Crimes Against Persons
Crimes against persons, also called personal crimes, include murder, aggravated assault, rape, and robbery. Personal crimes are unevenly distributed in the United States, with young, urban, poor, and racial minorities committing these crimes more than others.
Crimes Against Property
Property crimes involve theft of property without bodily harm, such as burglary, larceny, auto theft, and arson. Like personal crimes, young, urban, poor, and racial minorities generally commit these crimes more than others.
Crimes Against Morality
Crimes against morality are also called victimless crimes because there is not complainant, or victim. Prostitution, illegal gambling, and illegal drug use are all examples of victimless crimes.
White-collar crimes are crimes that committed by people of high social status who commit their crimes in the context of their occupation. This includes embezzling (stealing money from one’s employer), insider trading, and tax evasion and other violations of income tax laws.
White-collar crimes generally generate less concern in the public mind than other types of crime, however in terms of total dollars, white-collar crimes are even more consequential for society. Nonetheless, these crimes are generally the least investigated and least prosecuted.
Organized crime is crime committed by structured groups typically involving the distribution of illegal goods and services to others. Many people think of the Mafia when they think of organized crime, but the term can refer to any group that exercises control over large illegal enterprises (such as the drug trade, illegal gambling, prostitution, weapons smuggling, or money laundering).
A key sociological concept in the study or organized crime is that these industries are organized along the same lines as legitimate businesses and take on a corporate form. There are typically senior partners who control the business’ profits, workers who manage and work for the business, and clients who buy the goods and services that the organization provides.
A Sociological Look at Crime
Arrest data show a clear pattern of arrests in terms of race, gender, and class. For instance, as mentioned above, young, urban, poor, and racial minorities generally commit personal and property crimes more so than other demographic groups. To sociologists, the question posed by this data is whether this reflects actual differences in committing crimes among different groups or whether this reflects differential treatment by the criminal justice system. Studies show that the answer here is “both.” Certain groups are in fact more likely to commit crimes than others because crime is linked to patterns of inequality in the United States. However, the process of prosecution in the criminal justice system is also significantly related to patterns of race, class, and gender inequality. We see this in the official arrest statistics, in treatment by the police, in sentencing patterns, and in studies of imprisonment.
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Andersen, M.L. and Taylor, H.F. (2009). Sociology: The Essentials. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.