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White-Collar Crime:Like the poor, the forms of crime of the more privileged classes also match their life situation. Sociologist Edwin Sutherland (1949) coined the term white-collar crime to refer to crimes that people of respectable and high social status commit in the course of their occupations.A special form of white-collar crime is corporate crime, crimes committed by executives in order to benefit their corporation.Consider this: Under federal law, causing the death of a worker by willfullyviolating safety rules is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison. Yet to harass a wild burro on federal lands is punishable by a year in prison (Barstow and Bergman Fear centers not on white-collar criminals, however, but on street criminals, especially the violent stranger who will change your life forever.The opportunity to commit crime is one of the many consequences of how society sets up its gender order. The social changes that opened business and the professions to women also brought new opportunities for women to commit crime.In Sum:Functionalists stress that just as the social classes differ in opportunities for income and education, so they differ in opportunities for crime. As a result, street crime is higher among the lower social classes and white-collar crime higher among the higher social classes. The growing crime rates of women illustrate how changing gender roles have given women more access to what sociologists call “illegitimate opportunities.”The Conflict Perspective:Class, Come, and the Criminal Justice System:According to conflict theory, this question is central to the analysis of crime and the criminal justice system—the police, courts, and prisons that deal with people who are accused of having committed crimes. Let us see what conflict theorists have to say about this.The Law as an Instrument of Oppression:oConflict theorists regard power and social inequality as the main characteristics ofsociety. They stress that the power elite uses the criminal justice system to protect its position of power and privilege. oThe idea that the law operates impartially to bring justice, they say, is a cultural myth promoted by the capitalist class. They point out that the law is really an instrument of oppression, a tool designed by the powerful to maintain their privileged position (Spitzer 1975; Reiman 2004; Chambliss 2000, 1973/2007).9
oWith their large numbers, the working class and those below them pose a special threat to the power elite.oTo prevent this, the law comes down hard on its members who get out of line. Theworking poor and the underclass are a special problem.oThey are the least rooted in society. They have few skills and only low-paying, part-time, or seasonal work—if they have jobs at all. Because their street crimes threaten the social order that keeps the elite in power, they are punished severely.