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The Social Construction of Crime, Part 2

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Dramatic rise in homelessness in the 1980s: ... Summary: legal response to vagrancy/homelessness has complex social and political causes. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Social Construction of Crime, Part 2


1
The Social Construction of Crime, Part 2
  • How do definitions of crime vary over time and
    cross-culturally? What does this variation tell
    is about our own culture and society?

2
From last time Why is criminal law an
important object of social struggle and conflict?
  • 1. It expresses particular norms and values.
  • 2. Public safety issues may (or may not) be
    involved.
  • 3. It generates important constraints and
    opportunities.
  • 4. It may affect power relations, as well as the
    distribution of resources.

3
Summary (of previous lecture)
  • In modern societies, crime is created and defined
    by criminal law.
  • Criminal law is shaped by both cultural norms and
    politics (the distribution of power).
  • Criminal law has a number of important
    consequences beyond regulating behavior and
    public safety issues. It is therefore often hotly
    contested and controversial.

4
Historical Example The Case of Vagrancy
  • Who has been defined as a vagrant in the U.S. and
    elsewhere?
  • a. People without fixed home or livelihood
  • b. Make living by irregular work, informal
    economy, etc.

5
Vagrancy as a Crime
  • Often defined as a crime as feudal systems break
    down.
  • European case
  • Post-Reconstruction southern United States

6
Vagrancy as a Crime Today
  • Was a crime until 1970s, when Supreme Court
    ruled that a status could not be a crime.
  • Behaviors associated with homelessness have been
    re-criminalized
  • No sleeping/sitting laws
  • No panhandling laws
  • No sleeping in parks

7
Explaining the New Vagrancy Laws
  • Dramatic rise in homelessness in the 1980s
  • Dramatic cuts in federal housing subsidies and
    spending
  • Increasing poverty and inequality
  • Decarceration of mentally ill

8
Also rise of post-industrial urban economies
  • Fewer industrial jobs and employers.
  • Urban economies more dependent on tourism,
    shopping, high-end service sector.
  • Global cities compete to attract developers and
    large companies.
  • Yuppies reclaim the city the Fraser ideal.

9
3rd Factor Broken Windows Policing
  • Theory is that disorder and minor crimes invite
    serious crime.
  • Police are encouraged to be proactive and to
    focus on disorder.
  • Question Why might this be appealing to police
    agencies?

10
Understanding the New Vagrancy Laws Summary
  • Increased homelessness
  • Development of post-industrial urban economy
  • Popularity of broken windows policing

11
Why does it matter?
  • Consequences of this approach to homelessness?
  • Alternatives to it?
  • Summary legal response to vagrancy/homelessness
    has complex social and political causes.

12
The Case of Drugs
  • Drug use was not defined as a crime in 19th
    century America
  • Widely consumed in over the counter medicines
  • Not treated as a significant social problem

13
The Criminalization of Drugs Origins
  • First local law SF anti-opium legislation
  • First national law Harrison Narcotics Act
  • Re-interpreted by courts to prohibit doctors from
    supplying addicts (maintenance)

14
The Contemporary War on Drugs
  • Intensified under Presidents Nixon and Reagan
  • More money for border and law enforcement
  • Mandatory sentences adopted in 1986 (crack)
  • Reduced judicial discretion
  • Amount of drugs key role in enterprise
    irrelevant
  • Number of arrests skyrocketed

15
U.S. Drug Arrests
16
Drug Arrest Rate by Race
17
Assumptions that Inform the U.S. Drug War
  • People who use and sell drugs cause harm to
    themselves and others and should be punished.
  • Drug prohibition will reduce the supply and
    availability of drugs, and therefore decrease
    use.
  • The threat of punishment and rising cost of drugs
    will also deter drug use.

18
Assumptions that inform drug policy reform in
some European countries
  • No society can eliminate all drug use.
  • Not all drug use is problematic.
  • The goal should be to reduce the harm associated
    that is (sometimes) associated with drug use.
  • A public health approach better reduces the harm
    caused by drugs.

19
  • QUESTIONS TO PONDER
  • What does the U.S. approach to drugs tell us
    about our society (culture and politics)?
  • How do the consequences of the war on drugs and
    the harm reduction approach differ?

20
A Final Example Debate Over Immigration Law
  • Discuss Provisions of House Bill, dubbed The
    Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism and Illegal
    Immigration Control Act of 2005
  • What is at stake symbolically?
  • How would this law affect peoples opportunities
    and constraints?
  • How would this law impact the distribution of
    resources?
  • How would this law affect criminal justice
    institutions?

21
Wrap-Up
  • The cases of vagrancy, drugs and immigration law
    show how economic developments, race/ethnic
    relations, politics, and cultural factors all
    influence
  • What we think of as crime.
  • How manage crime-related problems.
  • How we seek justice.
  • Will focus on the latter two next week.
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