility (as Tea Party people did after the Gifford shooting) or to avoid examining the social conditions out of which such acts occur especially if they put into question certain institutions (the health care system) or dominant ideologies (the gun culture). It works better for dominant structures and ideologies and the groups that sustain and reproduce them if we individualize such acts (one crazy person) and pathologize them, putting them squarely in the frame of medicalization of deviance, as pathologies to be treated by the appropriate professionals. In all cases, the system stays intact.

Of course, the zombie meme is big business as well in terms of books, TV series, films, and link bait as well so it’s perpetuation has benefits. And if a moral panic fails to ensue, surely, running jokes and media talk will suffice (and blog posts as well) to keep us occupied.

Posted in Social Deviance, Sociology | No Comments »

Degradation Ceremony 101 – Shaving Punks Edition

December 14, 2011 by and tagged , ,

(Via)

“Indonesian sharia police are “morally rehabilitating” more than 60 young punk rock fans in Aceh province on Sumatra island, saying the youths are tarnishing the province’s image.

Since being arrested at a punk rock concert in the provincial capital Banda Aceh on Saturday night, 59 male and five female punk rock fans have been forced to have their hair cut, bathe in a lake, change clothes and pray.”

Posted in Social Deviance, Social Stigma, Symbolic Violence | No Comments »

Book Review – Cop in the Hood

November 28, 2011 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

If you enjoyed the first season of the Wire, you will enjoy Peter Moskos‘s Cop in the Hood. The book is the tale of a sociologist going native by going through the Baltimore police academy, becoming a cop and working for over a year. This mix of ethnography and participant observation makes the book highly readable and enjoyable. My freshmen students will be reading it next term.

The book roughly follows Moskos chronological journey, from the academy to the street and the last part of the book is dedicated to a pretty thorough analysis (and indictment) of the War on Drugs.

This book is especially relevant because of one the challenges of teaching freshmen is to show them why they should be interested in sociology and sociological topics, that there is some knowledge to be produced here and that sociology has the tools to produce it.

Why did Moskos choose participant-observation? (All notations are Kindle locations)

“As a sociology graduate student, I took to heart the argument that prolonged participant-observation research is the best and perhaps only means of gathering valid data on job-related police behavior. Because data on policing are iffy at best and cops, like everyone, love to tell a tall tale, the best way to see what happens on the street is to be there as it happens. As an institution, police have been labeled insular, resentful of outsiders, and in general hostile to research, experimentation, and analysis. Official police statistics are notoriously susceptible to manipulation. And as most police activity has no official record at all, the nuances of police work are difficult if not impossible to quantify. Professor and police researcher Maurice Punch wrote, “The researcher’s task becomes, then, how to outwit the institutional obstacle-course to gain entry and . . . penetrate the mine-field of social defenses to reach the inner reality of police work.”” (114)

The first interesting observation from Moskos’s work is his analysis of the police academy as relatively useless for the job:

“So what’s the point of the academy? Primarily, it’s to protect the department from the legal liability that could result from negligent training. To the trainees this appears more important than educating police officers.

(…)

And second, despite the lax approach toward academics, instructors were very concerned with officer safety, the aspect of the job they emphasized most: “The most important part of your job is that you go home. Everything else is secondary.” This philosophy is reinforced at all levels of the police organization. Formal and informal rules concerning officer safety are propagated simultaneously.

(…)

By the end of the academy, less than half the class saw a relation between what police learn in the academy and what police need to know on the street. A strong antimedia attitude, little changed from sociologist William Westley’s observations in the 1950s, grew steadily in the police academy. At the end of training, just 10 percent of trainees believed that the media treat police fairly.

(…)

After six months in the academy, trainees learn to:

  • Respect the chain of command and their place on the bottom of that chain.
  • Sprinkle “sir” and “ma’am” into casual conversation.
  • Salute.
  • Follow orders.
  • March in formation.
  • Stay out of trouble.
  • Stay awake.
  • Be on time.
  • Shine shoes.” (359 – 390)

But Moskos’s conclusion is that the training actually demoralizes trainees even before they start working on the streets. Physical training is not boot camp and provides a poor preparation (after all, most officers will spend their days in their patrol car), and academic training does not really impart knowledge and does not encourage thinking.

Once training is over, the bulk of the book follows Moskos on the beat, on the Eastern side of Baltimore (that’s Proposition Joe’s territory, for you Wire fans following at home) and the constant contradictory demands placed on officers (between following a very strict military-style chain of command and having to make quick decisions). In that sense, the book is also a good study of the necessity of developing informal rules in in highly formal, bureaucratic environments. Working around the rules is the only way to keep the work manageable and within the limits of efficiency and sanity. But for Moskos, the gap between formal and informal norms is especially wide in policing. One could see here the application of Merton’s strain theory: the officers largely agree with the goals of the job they have to do (even though they are aware of the futility of the War on Drugs), but they constantly have to innovate while on patrol because the rules do not work on the streets (of course, some officers do lapse into ritualism especially in a context where protecting one’s pension is THE concern all officers have and that guides their behavior on the street).

These informal rules are constantly at work whether it comes to stopping, frisking, searching, arresting, writing reports. In all of these aspects of the job, covering one’s butt and protecting one’s life and pension are paramount concerns. This means that officers actually have quite a bit of leeway and flexibility when it comes to their job. These informal norms are described in details in Moskos’s book and there is no underestimating their importance.

Once on the streets, police officers mix a culture of poverty approach to “these people” (the communities they are expected to police, where gangs and drugs culture produce poverty with quite a bit of eliminationist rhetoric that reveals an in-group / out-group mentality between police officers and civilians:

“A black officer proposed similar ends through different means. “If it were up to me,” he said, “I’d build big walls and just flood the place, biblical-like. Flood the place and start afresh. I think that’s all you can do.” When I asked this officer how his belief that the entire area should be flooded differed from the attitudes of white police, he responded, “Naw, I’m not like that because I’d let the good people build an ark and float out. Old people, working people, line ’em up, two by two. White cops will be standing on the walls with big poles pushing people back in.” The painful universal truth of this officer’s beliefs came back to me in stark relief during the flooding and destruction of New Orleans, Louisiana. Police in some neighboring communities prevented displaced black residents from leaving the disaster area, turning them away with blockades and guns.” (609)

That in-group / out-group outlook also involves dehumanization and stigmatization:

“In the ghetto, police and the public have a general mutual desire to avoid interaction. The sociologist Ervin Goffman wrote, “One avoids a person of high status out of deference to him and avoids a person of lower status . . . out of a self-protective concern.” Goffman was concerned with the stigma of race, but in the ghetto, stigma revolves around the “pollution” associated with drugs. Police use words like “filthy,” “rank,” “smelly,” or “nasty” to describe literal filth, which abounds in the Eastern District. The word “dirty” is used to describe the figurative filth of a drug addict. It is, in the drug-related sense, the opposite of being clean.” (633)

The “dope fiend” becomes the loathed representative figure of all this. But the dehumanization applies equally to them and the dealers. In that sense, there is no sympathy for the people who have to live in these communities and have nothing to do with the drug trade. They are put in the same bag. And whatever idea of public service trainees might start with tends to disappear after a year on the streets.

And quite a bit of what goes on in the streets between police and population has a lot to do with forcing respect and maintaining control of the interaction:

“Although it is legally questionable, police officers almost always have something they can use to lock up somebody, “just because.” New York City police use “disorderly conduct.” In Baltimore it is loitering. In high-drug areas, minor arrests are very common, but rarely prosecuted. Loitering arrests usually do not articulate the legally required “obstruction of passage.” But the point of loitering arrests is not to convict people of the misdemeanor. By any definition, loitering is abated by arrest. These lockups are used by police to assert authority or get criminals off the street.” (838)

And, of course, the drug dealers also know the rules and become skillful at working around them, avoiding arrest, challenging the police authority and have structured their trade accordingly. It would indeed be a mistake to look at this illegal and informal economy as anything but a trade structured around specific rules that take into account having to deal with the police and the different statuses of the actors involved in the trade reflect that:

  • lookouts have the simplest job: alert everyone else of police approach,
  • steerers promote the product,
  • moneymen obviously hold the money for the transactions,
  • slingers distribute the drugs after money has been exchanged
  • and gunmen protect the trade.

The transaction is therefore completely decomposed into steps where money and drugs are never handled by the same person while the main dealers watch things from afar, protecting themselves from legal liabilities. For most of these positions, the pay is not much better than fast-food joints, but that is pretty much all there is in these urban areas.

Of course, just like everything in the US, there is a racial component to this. The drug trade is not a “black thing” (like mac and cheese as Pat Robertson would say) and it has its dependency theory taste:

“The archetypal white addict is employed, comes with a friend, drives a beat-up car from a nearby blue-collar neighborhood or suburb such as Highlandtown or Dundalk, and may have a local black drug addict in the backseat of the car. A black police officer who grew up in the Eastern District explained the local’s presence, “White people won’t buy drugs alone because they’re afraid to get out of the car and approach a drug dealer. They’ll have some black junkie with them.” The local resident serves as a sort of freelance guide, providing insurance against getting “burned” or robbed. The local addict is paid informally, most often taking a cut of the drugs purchased.” (1116)

The complete mistrust between the police and the community is also a trademark of impoverished urban environments. And indeed, what would residents gain by interacting with law enforcement and the court system? At the same time, police work is arrest-based (the more the better) which officers all understand to be futile.

For Moskos, part of the problem with policing was the advent of policing-by-patrol-car:

“The advent of patrol cars, telephones, two-way radios, “scientific” police management, social migration, and social science theories on the “causes” of crime converged in the late 1950s. Before then, police had generally followed a “watchman” approach: each patrol officer was given the responsibility to police a geographic area.5In the decades after World War II, motorized car patrol replaced foot patrol as the standard method of policing. Improved technology allowed citizens to call police and have their complaints dispatched to police through two-way radios in squad cars. Car patrol was promoted over foot patrol as a cost-saving move justified by increased “efficiency.”6 Those who viewed police as provocative and hostile to the public applauded reduced police presence and discretion. Controlled by the central dispatch, police could respond to the desires of the community rather than enforce their own “arbitrary” concepts of “acceptable” behavior. Police officers, for their part, enjoyed the comforts of the automobile and the prestige associated with new technology. Citizens, rather than being encouraged to maintain community standards, were urged to stay behind locked doors and call 911. Car patrol eliminated the neighborhood police officer. Police were pulled off neighborhood beats to fill cars. But motorized patrol—the cornerstone of urban policing—has no effect on crime rates, victimization, or public satisfaction.” (1371)

This has encouraged a detachment of officers from the communities they police. Quick response time becomes the goal and officers spend time in their car waiting to be “activated” on 911 calls. The only interaction between officers and residents is limited to such 911 call responses, which can all potentially lead to confrontations. But that is still the way policing is done and the way it is taught at the academies, guided by the three “R”s:

  • Random patrol: give the illusion of omnipresence by changing patrol patterns
  • Rapid response: act quickly, catch the criminals (doesn’t work)
  • Reactive investigation: solve crimes rather than prevent them

But the institutional context very poorly accounts for the interaction rituals that guide the interaction between officers and residents:

“Police officers usually know whether a group of suspects is actively, occasionally, or never involved with selling drugs. Some residents, often elderly, believe that all youths, particularly those who present themselves as “thug” or “ghetto,” are involved with drug dealing. If police respond to a call for a group of people known not to be criminals, police will approach politely. If the group seems honestly surprised to see the police, they may be given some presumption of innocence. An officer could ask if everything is all right or if the group knows any reason why the police would have been called. If the suspects are unknown to a police officer, the group’s response to police attention is used as the primary clue. Even with a presumption of guilt, a group that walks away without being prompted will generally be allowed to disperse. If a group of suspects challenges police authority through language or demeanor, the officer is compelled to act. This interaction is so ritualized that it resembles a dance.

(…)

If temporary dispersal of a group is the goal, the mere arrival of a patrol car should be all that is needed. Every additional step, from stopping the car to exiting the car to questioning people on the street, known as a “field interview,” is a form of escalation on the part of the police officer. Aware of the symbolism and ritual of such actions, police establish a pattern in which a desired outcome is achieved quickly, easily, and with a minimum of direct confrontation. Rarely is there any long-term impact. When a police officer slows his or her car down in front of the individuals, the suspects know the officer is there for them and not just passing through on the way to other business. If a group of suspects does not disperse when an officer “rolls up,” the officer will stop the car and stare at the group. A group may ignore the officer’s look or engage the officer in a stare-off, known in police parlance as “eye fucking.” This officer’s stare serves the dual purpose of scanning for contraband and weapons and simultaneously declaring dominance over turf. An officer will initiate, often aggressively, conversation from the car and ask where the suspects live and if they have any identification. Without proof of residence, the suspects will be told to leave and threatened with arrest. If the group remains or reconvenes, they are subject to a loitering arrest. Police officers always assert their right to control public space. Every drug call to which police respond—indeed all police dealings with social or criminal misbehavior—will result in the suspect’s arrest, departure, or deference.” (1494 – 1507)

And a great deal of these interactions are also guided by the need, on both sides, to not lose face, be seen as weak or easily punked. These interactional factors may often determine whether an officer gets out of his car or not, sometimes triggering contempt from the residents. So, officers tend to like car patrols as opposed to foot patrols which are tiring, leave one vulnerable to the elements, and potentially preventing crime. Rapid response is easier and more popular with officers. People commit crimes, you get there fast, you arrest them.

Overall, Moskos advocates for greater police discretion and more focus on quality of life issues as opposed to rapid response while acknowledging that this is not without problems. I don’t think there ever were a golden age of policing where communities and law enforcement worked harmoniously together for the greater good and the end of broken windows (a discredited theory not questioned by Moskos), especially when minorities were involved.

But the bottom line, for Moskos, that the current War on Drugs is a massive failure and a waste of resources (and Moskos does go into some details of the history of drug policies and enforcement in the US, a useful reminder of the racialization of public policy) and should be replaced by a variety of policies (not all drugs are the same) with three goes in mind:

  • preservation of life (current policies increase the dangerous nature of drugs)
  • reduce incarceration
  • save money (through reduced incarceration, depenalization and taxation).

“We changed our country’s culture toward cigarette smoking. It took effort and did cost money. But most of the money came from legally taxed revenue and the cigarette companies. High taxation discourages new users from starting. Public service messages tell the truth (mostly) about the harms of tobacco. Not only is this a great victory for public health, it is perhaps our country’s only success against any pop u lar addictive drug. Drug policies could follow a similar approach: tax drug sales; treat drug abuse as a medical and social problem; set realistic goals of reduced drug use; and allow localities control over their own drug policies.

(…)

Simply decriminalizing possession is not enough. Legalization must not allow armed drug-dealing thugs to operate with impunity.” (2686 – 91)

Now, none of this deals with urban ghettoization and the lack of economic opportunities in inner cities but that it is not really the goal of criminal policy. This also means that the incentives for officers to do counter-productive work need to be changed and we all know that bureaucracies are not easy to transform. In such cases, resistance is not futile.

So, even though I don’t fully agree with all of Moskos’s recommendations and ideas (I am much more suspect of police discretion than he is), I recommend the book as it does provide extensive food for thought.

Posted in Book Reviews, Labor, Poverty, Social Deviance, Social Inequalities, Social Institutions, Social Interaction, Social Research, Social Stigma, Social Stratification, Social Structure, Sociology, Structural Violence, Teaching Sociology, Trafficking | 6 Comments »

The (Other) Visual Du Jour – Don’t Get Too Hard on Them!

November 16, 2011 by and tagged

Actually, not really and less and less (via here and here):

I guess it’s more fun going after Wikileaks and Anonymous.

Marcy Wheeler explains:

“The government as a whole has prosecuted 57.7% fewer financial fraud crimes than they did 10 years ago, when 9/11 changed everything.

The report on our government’s growing disinterest in prosecuting banksters should be paired with this FBI report which I reported on some weeks ago (since that time, FBI has removed the link to the report). The FBI report makes it clear that the FBI, at least, has shifted its approach over the last decade from a “case driven” focus to a “threat driven” focus–meaning that it decides what it’s going to look for and then goes to find criminals committing that crime rather than finds crimes and responds to them. Depending on whether you believe this report or Director Mueller’s June reconfirmation hearing, financial fraud is either the 7th or 5th highest priority for the FBI, behind terrorism, counterintelligence, and cybarattacks.

(…)

All of which costs money. The FBI reports that its budget authority–which it notes is driven by the strategy–has more than doubled over the period in which it has found half as many banksters.

Most telling, though, is a stat you get by putting the two reports together. TRAC notes that FBI referred 37.6% of the fraud cases for prosecution so far this year–working out to be roughly 470 cases. But if you work out how many financial cases they say they were tracking last year (they say “more than 2,800″ equates to 57% of the cases), you see they were tracking roughly 4,912 financial fraud cases. If these numbers are correct, it means fewer than 10% of the banksters and other fraudsters they’re tracking ever get charged.

In other words, it’s not that they’re not seeing the crime. They’re just not referring it for prosecution, choosing instead to look for young Muslim men to entrap.”

Bottom line is law enforcement, at that level, has more to do with protecting the system (with a few egregious cases prosecuted every once in a while because either they’re too big to ignore – see: Madoff – or the public needs to be convinced that something is being done as a legitimation boosting mechanism… that ain’t working anymore).

Going after Wikileaks and Anonymous is going after organizations that really threaten the system. So, prosecution knows no bounds and allies itself with corporations (to deny these organizations funding even in the absence of convictions).

Posted in Social Deviance | 1 Comment »

Corporate Crime and Kid Gloves

November 1, 2011 by and tagged ,

If you want to commit crimes, don’t mug old ladies for their Social Security money, don’t rob gas stations, don’t do anything related to drugs because you’re hurting the children and The War on Drugs will get you. All of these crimes will have you join the ranks of the world’s proportionally largest prison population in the US slammer.

No, if you want to commit crimes, go big, go corporate crime. Do that, and if, a big IF, you get prosecuted, you will be treated with kid gloves:

“Federal prosecutors sued Allied Home Mortgage Capital Corp. and two top executives Tuesday, accusing them of running a massive fraud scheme that cost the government at least $834 million in insurance claims on defaulted home loans.

Houston-based Allied and its founder and chief executive, Jim Hodge, were the subject of July 2010 stories by ProPublica, which detailed a trail of alleged misconduct, lawsuits and government sanctions spanning at least 18 states and seven years. Borrowers recounted how they had been lied to by Allied employees, who in some cases had siphoned their loan proceeds for personal gain. Some lost their homes.

Despite years of warnings, the federal government had not — until this week — impaired the company’s ability to issue new mortgages.

The suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, seeks triple damages and civil penalties, which could total $2.5 billion. Simultaneously, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suspended the company and Hodge from issuing loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration. The company was also barred from issuing mortgage-backed securities through the Government National Mortgage Association (Ginnie Mae).”

Whoa, talk about harsh punishment. See what they did here? No criminal prosecution. All in civil court. Feels like the equivalent to be sent to your room without dinner.

And to the Rick Santellis of the world: GFY:

“The government’s complaint alleges that between 2001 and 2010, Allied originated 112,324 home mortgages backed by the FHA, which typically go to moderate- and low-income borrowers. Of those, nearly 32 percent — 35,801 — defaulted, resulting in more than $834 million in insurance claims paid by HUD.

In 2006 and 2007, the company’s default rate was a “staggering” 55 percent, the complaint said.

In addition, another 2,509 mortgages are currently in default, which could result in another $363 million in insurance claims paid by HUD.

Borrowers told ProPublica last year that company employees falsified records to bolster their credit worthiness and lured them into unaffordable deals by lying about the terms.

The government’s complaint says: “Allied has profited for years as one of the nation’s largest FHA lenders by engaging in reckless mortgage lending, flouting the requirements of the FHA mortgage insurance program and repeatedly lying about its compliance.”"

Also, do you think a prosecutor would talk like that if she were talking about a street crime? (Remember, this is civil court, not criminal court with prosecutors)

“In an interview Tuesday, Helen Kanovsky, HUD’s general counsel, defended the time it took her department to take action.

“We had tried sanctions before,” she said. “We had assessed civil monetary penalties and that had not worked.

“The extraordinary remedy that we have — to be able to terminate somebody’s FHA capacity [and] basically put them out of business — requires a very high level of evidence and a high level of proof.”

The government’s 41-page lawsuit details an alleged scheme by Allied to deceive HUD about its employees and the risks associated with its loans. For years, it operated a network of “shadow” branches that were not approved by HUD and falsely certified that they met legal requirements.

Allied also disguised the high default rates of some branches, the complaint alleges, by tinkering with their addresses to apply for new HUD identification codes for the same offices. When HUD updated its system to prevent such manipulation, Allied simply moved all of its branches to a sister company and obtained new IDs, “thus again achieving a clean slate on its default rates,” the suit said. The sister firm, Allied Home Mortgage Corp., is also named as a defendant.”

I expect the defendants are shaking in their boots with fear and are thoroughly deterred by the prospect of being put out of business and civil sanction.

Posted in Corporatism, Social Deviance | 4 Comments »

Whaddaya Know… Moral Entrepreneurs Really Should Have STFU

October 25, 2011 by and tagged , ,

As I recommended they do during the British riots… let’s go to the data:

“The Ministry of Justice’s statistical report published yesterday into the riots must bring misery to the ears of those like Michael Gove who wished to argue that the root causes of the riots was a lack of morals and values and not poverty. The government’s own figures show that the rioters were in general less educated, young, and ultimately poor.

(…)

For me the rioters resembled more the people I grew up with than the people I attended University with. Of course, there are poor people who do not engage in crime, I was one, but as any criminologist worth their salt will tell you, those more likely to engage in the sort of crime that we saw in the riots, are those with less to lose. And if the above evidence proves anything, it is that those with the least to lose, were certainly those who lived in areas of London where rioting took place.

Oscar Wilde once wrote that: “There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else. That is the misery of being poor.” The misery of the likes of Michael Gove is their inability to see such misery.”

As a general rule, any moral argument advanced to explain social phenomenon usually amounts to little more than privilege protection and never leads to reasoned public policy but increased discipline against the disadvantaged.

Posted in Collective Behavior, Poverty, Social Deviance | No Comments »

The (Selective) Medicalization of Deviance

October 22, 2011 by and tagged , , ,

This is interesting (H/T DC Blogger over at Corrente):

“A 21-year-old Occupy Wall Street demonstrator caused quite the ruckus early this morning, when he scaled a 70-foot sculpture in New York’s Zuccotti Park, refusing to come down until Mayor Michael Bloomberg resigned.

Dylan Spoelstra of Canada climbed the park’s signature red sculpture around 6 a.m. He sat on a metal platform for three hours, with his feet dangling, as police cleared the surrounding area and tried to talk him down.

Around 9 a.m., Spoelstra was seen descending the sculpture in a police crane, looking jovial, with his arm around the officer who helped him down.

Once on the ground, Spaelstra was placed in handcuffs and transported to Bellevue Hospital, where he was to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, according to a police spokesman.”

Apparently, no one understands performance art or performance stunts as part of the repertoire of contention.

Obviously, a VERY deranged person:

However, the threshold for craziness that needs psychiatric evaluation is rather flexible. The person below was NOT taken to Bellevue. I wonder why:

The answer is, of course, only people who challenge the larger social structure (with its distribution of power, its ideological underpinnings and supportive institutions) get to be classified as deviant, or the more “humane” and medicalized label of “emotionally disturbed” and treated accordingly (remember Gulag Archipelago?).

On the other hand, supporting the existing system and the current distribution of social privileges is rationalized and normalized, and not treated as a pathological category.

The occupation movement is a systemic challenge and therefore, it gets to be depicted in all sorts of demeaning ways in the media (whose role is to provide already-mentioned ideological underpinnings): no clear message, confused people, hippies, dirty and smelly, weird, and now, mentally ill.

On the other hand, the Tea Party movement is of the “suck-up / kick-down” category and therefore gets to have its grievances treated with serious concern and granted legitimacy. This movement presents no challenge whatsoever to established structures.

Posted in Ideologies, Media, Social Deviance, Social Movements | 1 Comment »

The Visual Du Jour – Murders

October 10, 2011 by and tagged ,

Worldwide:

Note how not green the US is. Also note which countries are green (like China and most of the Middle East). And I had to explain yet again to my students that, no, diversity is not the reason for the elevated murder rate in the US compared to other rich countries.

Posted in Mass Violence, Social Deviance, Sociology | 1 Comment »

Pre-Crime and Street Corner Society 2.0

August 22, 2011 by and tagged , ,

From this interesting article in which Malcolm James explains how law enforcement polices public spaces against youth pre-crime:

“Even before the riots, the streets were dangerous places for young people to be. Young people at Leeside talked of community support officers and police prowling the streets, assuming they were up to no good.

The community support officer who came to Leeside was part of a local partnership initiate. He was there to liaise with young people, but his role outside the youth club did not make him a popular figure.

One evening, as we were standing in the back-lobby of the youth club, he justified his role to me through stories of moving young people on from street corners and stairwells. They were not actually causing trouble, he told me; rather, they were thinking about it. Like the two young men who recently received four-year sentences for imagining civil disobedience on Facebook, the young people I worked with, by virtue of interacting in public space, were criminalised before they had done anything wrong.

If you’re aged between 12 and 21 it’s this threat of criminalisation that is the real urban terror. Cameron’s backing of ‘gang injunctions’ – court orders that ban groups of young people (gangs) from certain geographical areas –will criminalise innocent working-class urban young people for associating with friends in one of the only public spaces available to them.”

Time for us all to brush up Whyte’s classical Street Corner Society.

Also, this:

This has to do with the criminalization of poverty and youth culture, perceived, in a moralistic view of social issues, as moral defect.

Posted in Social Deviance, Social Sanctions, Social Stigma, Sociology | No Comments »

Stigma 2.0

August 11, 2011 by and tagged , ,

Geez, why don’t they public their photos while they’re at it.

This is a redacted (by me) screenshot the Twitter timeline from the Greater Manchester police (thanks to David Skinner for this):

I love the nice little rationalization (hey, it’s public data anyway).

This goes back to Morozov’s point that not just the cool techie Millenials are savvy with social networking technology while governments are uncool and unsophisticated. And also keep in mind that England has an extensive system of surveillance cameras. We already know that these have had a very limited impact in crime reduction but one can see how useful they can be to identify protesters of all kinds (and not just looters… paging David Lyon). So, it is not entirely surprising to see attempts at using social media to stigmatize (I am putting Goffman to work quite a bit lately) individuals.

And while we are talking about governments not being totally clueless when it comes to the uses of technology for a variety of purposes (all having to do with surveillance and control), let’s keep this in mind:

“During his address to the House of Commons today, prime minister David Cameron proposed that in the future, authorities might be given powers to stop people communicating over social networking websites if they are suspected of plotting “violence, disorder and criminality”.”

Hey, remember when the Egyptian government tried to do that against protesters and everybody thought that was a bad thing to do. Well, it is not better when a Western government tries to do it and it is quite revealing as to the state of government legitimacy that such a proposal be even seriously considered. This also exposes, yet again, as a lie the idea that conservatives are for “small government” staying out of people’s businesses. Conservatives love government as instrument of war and repression and moral imposition since that is the prism through which every issue is interpreted. When the only tool you have is hammer, all your problems look like nails, as the saying goes. Well, when your only instrument of policies are moral injunctions and repressive instruments, all problems will be interpreted as moral problems, and all public policy will be punitive.

Posted in Social Deviance, Social Stigma, Technology | No Comments »

No, Really, Moral Entrepreneurs Should STFU (Part II)

August 11, 2011 by and tagged , , , , ,

Via my comrade-in-arms, Karl Thompson, this open letter to David Cameron’s parents beautifully makes a great point about the similarities in values between looters and, well, upper-class looters (except, those don’t get stigmatized and subject to repressive public policy):

“Dear Mr & Mrs Cameron,

Why did you never take the time to teach your child basic morality?

As a young man, he was in a gang that regularly smashed up private property. We know that you were absent parents who left your child to be brought up by a school rather than taking responsibility for his behaviour yourselves. The fact that he became a delinquent with no sense of respect for the property of others can only reflect that fact that you are terrible, lazy human beings who failed even in teaching your children the difference between right and wrong. I can only assume that his contempt for the small business owners of Oxford is indicative of his wider values.

Even worse, your neglect led him to fall in with a bad crowd.

There’s Michael Gove, whose wet-lipped rage was palpable on Newsnight last night. This is the Michael Gove who confused one of his houses with another of his houses in order to avail himself of £7,000 of the taxpayers’ money to which he was not entitled (or £13,000, depending on which house you think was which).

Or Hazel Blears, who was interviewed in full bristling peahen mode for almost all of last night. She once forgot which house she lived in, and benefited to the tune of £18,000. At the time she said it would take her reputation years to recover. Unfortunately not.

But, of course, this is different. This is just understandable confusion over the rules of how many houses you are meant to have as an MP. This doesn’t show the naked greed of people stealing plasma tellies.

Unless you’re Gerald Kaufman, who broke parliamentary rules to get £8,000 worth of 40-inch, flat screen, Bang and Olufsen TV out of the taxpayer.

Or Ed Vaizey, who got £2,000 in antique furniture ‘delivered to the wrong address’. Which is fortunate, because had that been the address they were intended for, that would have been fraud.

Or Jeremy Hunt, who broke the rules to the tune of almost £20,000 on one property and £2,000 on another. But it’s all right, because he agreed to pay half of the money back. Not the full amount, it would be absurd to expect him to pay back the entire sum that he took and to which he was not entitled. No, we’ll settle for half. And, as in any other field, what might have been considered embezzlement of £22,000 is overlooked. We know, after all, that David Cameron likes to give people second chances.

Fortunately, we have the Met Police to look after us. We’ll ignore the fact that two of its senior officers have had to resign in the last six weeks amid suspicions of widespread corruption within the force.

We’ll ignore Andy Hayman, who went for champagne dinners with those he was meant to be investigating, and then joined the company on leaving the Met.

Of course, Mr and Mrs Cameron, your son is right. There are parts of society that are not just broken, they are sick. Riddled with disease from top to bottom.

Just let me be clear about this (It’s a good phrase, Mr and Mrs Cameron, and one I looted from every sentence your son utters, just as he looted it from Tony Blair), I am not justifying or minimising in any way what has been done by the looters over the last few nights. What I am doing, however, is expressing shock and dismay that your son and his friends feel themselves in any way to be guardians of morality in this country.

Can they really, as 650 people who have shown themselves to be venal pygmies, moral dwarves at every opportunity over the last 20 years, bleat at others about ‘criminality’. Those who decided that when they broke the rules (the rules they themselves set) they, on the whole wouldn’t face the consequences of their actions?

Are they really surprised that this country’s culture is swamped in greed, in the acquisition of material things, in a lust for consumer goods of the most base kind? Really?

Let’s have a think back: cash-for-questionsBernie Ecclestonecash-for-accessMandelson’s mortgagethe Hinduja passportsBlunkett’s alleged insider trading (and, by the way, when someone has had to resign in disgracetwice can we stop having them on television as a commentator, please?); the meetings on the yachts of oligarchsthe drafting of the Digital Economy Act with Lucian Grange; Byers’, Hewitt’s & Hoon’s desperation to prostitute themselves and their positions; the fact that Andrew Lansley (in charge of NHS reforms) has a wife who gives lobbying advice to the very companies hoping to benefit from the NHS reforms. And that list didn’t even take me very long to think of.”

But it is truly a form of social privilege to lord it over and turns what is truly unearned privilege into a sign of higher morality. In any event, this makes the point, often repeated but never really listened to, that criminality and deviance are not traits of the lower classes. They are just the only ones made to pay for their actions. Up the social ladder though, one is quite safe. Every once in a while, the most outrageous cases will be made examples of  just to show the rest of us that privilege is no protection (see: Bernie Madoff) and that the system is fair. But most often, high-class criminality (or simple malfeasance) is free (see: 2008 recession).

Posted in Collective Behavior, Social Deviance, Social Inequalities, Social Privilege, Social Stigma, Social Stratification | No Comments »

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