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Organized Crime and Differential Association

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  • Pages: 7
  • Word count: 1506
  • Category: crime

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When one thinks of organized crime, we think of the Italian mob of the 40-50’s. These were organized crime syndicates involved in a multitude of crimes including robbery, distribution of illicit substances, gambling, racketeering, and extortion. As well, these criminal activities inevitably led to other crimes such as murder, assaults, prostitution. One of the primary concerns of the federal government during this time, regarding organized crime groups, was their ability to infiltrate legitimate business. In October 1970, the federal government passed the organized crime control act of 1970.

Title IX, better known as the RICO act, targeted crime groups that attempted to take over legitimate businesses, through illegal means, both federally and civilly (Geary p315). These organizations affected the community at the time through theft of revenues, violence, gambling, or extortion. Currently, Organized crime takes on a more diverse set of activities than the narrow historical view presented. Organized crime syndicates today deal in organs trafficking, prostitution, drug trafficking, endangered species trafficking, ivory dealing, financial schemes, etc.

Some authors argue that a definition of organized crime is not always clear. One author cites a definition of organized crime by The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Crime as such: “[S]tructured group of three or more persons existing for a period of time and acting in concert with the aim of committing more serious crimes or offenses in accordance with this Convention in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit. ” (Clark pg99) Organized crime in this respect is performed by members of a group.

This is not to be confused with crime that is committed within an organized market. Individuals who commit crime within an organized market, such as the drug trade, for their own sake, are not a part of an organized crime group. They are simply one part in an organized network of interactions. We intend to talk about organized crime groups consisting of multiple members who work together to gain profitable ends for all members in that group. In this paper we will examine organized crime groups and their activities through the paradigm of differential association as proposed by Edwin H. Sutherland and Donald R. Cressey (Sutherland Cressy pg 237).

Sutherland proposes 9 propositions to explain the development of crime. The primary idea is that people learn behaviors from those whom they are associated with. People also acquire their directions of their motivations and attitudes from these intimate others. Although Sutherland claims that this social learning theory explains learned behavior of all people he directs this theory to explain the behavior of crime.

We will examine organized crime by utilizing each of Sutherland 9 propositions. The strength of Sutherland theory applied to organized crime is that it examines how one person becomes a criminal rather than another, why they commit one crime but not another, how they develop the skills required to commit crime, and how one develops the motivations and attitudes that lead to initiating the criminal behavior. Organized criminals are members of a group of criminals as mentioned above.

In keeping with the theory of differential association, organized crime can be analyzed by understanding that these criminals have developed criminal skills through their associates and have developed their attitudes and motivations throughout their personal history. Proposition 1: Criminal behavior is learned. Therefore, criminal behavior is not inherited and is not spontaneous. Past theories of crime alluded to genetic understandings of crime. They used race, facial and head structure, and body posture as predictors of criminal behavior. These theories represented various biases of the time.

It tended to be those who did fit the physical description of those whom held power in the society at the time who were labeled as more likely engage in deviant behavior. However, more current research looks at poverty, race, or gender as correlated with criminal activity. Within the DA (differential association) framework, these factors may be correlated with crime however, they cannot be said to be the causes of crime. If criminal behavior is caused by poverty and insufficient access to the means and opportunities to climb out of poverty and into a success lifestyle, how then can one explain the crimes of the well off or very wealthy?

Also, why do not all impoverished people commit crimes? Sutherland and Cressy hold that these socio-demographic factors may have an effect on crime but are not the causes of criminal behavior. Proposition 2: Criminal behavior is learned in interaction with other persons in a process of communication. In this sense, most if not all crime is a skilled behavior. Considering a simple crime such as stealing a wallet left out on a table, a criminal must have an awareness of all surrounding people and must develop a strategy for obtaining the wallet and exiting the situation being undetected.

By the time a person matures enough to commit this crime; they have at the very least a rudimentary understanding of the crime from media and mentions to it from others around them. With this little bit of knowledge the crime is possible but likely hood of escaping detection is low. If a potential criminal receives advisement from one who has committed the crime in the past successfully, the likelihood of escaping detection increases. Drug dealing is a criminal activity that requires much knowledge to execute successfully.

One must know who can supply them with a large quantity of drugs. They must know what the current market value of the drug to charge adequate prices. This is knowledge gained from associates with some understanding of the illicit drug market. Many strategies of evading detection are critical to maintain success. Everything from how to hide drugs, how to behave when visible to police, who to deal with, where to find bargains, how to increase the quantity, reduce the potency and increase profit, is learned from other whom operate within the illicit drug market.

One cannot find a book on how to sell illicit substances; this itself would likely be a crime. Knowledge of crime is usually learned through face-to-face interactions. Proposition 3: The principle part of the learning of criminal behavior occurs within intimate personal groups. This is not to say that a general sense of the crime cannot be understood through the visual and/or auditory media, but that the primary aspects of crime that are necessary to initiate the execution of the crime are learned through face-to-face human interaction in some form of communication, including modeling.

Here, it also noted that more intimate relationships are much more meaningful in the learning process. Gang members for instance tend to learn criminal behaviors from the members of their own gang. Criminals tend to have friends that are criminal. Mafia members tend to belong to tight knit closed mouth group. They only tell their most trusted fellows about murders they commit. The risk of the information is extremely high and therefore more trust is required to share such information. This makes the relationship more intimate if the trust is kept.

They share experiences through stories of their crimes, in essences comparing this information to previous criminal knowledge and revisions are made, as is with all knowledge. Research has shown that adolescents who report that their friends are delinquent tend to report higher levels of delinquency than adolescents with fewer or no delinquent friends (Haynie p 100). Proposition 4: When criminal behavior is learned, the learning includes a) technique of committing the crime, which are sometimes very complicated, sometimes very simple; b) the specific direction of motives, drives, rationalization, and attitudes.

As mentioned somewhat above, transmitting techniques of crime are important in the success of the crime and therefore are important in the maintenance of the criminal behavior. Some crime may be elaborated and require extensive learning such as money laundering or the manufacturing of illicit drugs. These crimes are not possible without extensive knowledge of the activity. Some crimes are simple and require brief communication about a location and the technique to jump a fence, steal copper wire and where to sell it.

Criminal organizations share knowledge about black markets and the techniques to operate in these environments. The longer the existence of the group, the more refined the techniques become to evade detection such going from local gambling to internet gambling, heroin or cocaine to synthetic drugs, or loan sharking to money laundering (Albanese pg 267). The second part of this proposition deals with the shaping of motives, drives, and attitudes. These are shaped through personal interaction with others. This begins when one is a child and the child begins to model the behaviors of their family.

A child typically believes that if his parents are doing it, then the behavior is an appropriate behavior and develops a positive attitude toward that behavior. As well, if a child is rewarded or praised for a behavior by his significant others, the child as well looks upon the behavior as positive. It also applies that their attitudes can be shapes to view behaviors as negative. This process occurs throughout life and significant others continue to shape our attitudes about behaviors with their approval or disapproval.

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