Corporate Crime

Corporate crime? I’m not sure that there is such a thing. If we want to reduce the crimes that are given that lable, we need to quit handing out large punitive fines to corporations. The idea isn’t as radical as it sounds. First of all, when I say that there isn’t such a thing as corporate crime, I simply mean that it is always individual people who commit crimes. With that in mind, you can imagine what my better way to reduce this crime is: Go after the criminals! Who Pays For Corporate Crime? Exactly who pays when a large corporation is fined for breaking the law? To begin with, the stockholders pay. Many of these are innocent retirees who have money invested with the company and had no idea they were breaking the law. Then the employees pay with the loss of jobs, if the financial situation of the company is damaged by the fines. Who doesn’t pay? Just the criminals – the individuals who chose to break the law. All crimes are committed by PEOPLE, not companies. When a company dumps poisons into the environment, a PERSON made the decision to do that (or several people). When a company steals from a pension fund or violates workers rights, INDIVIDUALS made those decisions. People commit corporate crime, not corporations! If you want to stop corporate crime, start putting the individuals who are involved in the crime in PRISON. Our current system often has company officers making cost/benefit calculations as to whether the profits from certain crimes are greater than what the occasional fines add up to. Even though laws are broken, they stand little chance of being held personally responsible. Why not hold them responsible? To fine companies for the actual costs imposed on others by a crime is appropriate. We have to clean up toxic messes, and in other cases compensate those who suffer damages. This also means that shareholders have a reason to be careful in who they elect to the board of directors. However, “punitive” fines are ridiculous unless they are levied against the individual criminals. Make the person who committed the crime pay the fine. Is this such a radical idea? I don’t think so! By the way, which do you think is more likely to deter a corporate officer from committing a crime, a fine that is paid by the company, and doesn’t even affect his salary, or ten years in jail? The answer to that gives us the answer to corporate crime.

Crime And Punishment

can’t get too excited about victimless crimes, that is to say crimes in which the only victim is the person committing it. Those who want to self-destruct – provided the consequences are not shouldered by others – have the right to do it. Everyone has the moral responsibility for their own person. Crimes against others is another matter. Nobody has the right to inflict physical harm on another. Nor does anyone have the right to harm us emotionally or economically. There are degrees of damage, obviously. Defamation does not bring the harm that torture, rape or murder does. In a just world, the punishment must fit the crime. Perfect justice must begin with absolute proof of guilt. Such is often not the case as evidenced by the numerous prisoners exonerated by DNA testing. Punishment meted out unfairly is one of the cruelest forms of torture. The desire to give innocence every chance to emerge is perhaps in large measure the reason our criminal justice system often bogs down with technicalities and loopholes. If a person is guilty of violent crime what do we do then? The first step in a rational approach is to decide whether we want violent criminals to be free to roam our streets. We could be “kind and understanding” and let them go after a little counseling. But the evidence does not demonstrate that works. To be safe we’d all have to arm ourselves as increasing numbers of violent criminals roamed the streets. If we are to protect ourselves from such criminals, there are two logical choices: 1. We lock them away in a box six feet under ground after executing them. The most just way to do the killing is exactly the way they did it to their victim. That is a permanent solution, sure and just but it makes me uneasy since there is almost always the question of true guilt. 2. We lock them away in some type of secure institution. Since I am trying to come up with a logical solution, that institution would not be our present prison system. The second option leaves room for the possibility of exoneration with new exculpatory evidence. But if not prison, what? Criminals should be put on secure restitution work farms instead. There they will toil producing useful labor or goods for society commensurate with the damage they have done. The victim’s medical bills, lost work and incapacities must be paid for by the offender. Moreover, all the costs to society for investigations, trials and room and board while incarcerated must be paid. (A great motivation for those guilty to admit it and reduce the legal costs.) The time it takes for economic restitution would by and large dictate the length of the term. For example, if you attack another, incapacitating them, then you get to spend whatever time is necessary earning the money to take care of them. Those who take another’s life must substitute their own life with a lifetime of productive work to repay society and the victim’s family. Isn’t this an obvious solution? Mere imprisonment with society picking up the tab for the police and legal work and the maintenance of the criminal is nuts. Why should the victim and society pay for the evils of the wrongdoer? How do you force someone in prison to work off his or her debt? Give them a choice. Either do it or go without food and shelter. That is the law that works throughout nature so why not apply it to humans? How do you maintain discipline on the farm? Well, a hard day’s work will leave little energy for much more than rest. As it is now, prisoners sitting in cells all day have nothing other to do with their energy than scheme more wrongdoing. With my idea those who are a problem get penalized with an extension of their stay and longer work shifts. This is a fair and just way to deter crime and offset the damage created by it. It does not have the potential of unjustly taking the life of another since time would be provided for proof of innocence. And I’m not talking chain gang here, but rather passable work and living conditions with the product of labor going where it should, to the victims and society. U.S. companies are always looking for a cheaper labor force. Well here it is, right on our own shores numbering in the tens of thousands. There is nothing better to sober someone up and drain them of the energy to think up nefarious deeds than a hard day’s work. For minor offenders who have a stint in these restitution farms and are then released, they will know what work is, actually improve their resume, spread the word on the street that crime means hard work and be motivated not to return. If they repeat offend, then society will not be the one to suffer. Criminals should be self-maintaining, even a profit center rather than an economic sinkhole. Our present penal system does not work. It is a huge and unjust cost to society. To many it neither serves as punishment nor deterrent. About three quarters of all U.S. prison space has been built in the last decade. Just in California the chances that a person either lives or works in a prison is 1 in 200.

Legal Crime

The state has a monopoly on behaviour usually deemed criminal. It murders, kidnaps, and locks up people. Sovereignty has come to be identified with the unbridled – and exclusive – exercise of violence. The emergence of modern international law has narrowed the field of permissible conduct. A sovereign can no longer commit genocide or ethnic cleansing with impunity, for instance.

Many acts – such as the waging of aggressive war, the mistreatment of minorities, the suppression of the freedom of association – hitherto sovereign privilege, have thankfully been criminalized. Many politicians, hitherto immune to international prosecution, are no longer so. Consider Yugoslavia’s Milosevic and Chile’s Pinochet.

But, the irony is that a similar trend of criminalization – within national legal systems – allows governments to oppress their citizenry to an extent previously unknown. Hitherto civil torts, permissible acts, and common behavior patterns are routinely criminalized by legislators and regulators. Precious few are decriminalized.

Consider, for instance, the criminalization in the Economic Espionage Act (1996) of the misappropriation of trade secrets and the criminalization of the violation of copyrights in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (2000) – both in the USA. These used to be civil torts. They still are in many countries. Drug use, common behavior in England only 50 years ago – is now criminal. The list goes on.

Criminal laws pertaining to property have malignantly proliferated and pervaded every economic and private interaction. The result is a bewildering multitude of laws, regulations statutes, and acts.

The average Babylonian could have memorizes and assimilated the Hammurabic code 37 centuries ago – it was short, simple, and intuitively just.

English criminal law – partly applicable in many of its former colonies, such as India, Pakistan, Canada, and Australia – is a mishmash of overlapping and contradictory statutes – some of these hundreds of years old – and court decisions, collectively known as “case law”.

Despite the publishing of a Model Penal Code in 1962 by the American Law Institute, the criminal provisions of various states within the USA often conflict. The typical American can’t hope to get acquainted with even a negligible fraction of his country’s fiendishly complex and hopelessly brobdignagian criminal code. Such inevitable ignorance breeds criminal behavior – sometimes inadvertently – and transforms many upright citizens into delinquents.

In the land of the free – the USA – close to 2 million adults are behind bars and another 4.5 million are on probation, most of them on drug charges. The costs of criminalization – both financial and social – are mind boggling. According to “The Economist”, America’s prison system cost it $54 billion a year – disregarding the price tag of law enforcement, the judiciary, lost product, and rehabilitation.

What constitutes a crime? A clear and consistent definition has yet to transpire.

There are five types of criminal behavior: crimes against oneself, or “victimless crimes” (such as suicide, abortion, and the consumption of drugs), crimes against others (such as murder or mugging), crimes among consenting adults (such as incest, and in certain countries, homosexuality and euthanasia), crimes against collectives (such as treason, genocide, or ethnic cleansing), and crimes against the international community and world order (such as executing prisoners of war). The last two categories often overlap.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica provides this definition of a crime: “The intentional commission of an act usually deemed socially harmful or dangerous and specifically defined, prohibited, and punishable under the criminal law.”

But who decides what is socially harmful? What about acts committed unintentionally (known as “strict liability offences” in the parlance)? How can we establish intention – “mens rea”, or the “guilty mind” – beyond a reasonable doubt?

A much tighter definition would be: “The commission of an act punishable under the criminal law.” A crime is what the law – state law, kinship law, religious law, or any other widely accepted law – says is a crime. Legal systems and texts often conflict.

Murderous blood feuds are legitimate according to the 15th century “Qanoon”, still applicable in large parts of Albania. Killing one’s infant daughters and old relatives is socially condoned – though illegal – in India, China, Alaska, and parts of Africa. Genocide may have been legally sanctioned in Germany and Rwanda – but is strictly forbidden under international law.

Laws being the outcomes of compromises and power plays, there is only a tenuous connection between justice and morality. Some “crimes” are categorical imperatives. Helping the Jews in Nazi Germany was a criminal act – yet a highly moral one.

The ethical nature of some crimes depends on circumstances, timing, and cultural context. Murder is a vile deed – but assassinating Saddam Hussein may be morally commendable. Killing an embryo is a crime in some countries – but not so killing a fetus. A “status offense” is not a criminal act if committed by an adult. Mutilating the body of a live baby is heinous – but this is the essence of Jewish circumcision. In some societies, criminal guilt is collective. All Americans are held blameworthy by the Arab street for the choices and actions of their leaders. All Jews are accomplices in the “crimes” of the “Zionists”.

In all societies, crime is a growth industry. Millions of professionals – judges, police officers, criminologists, psychologists, journalists, publishers, prosecutors, lawyers, social workers, probation officers, wardens, sociologists, non-governmental-organizations, weapons manufacturers, laboratory technicians, graphologists, and private detectives – derive their livelihood, parasitically, from crime. They often perpetuate models of punishment and retribution that lead to recidivism rather than to to the reintegration of criminals in society and their rehabilitation.

Organized in vocal interest groups and lobbies, they harp on the insecurities and phobias of the alienated urbanites. They consume ever growing budgets and rejoice with every new behavior criminalized by exasperated lawmakers. In the majority of countries, the justice system is a dismal failure and law enforcement agencies are part of the problem, not its solution.

The sad truth is that many types of crime are considered by people to be normative and common behaviours and, thus, go unreported. Victim surveys and self-report studies conducted by criminologists reveal that most crimes go unreported. The protracted fad of criminalization has rendered criminal many perfectly acceptable and recurring behaviors and acts. Homosexuality, abortion, gambling, prostitution, pornography, and suicide have all been criminal offenses at one time or another.

But the quintessential example of over-criminalization is drug abuse.

There is scant medical evidence that soft drugs such as cannabis or MDMA (“Ecstasy”) – and even cocaine – have an irreversible effect on brain chemistry or functioning. Last month an almighty row erupted in Britain when Jon Cole, an addiction researcher at Liverpool University, claimed, to quote “The Economist” quoting the “Psychologist”, that:

“Experimental evidence suggesting a link between Ecstasy use and problems such as nerve damage and brain impairment is flawed … using this ill-substantiated cause-and-effect to tell the ‘chemical generation’ that they are brain damaged when they are not creates public health problems of its own.”

Moreover, it is commonly accepted that alcohol abuse and nicotine abuse can be at least as harmful as the abuse of marijuana, for instance. Yet, though somewhat curbed, alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking are legal. In contrast, users of cocaine – only a century ago recommended by doctors as tranquilizer – face life in jail in many countries, death in others. Almost everywhere pot smokers are confronted with prison terms.

The “war on drugs” – one of the most expensive and protracted in history – has failed abysmally. Drugs are more abundant and cheaper than ever. The social costs have been staggering: the emergence of violent crime where none existed before, the destabilization of drug-producing countries, the collusion of drug traffickers with terrorists, and the death of millions – law enforcement agents, criminals, and users.

Few doubt that legalizing most drugs would have a beneficial effect. Crime empires would crumble overnight, users would be assured of the quality of the products they consume, and the addicted few would not be incarcerated or stigmatized – but rather treated and rehabilitated.

That soft, largely harmless, drugs continue to be illicit is the outcome of compounded political and economic pressures by lobby and interest groups of manufacturers of legal drugs, law enforcement agencies, the judicial system, and the aforementioned long list of those who benefit from the status quo.

Only a popular movement can lead to the decriminalization of the more innocuous drugs. But such a crusade should be part of a larger campaign to reverse the overall tide of criminalization. Many “crimes” should revert to their erstwhile status as civil torts. Others should be wiped off the statute books altogether. Hundreds of thousands should be pardoned and allowed to reintegrate in society, unencumbered by a past of transgressions against an inane and inflationary penal code.

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