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Radical Criminology

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Criminal law involves prosecution by the state of a person for an act that has been classified as a crime (Criminal law, 2010). But who gets to decide what acts are criminal? It should be no surprise that the individuals with the most power do. For radical criminologists, the problem arises in capitalist societies because it is in these societies where the means of production are owned privately by a small number of people. Based on the writings of Karl Marx, radical criminologists argue that the state works to serve the interests of the capitalist ruling class and that criminal law is merely an instrument of that class to keep all other classes in a disadvantage position (Young et al.,1973; Quinney, 1980). Named the elites, bourgeois, or the ruling class, these powerful people formulate and shape the content of the law to further their interests and at the same time to exploit the poor and the weak. Criminal law protects the powerful by making it look like the most dangerous types of crime are committed by the poor and consequently by setting the stage for criminal justice officials to go after and punish perpetrators of street crime more harshly than those who commit white collar or corporate crime.

On September 13, 1989, a small Kentucky town experienced a powerful tragic mining “accident,” or so it seemed. The powerful methane explosion left 10 men dead. A federal investigation revealed that the acting foreman at the mine falsified countless safety reports including those that documented methane levels. The foreman failed to comply with safety and regulatory requirements that ultimately lead to the explosion and deaths of 10 men. Accident? Murder? Mass murder? What does the criminal law say? The foreman received the minimum ...

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Young, J., Taylor, I., & Walton, P. (1973). The New Criminology: For A Social Theory Of Deviance. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.