Donald Cressey was a central figure in twentieth-century criminology.
He was a
sociologist, educator, editor, and author. He spoke Norwegian and French, and read
German, French, and Scandinavian languages (Who's Who in America,1986). Cressey
was undoubtedly one of Sutherland’s brightest students at Indiana University during the
While working on his PhD in Criminology, he decided his dissertation would
concentrate on embezzlers.
His contributions to the sociology of crime & delinquency
came from his teaching, scholarship, & involvement in criminal justice policy
(International Authors and Writers Who's Who,1982). Accordingly, he was best known
for his landmark study on embezzlement as well as for carrying Edwin Sutherland's
Principles of Criminology
(Sutherland, 1966) textbook through many revised editions.
Cressey himself authored 13 books and nearly 300 articles on criminology matters by the
time of his death in 1987.
Given the importance and impact of his life’s work it is
valuable to place it within its larger social, historical and political context—this in an
effort to understand why it had such an influence on society and academia.
Developments from within the field of Sociology indisputably had a significant impact on
the work of Donald Cressey (Ohlin, 1988).
First and foremost was the influence of
Edwin H. Sutherland. Dr. Sutherland, a criminologist at Indiana University, was
particularly interested in the type of fraud committed by elite business executives, either
against stock holders or the public.
Sutherland, who coined the term ‘white-collar crime’
(Sutherland, 1966) in 1939, is to the world of white collar criminality what Freud is to
psychology. He was to Cressey a mentor, friend, and co-author (Wilson, 1970).
These influences coupled with times when the “social science view” of crime was
thought by many to assert that crime was the result of poverty, racial discrimination, and
The consensus was that the only morally defensible and substantively
efficacious strategy for reducing crime was to attack its “root causes” with programs that
ended poverty, reduced discrimination, and meliorated privation (Wilson, 1975).
was certainly, at least in part, the view of President Johnson’s Commission on Crime and
Administration of Justice’s report, The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society