In his 1939 presidential address at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Society, Edward H. Sutherland used, with great effect, the term ”white-collar crime.” In an interesting introduction to his discussion of Sutherland, Green (1990) noted that in 1901, 1907, and 1935, respectively, Charles Henderson, Edward Alsworth Ross, and Albert Morris had ”anticipated” the ideas Sutherland had presented, after conducting much research, in 1939. Sutherland depicted a white-collar criminal as any person of high socioeconomic status who commits a legal violation in the course of his or her occupation (Green 1990). Later he defined white-collar crime as criminal acts committed by persons in the middle or upper socioeconomic groups in connection with their occupations (Sutherland 1949). Since that time, the concept has undergone some modification and ”has gained widespread popularity among the public” but ”remains ambiguous and controversial in criminology” (Vold and Bernard 1986). More specifically, some definitions have deleted the class of the offender as a consideration.

Edelhertz (1970) defines white-collar crime as an ”illegal act or series of illegal acts committed by nonphysical means and by concealment or guile, to obtain money or property, to avoid payment or loss of money or property, or to obtain business or personal advantage.”

Others have attempted to refine the definition by differentiating between occupational and corporate contexts (Clinard and Quinney 1973: Clinard and Yeager 1980), clarifying the difference between and among government, corporate, organizational, and occupational crimes (Coleman 1994; Green 1990; Punch 1996) and avoiding the use of the term ”crime” by substituting ”law violations” that involve the violator’s position of power (Biderman and Reiss, 1980). Tappan (1947) said that white-collar crimes are not ”crimes” if they are not included in legal definitions.

While various writers measure the extent of white-collar crimes in terms of the number of ”violations” (Clinard and Yeager 1980) or the extent of harm done to the public, business, or the environment (Punch 1996), others focus on dollar costs. Reiman (1995) modified the cost estimates of white-collar crimes by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (1974) and made those figures applicable to 1991. Among his categories were consumer fraud, credit card and check fraud, embezzlement and pilferage, insurance fraud, receiving stolen property, and securities theft and fraud. His total amounted to $197.76 billion for 1991. Reiman noted that those figures compared favorably with Clinard’s estimate of $200 billion for one year (1990) and with a similar figure reported in U.S. News and World Report (1985). Reiman notes that his own estimate, is on the conservative side but that it is ”almost 6000 times the total amount taken in all bank-robberies in the US in 1991 and more than eleven times the total amount stolen in all thefts reported in the FBI Uniform Crime Reports for that year” (1995, p.111). Reiman’s figures apparently do not include any of the vast amounts of money lost in the savings and loan scandal. These issues are elaborated on below.

Green (1990) states that Sutherland’s three main objectives were to show that: (1) white-collar crime is real criminality because it is law-violative behavior (Sutherland asserted that civil lawsuits resulting in decisions against persons or corporations should be considered convictions and are proof of violations of law), (2) poor people are not the only ones who commit crime, and (3) his theory of differential association constituted an approach that could explain a general process characteristic of all criminality.

Sutherland held that typical crime ”statistics” picturing the criminal population as made up largely of lower-class, economically underprivileged people give a false impression of noncriminality on the part of the upper classes, including respected and highly placed business and political persons (Sutherland 1949). His white-collar criminality included some of the following: misinterpretation of the financial statements of corporations, manipulation of the stock exchange, bribery of public officials to obtain desirable contracts, misrepresentation in advertising and salesmanship, embezzlement and misuse of trust funds, dishonest bankruptcies, and price-fixing. He quoted the Chicago gangster Al Capone calling such practices ”legitimate rackets” (Sutherland 1949) to differentiate them from the more violent rackets of the underworld.

Sutherland held that white-collar criminals are relatively immune because of the class bias of the courts and the power of their class to influence the administration of the law. As a result of this class bias, the crimes of the ”respectable” upper class generally are handled differently than are the crimes of the lower class. To compensate for this class bias, Sutherland argued that official conviction statistics must be supplemented by evidence of criminal violations from other sources, such as hearings before regulatory commissions, civil suits for damages, administrative hearings, and various other procedures outside criminal court prosecutions (Vold and Bernard, 1986).

Coleman (1994) says that because ”Sutherland’s work focused almost exclusively on business crimes and especially violations of federal economic regulations” and because he failed ”to devote more attention to violent white-collar crimes,” a debate sprang up about whether white-collar crime is really crime. Since business offenses were handled as civil or administrative matters, Sutherland’s detractors suggested that white-collar criminals were not ”real” criminals. Coleman states, ”Had the argument focused on flammable clothes that burned helpless children,” Sutherland would have been in a stronger position. Still, Coleman suggests, Sutherland would have encountered resistance. When he made his address in 1939, crime was seen as something that happened primarily among immigrants and poor people. The idea that business leaders should be considered criminals had an un-American sound to it. Moreover, corporate executives were not likely to support such ideas. Coleman holds, however, that Sutherland won the first round of this debate with the scholars who criticized him.

Tappan was one of the first to criticize Sutherland’s position. Tappan, who was trained as both a lawyer and a sociologist, asserted that crime, if legally defined, was an appropriate topic of study for sociologists (1947). Accordingly, he felt that actions that were not against the law were not crimes and that persons who had not been convicted of criminal charges were not criminals. Sutherland, following Sellin (1951), held that Tap-pan’s criterion of legal conviction was too far removed from the offense, which may go undetected, unprosecuted, and/or unconvicted (Green 1990). Burgess (1950) agreed with Tappan that Sutherland erred in failing to distinguish between civil and criminal law. However, Vold and Bernard (1986) suggest that a scientifically adequate theory of crime must explain all behaviors that have the same essential characteristics, whether or not the behavior has been defined as a crime by criminal justice agencies. Sutherland initiated his attempt to develop such a theory with his theory of differential association, which he felt could explain both lower-class and white-collar crime.

Biderman and Reiss (1980) considered white-collar crime to consist of ”violations of law, to which penalties are attached, and that involve the use of a violator’s position of significant power, influence, or trust in the legitimate economic or political institutional order for the purpose of illegal gain, or to commit an illegal act for personal or organizational gain.” Coleman (1994) defines white-collar crime as a ”violation of the law committed by a person or group of persons in the course of their otherwise respected and legitimate occupational or financial activity.” Green (1990) points out that the terms ”respectable” and ”significant power or influence” employed in these definitions do not represent an improvement of Sutherland’s definition because they are relative terms. Because of such problems, Green seems to suggest that pinpointing the white-collar criminal (person) is considerably more problematic than delineating white-collar crime. He agrees with Sutherland that white-collar crime is inexorably limited to occupational opportunity.

In their analysis of corporate violations, Clinard and Yeager (1980) say that while corporate crime is white-collar crime, occupational crime is a different type of white-collar crime. Building on earlier work by Clinard and Quinney (1973), they suggest that ”occupational crime is committed largely by individuals or by small groups of individuals in connection with their occupations.” They include under this type ”businessmen, politicians, labor union leaders, lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, and employees who embezzle money from their employees or steal merchandise and tools. Occupational crimes encompass income tax evasion; manipulation in the sale of used cars and other products; fraudulent repairs of automobiles, television sets, and appliances; embezzlement; check-kiting; and violations in the sale of securities” (1980, p. 18).

Clinard and Yeager, in agreement with Sutherland’s opinion of what constitutes law violation, say that ”a corporate crime is any act committed by corporations that is punished by the state, regardless of whether it is punished under administrative, civil, or criminal law” (1980, p. 16). They also state that Sutherland conducted the first research in this area and that his book White Collar Crime (1949) should have had the title of their book: Corporate Crime.

Green has extended the work of Clinard and Quinney and Clinard and Yeager and that of others in Occupational Crime (1990). He claims that corporate crime almost always occurs within the course of one’s occupation, and thus the term ”occupational crime” encompasses corporate offenses. To Green, occupational crime refers to any act punishable by law that is committed through an opportunity created in the course of an occupation that is legal. Green goes on to say that the criterion of a legal occupation is necessary, since otherwise the term could include all crimes. A legal occupation, he indicates, is one that does not in itself violate any laws. Thus, the term would exclude persons with occupations that are illegal to begin with, such as bank robbers and professional con men. He lists four types of occupational crime: (1) crimes for the benefit of an employing organization, (2) crimes by officials through their state-based authority, (3) crimes by professionals in their capacity as professionals, and (4) crimes by individuals as individuals.

Coleman (1994) has noted both the tendency to redefine the concept of white-collar crime to include any nonviolent crime based on concealment or guile (Webster 1980) and the tendency to impose new terms such as ”occupational crime,” ”corporate crime” (discussed above), ”elite deviance,” ”corporate deviance,” and ”organizational crime” (not to be confused with ”organized crime”). Coleman states that ”the whole point behind most criminologists’ concern with white collar crime is to give the same kind of attention to the crimes of the powerful and privileged that is given to common offenders.” He states that the term ”white-collar crime” best serves this purpose or goal and is too useful a conceptual tool to be thrown out: ”Because it clearly identifies a specific problem of great concern to people around the world, ‘white collar crime’ has become one of the most popular phrases ever to come out of sociological research” (Coleman 1994, p. 5).

Coleman (1994) clearly acknowledges that some of the criticisms of Sutherland’s original definition are valid; for example, (1) responsibility for some white-collar offenses is attributable to groups, and (2) many white-collar offenses are committed by persons from the middle levels of the status hierarchy. Coleman (1994) states that in a major respect, however, Sutherland’s views seem relevant. One of the central issues in early debates about the definition of white-collar crime was whether the term should include violations of civil as well as criminal law. As the study of white-collar crime has developed over the last fifty years, many criminologists have sided with Sutherland’s view that it should include both civil and criminal violations (Wheeler 1976; Schrager and Short 1978; Braithewaite 1979; Clinard and Yeager 1980; Hagar and Parker 1985).

Following the lines of other students, Cole-man states that a typology of white-collar crimes is needed (1994, p. 10). He suggests that while a humanistic perspective might focus on the consequences of white-collar crimes for victims (property losses versus physical injury), a more useful typology might center on differences between offenders. Thus, he suggests a dichotomy between occupational crimes (consisting of offenses by individuals, whether employee or employer) and organizational crimes, which include both corporate and government crimes.

Poveda (1994, p. 70) asserts with some justification that the design of a typology depends on the theoretical biases of the researcher. He says that scholars need to be aware of the diversity of white-collar crime in considering explanations. Poveda suggests that there are two traditions, both of which can be traced to the initial Sutherland-Tappan debate. One school, the Sutherland school, focuses on the offender as the defining characteristic of white-collar crime. The other school emphasizes the offense as the central criterion of white-collar crime (Poveda 1994, p. 39). Both traditions are alive and well.


Punch, Reiman, Clinard and Yeager, Green, and Coleman are unanimous that interest in white-collar crime emerged or gathered speed after the Watergate scandal in the 1970s. It does seem that while there was early excitement over Sutherland’s initial 1939 address, interest quickly waned. In the late 1940s, interest in social order seemed to predominate. Clinard and Yeager (1980) reviewed the events of the 1960s and 1970s, describing the occasional corporate conspiracies and environmental abuses that came to the public’s attention. They noted how the short and suspended sentences given to Watergate offenders contrasted ”sharply with the 10-, 20-, 50-, and even 150-year sentences given to burglars and robbers.” Reiman, beginning with the first edition The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison (1979), has been a consistent critic of the different ways in whichjustice has been meted out to the poor and the well to do.

Clinard and Yeager (1980), in what Punch (1996) calls the piece of research that is closest to Sutherland’s legacy, conducted the first large-scale comprehensive investigation of the law violations of major firms since Sutherland’s pioneering work. Sutherland (1949) conducted his study on seventy of the two-hundred largest U.S. nonfinancial corporations. The study of Clinard and Yeager (1980) involved a systematic analysis of federal administrative, civil, and criminal actions initiated or completed by twenty-five federal agencies against the 477 largest publicly owned manufacturing (Fortune 500) corporations and 105 of the largest wholesale, retail, and service corporations in the United States in the period 1975-1976. Thus, they had a total sample of 582 corporations. Clinard and Yeager found the following:

A total of 1,553federal cases were begun against all 582 corporations during 1975 and 1976 or an average of 2.7 federal cases of violation each. Of the 582 corporations, 350 (60.1 percent) had at least one federal action brought against them, and for those firms that had at least one actions brought against them, the average was 4.4 cases. (1980, p. 113)

Six main types of violations were reported by Clinard and Yeager (1980): administrative, environmental, financial, labor, manufacturing, and unfair trade practices. Their evidence shows that ”often decisions on malpractice were taken at the highest corporate levels, that records were destroyed or ingeniously doctored by executives and their accountants and that the outcomes of these decisions can have serious economic, financial, political, personal, and even physical consequences” (Punch 1996, p. 52).

Punch (1996) focused on selected cases, mainly from other countries, that bear on his hypothesis that business is crimogenic, i.e., it justifies or tolerates illegal behavior. This parallels Clarke’s (1990) contention that crime and misconduct are endemic to business and that the key to understanding them lies in recognizing the structure that the business environment gives to misconduct both in terms of opportunities and in terms of how misconduct is managed. Punch states that his underlying purpose is to use his cases to ”unmask the underlying logic of business and the submerged social world of the manager” (1991, p. 213). Punch states, however, that he is not asserting that most companies are guilty of criminal behavior. Indeed, he says that ”there are companies which explicitly set out to conform to the law; they maintain a record of no transgressions” (p. 214). In short, Punch focuses on companies that engage in corporate deviance.

If after reviewing the works of Clinard and Yeager (1980) and Sutherland (1949), a student of crime still is inclined to conclude that the term ”white-collar crime” refers to harmless or small mistakes in judgment rather than to harmful, selfish, profit-oriented motives followed by an intentional cover-up of brutal consequences, Punch sets the record straight. One of the most chilling of his cases is the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania in March 1979. A series of incidents involved (1) a leaking seal, (2) leading to feedwater pumps that failed to come into operation and remove heat from the core (3) because of blocked pipes stemming from (4) valves having been left in the wrong position after routine maintenance some days earlier and (5) that could not be seen because the control switch indicator was obscured. Through further accidents, mounting tension, and delays, danger increased and a complete meltdown loomed. Then, ”almost by coincidence, and perhaps because of a new shift supervisor checking the PORV [pilot-operated relief valve], the stuck relief valve was discovered. More as an act of desperation than understanding. . . the valve was shut” (p. 126). Punch then quotes Perrow (1984, p. 29):

It was fortunate that it occurred when it did; incredible damage had been done with substantial parts of the core melting, but had it remained open for another thirty minutes or so, and HPI [high-pressure injector] remained throttled back, there would have been a complete meltdown, with the fissioning material threatening to breach containment.

What Punch (1996) describes in his recounting of this case and others includes the following:

1. Earlier warnings by an efficient inspector about the inherent dangers in nuclear plant procedures had been brushed aside; the inspector then had been subjected to strong informal control in an attempt to deflect his message.

2. Profitability (based on the productivity of privately run industry) was the top priority, and this is a problem in most corporations.

3. Management responds to crises such as the one described (by Perrow, Punch, and others) by keeping things running.

4. Regulatory agencies tend to compromise rather than enforce the rules governing safety; indeed, they appear to ”have a dual function both to regulate and promote an industry” (p. 255).

Among his conclusions, Punch writes:

When cleared of radioactive debris, Unit Two will remain in quarantine for thirty years until it is dismantled as planned along with Unit One, which will then have reached the end of its working life. Until 2020, then, Unit Two at Three Mile Island in the middle of the Susquehanna River will remain a silent sentinel to a disturbing case of incompetence, dishonesty, complacency, and cover-up. (pp. 134-135).

This conclusion is disturbingly similar to that made earlier by Clinard and Yeager (1980) as they noted the evasion of responsibility by many of the corporate managers in their study and the unethical climates that disregarded the public’s welfare (p. 299). Punch (1996) found a similar criminal climate in cases that involved Thalidomide and its effects on pregnancy, originating in Germany; the Guiness affair in England involving illegal financial dealings; the Italian affair involving business, politics, organized crime, and the Vatican Bank; a case in the Netherlands involving deviance in a shipbuilding conglomerate; and the savings and loan scandal in the United States.

The savings and loan scandal, covering the period 1987-1992, represents one of the greatest fraud cases in the twentieth century (Mayer 1990; Pizzo et al. 1989; Thio 1998). Thio stated that this fraud cost taxpayers $1.4 trillion. Coleman (1994) explained that the rise in interest rates in the 1980s created serious economic problems for many savings and loan associations (thrifts) as their inventories of low-interest fixed-rate mortgage loans became increasingly unprofitable. The thrifts had been restricted until then by government regulations and were losing money. Punch (1996) suggests that the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency accelerated an ideology of deregulation that held that business should be freed from undue rules and restrictions and that market forces should be given free rein to enhance competition. Deregulation of the industry did take place, and this meant that interest rates were not rigid, financing could be offered with no down payment, and loans could be given for consumer and commercial purposes. Those developments opened up opportunities for unscrupulous businesspersons who moved in and exploited the thrifts for devious purposes. Deregulation not only loosened controls but ”raised the limit of federal protection on deposits to $100,000; brokers could make commissions on them, investors received higher interest rates and the S&L attracted new funds while enjoying a federal safety net” (Punch 1996, p. 16). As quoted by Punch (1996), the Federal Home Loan Bank-Board reported the following to Congress in 1988:

Individuals in a position of trust in the institution or closely affiliated with it have, in general terms, breached their fiduciary duties; traded on inside information; usurped opportunities for profits; engaged in self-dealing; or otherwise used the institution for personal advantage. Specific examples of insider abuse include loans to insiders in excess of that allowed by regulation; high-risk speculative ventures; payment of exorbitant dividends at times when the institution is at or near insolvency; payment from institutions’ funds for personal vacations, automobiles, clothing, and art; payment of unwarranted commissions and fees to companies owned by a shareholder; payment of “consulting fees” to insiders or their companies; use of insiders’ companies for association business; and putting friends and relatives on the payroll of the institutions. (U.S. General Accounting Office 1989, p. 22).

Calavita and Pontell (1990) categorized these fraudulent practices as ”unlawful risk-taking,” ”looting,” and ”covering-up.” Their work indicates that this type of corporate crime was unlike that reported by writers such as Clinard and Yeager (1980), which was designed to enhance corporate profits; rather, the savings and loan affair revealed premeditated looting for personal gain. They called this kind of crime ”a hybrid of organizational and occupational crime”; this was crime by the corporation against the corporation, encouraged by the state, and with the taxpayer as the ultimate victim (Calavita and Pontell 1991).

Those studies of corporate, organizational, and occupational crimes appear to follow Sutherland’s initial focus and concerns and to establish what might be called a Sutherland school of white-collar crime. Other researchers besides those mentioned earlier have made valuable contributions to this growing field, including Geis (1968), Braithewaite (1984), and Vaughn (1983).


The focus on offenses has been referred to by Poveda (1994) as a second school of thought that follows Tappan’s tradition and is distinct from Sutherland’s tradition with its emphasis on the offender. Social class, of course, has always been at the center of this debate in terms of its relationship to white-collar crime. While Sutherland emphasized that many violations were committed by respectable persons in the course of their occupations, Tappan argued for the recognition of the law in defining crime. Poveda states that the law of course specifies which acts are to be criminalized regardless of who commits them. In this view the defining characteristic of white-collar crime is the offense rather than the offender. The problem of defining white-collar crime from this perspective becomes one of deciding which subset of crimes is “white collar.” By separating white-collar crime from the characteristics of the offender, white-collar crime in the legal tradition ceases to be linked to any particular social class. (1994, p. 40)

Edelhertz (1970) objected to Sutherland’s assertion that white-collar crimes must occur in the course of the offender’s occupation. He argued that that definition excludes offenses such as income tax evasion, receiving illegal Social Security payments, and other similar offenses, that he considered white-collar crime. Edelhertz’s work suggests that the class of the offender need not be central to the concept of white-collar crime but that the offense should be the central consideration. In this respect, he reflected Tappan’s stance. According to Poveda (1994), criminologists who focus on the offense have come to dominate views among workers in the justice system and have become more numerous among criminologists since Edelhertz modified Sutherland’s definition in the 1970s.

Shapiro (1990) also suggests that the analysis of white-collar crime must shift from a focus on the offender to focus on the offense, particularly when violations of trust situations and norms are involved. She argues that the leniency shown to white-collar criminals accused of securities fraud has resulted from the social organization of their offenses and the problems of social control they posed rather than from class biases involving higher status.

It is relevant, then, to ask whether the laws on white-collar crime are applicable to corporations as well as to individuals. After reviewing the historical development of laws creating various white-collar crimes (embezzlement and theft, unfair competition, bribery and corruption, endangerment of consumers and workers, and environmental degradation), Coleman (1994) explained that the laws involving criminal intent have been extended to include corporations, stating that ”it is now common for corporations to be charged with criminal violations of the regulatory statutes as well as more serious offenses” (p 125). As will be seen below, conviction and punishment are different matters.


In the 1980s, Wheeler directed a series of studies at Yale University that focused on both offenders and offenses as well as on a comparison of white-collar and conventional crimes. Wheeler et al. (1982, 1988) focused on eight white-collar offenses in the federal system, which they clustered into three types organized by complexity: (1) the most organized: antitrust and securities fraud, (2) intermediate: mail fraud, false claims, credit fraud, and bribery, (3) the least organized: tax fraud and bank embezzlement. Their studies included only convicted offenses, not violations of civil or administrative regulations. They found that white-collar criminals are better educated, older, and more likely to be white and well off financially compared with conventional criminals. They also found that female white-collar offenders are more similar to conventional criminals than to their male counterparts. In an analysis of the Yale data, Daly (1989) found substantial differences between male and female white-collar offenders. Daly raised questions about whether the term ”white collar” should be applied to women since they seldom committed offenses as part of a group, made less money from their crimes, and were less educated. Box (1983) suggested that female workers had fewer criminal opportunities than men. In another important tangent to their findings, Weisbund et al. (1991) argued that much white-collar crime is engaged in by middle-class individuals, revealing an unexpected source of inequality in the Justice Department.

In the area of sentencing, Wheeler and colleagues (1982) found that higher-status defendants charged with white-collar crimes were more likely to receive jail sentences than were lower-status defendants. In explanation, they suggested that because most cases against high-status defendants were never prosecuted, the few cases that were prosecuted were compelling. They also noted that the research was conducted shortly after the Watergate scandals, when judges were more attentive to misdeeds attributed to greed. In another study of sentencing and status, Hagar and Parker (1985), in an analysis of data on persons charged with criminal and noncriminal acts, observed differential sentencing of employers, managers, and workers. They found that compared with workers, managers were more likely and employers were less likely to be charged under the criminal code. Employers were instead more likely to be charged with Securities Act violations that carried less stigma and a shorter sentence. They noted that employers are in positions of power that allow them to be distanced from criminal events and obscure their involvement. Finally, they stated that Sutherland noted an ”obfuscation as to responsibility” that accompanies corporate positions of power. Thus, employers face securities charges rather than criminal charges that require a demonstration of malice.

The Clinard and Yeager study (1980) did not include street criminals. The authors note that there is more leniency for corporate than for other white-collar offenders. In their study, it was found that only 4 percent of sanctions handed out for corporate violations involved criminal cases against individual executives. Of the fifty-six convicted executives in large corporations, 62.5 percent received probation, 21.4 percent had their sentences suspended, and 28.6 percent were incarcerated (p. 287). Among the latter defendents, two received six-month sentences and the remaining fourteen received sentences averaging only nine days (1980).

Relevant here are criticisms of legislation designed to control crime. Geis (1996) points out that legislation dealing with ”three strikes” has given a ”base on balls” to white-collar offenders and indicates an underlying class, ethnic, and racial bias that seeks to define criminals as ”others” rather than confronting the more costly crimes of community leaders and the corporate world.

After reviewing a number of studies of sentencing, including studies by Shapiro, Wheeler and colleagues, Clinard and Yeager, Hagar and Parker, and Mann, Coleman concludes that ”the evidence leaves little doubt that white collar offenders get off much easier than street offenders who commit crimes of similar severity” (1994, p. 157). He notes, however, that ”there is some evidence that the punishment for white-collar offenses has been slowly increasing in recent years”(p. 157). Coleman still maintains that while there is increasing severity of punishment, such prosecutors remain rare. He says that ”Leo Barrile [1991] concluded that only 16 cases of corporate homicide have [ever] been charged, only 9 of those made it to trial, and in only three cases were corporate agents sentenced to prison” (p. 157).


Poveda (1994) notes that ”in spite of the recent work on white collar offenses, our knowledge of white-collar crime is much more circumscribed than that of conventional crime and draws more heavily upon official crime statistics” (p. 79). He says that Wheeler and associates concluded that the vast majority of white-collar offenders are nonelite offenders who look like average Americans. Wheeler and colleagues argued that Sutherland’s definition was narrowly focused on the upper class and ignored the middle group of offenders. Poveda suggests that ”it is time to consider alternate approaches to gaining knowledge about white-collar crime, approaches that circumvent the official statistics.” (1994, p. 79) because of the need to gather more information about crimes in large organizations. Poveda states that ”large organizations have the power and resources to control public information about themselves to a much greater extent than other kinds of offenders” (1994, p. 79). He asserts that researchers will have to penetrate the curtain of secrecy that may enclose illegal behavior.

Poveda proposes that there is a need to study accidents and scandals. He cites the suggestions of Molotch and Lester (1974), who showed how routine news events are managed by political actors in society: corporations, labor unions, the president, members of Congress, and so on. These actors define issues for the public construct the news. Only accidents and scandals ”penetrate this constructed reality of the news by catching these major actors off guard. While accidents are unplanned, scandals involve planned events but they must typically be disclosed by an inside informer to an organization because they involve sensitive information (Poveda 1994, p. 80). Poveda suggests that these events often reveal the incidence of white-collar crime. He says that the Challenger disaster was an ”’accident’ that led to disclosures of questionable judgment by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Morton Thiokol Corporation” (p. 81). Punch (1996) has undertaken research that focused on accidents and scandals. This research involved case studies of the savings and loan scandal, the Three-Mile Island nuclear accident, and many others. Braithwaite has written about the drug companies and their record of fraud in testing, price-fixing, and the provision of perks for medical practitioners (Braithwaite 1984).

It is important to note that research in Britain by Clarke and in Britain, Holland, and the Untied States by Punch and others suggests that corporate, organizational, and occupational crime in the industrial world have more common elements than differences. Moreover, cybercrime, relying heavily on the Internet, has increased greatly according to a report by the British Broadcasting Corporation. Fraud employing stolen credit cards and stolen identities would appear to have worldwide similarities as a result of the growing use of the World Wide Web.

Punch has noted that researchers are increasingly targeting accidents, disasters, and scandals in the business world. He has not noticed any slackening of the calculative nature of business, as evidenced in the transfer of technology and manufacturing to developing nations. Noting the existence of, if not an increase in, the number of shrewd players on the world scene and the growth of unregulated markets, Punch expects fresh scandals not only in the United States but in eastern Europe and the Far East (1996, pp. 268, 269). There is, then, growing agreement that a focus on accidents, disasters, and scandals will provide a growing database on white-collar crime and its various types and that such a database will lead to the development of a more adequate theory of white-collar crime. This would seem to be a prerequisite for the development of an adequate system of deterrence of white-collar crime.

There seems to be agreement that criminologists are some distance away from developing an adequate theory of white-collar crime. Wheeler and associates, Yeager and associates, Poveda, Braithwaite, Coleman, and others have contributed to concept development and theory building in this field. Thus, Reed and Yeager (1996) have emphasized the need to assess how notions of self-interest become merged with corporate interests and the conditions under which these socially constructed interests lead to socially harmful outcomes. Wheeler (1992) has addressed a similar concern with motivational and situational processes that drive individuals to risk involvement in white-collar crime. Coleman also asserts that the related theoretical problems of motivation and opportunity must be understood. He considers the neutralization of ethical standards by which white-collar criminals justify their pursuit of success, the secrecy that shields corporate actions, and the opportunities provided by the legal and judicial systems essential links in the development of an understanding of this type of crime.

Braithwaite (1984) also draws on the structure of opportunity in attempting to understand organizational crime but is perhaps best known for his concept of reintegrative shaming. In his approach, he utilizes control theory, specifying the processes by which corporate offenders are encouraged to strengthen their stake in conformity. He asserts that the other kind of shaming— stigmatization—has the effect of reinforcing offenders in their criminality.

There is an apparent need for a continued focus on occupational and corporate deviance and on individual and organizational offenders in the field of white-collar crime. Interest has been growing in the field, and there is reason to believe that academic researchers, government agencies, and legislatures must communicate with one another more if progress is to be made in the important matter of constructing better deterrents to white-collar crime. However, as suggested by Punch and others, investigators must search more closely for the dark, irrational side of organizations—incompetence, neglect, ambition, greed, power—as well as for motives and structures that allow managers to practice deviance against the organization. It is clear that while many researchers argue for a focus on the organization and others emphasize the need to study individual offenders, there is a growing acceptance of the need to explore all avenues that lead to white-collar crime. Indeed, there seems to be a clamor among researchers that not only must motivation and opportunity be studied but that the subcultures that facilitate immoral behavioral structures should be analyzed to understand white-collar or any other type of crime.

Next post:

Previous post: