The criminogenic implications of oﬃcial practice
Criminal oﬀending, then, is in many settings common and subject to surprisingly little risk. What risk there is is often poorly understood by oﬀenders and potential oﬀenders, and all but impossible to predict. We usually think of this in simple and straightforward ways: Authorities are not eﬀective, or serious, enough; or oﬀenders are too resistant, too serious, too disinterested in their own welfare. Zimring and Hawkins distinguish three categories of failure that are germane here: (1) a general failure of enforcement, in which enforcement is attempted but does not succeed; (2) the failure to even attempt enforcement for a particular oﬀense, which creates general immunity for that oﬀense; and (3) the failure to attempt enforcement for a particular classes of person, which creates status immunity for those persons.1 All three are at work in the above examples. Since we rarely expect oﬀenders to become less active, we generally look to authorities to become more so. When, as often happens, that fails, the same equation still applies, if at a higher level of oﬃcial eﬀort: Oﬀenders are seen to be resistant. Deterrence, in this framework, is a largely static equation: Authorities take oﬀenders pretty much as they ﬁnd them, and do or do not get their attention and shape their behavior. In keeping with our deeper notions about criminality, the roots of oﬀending are located in the character of oﬀenders and in social and community conditions. Oﬃcial enforcement action engages with those roots, and wins or loses. In this framework, enforcement eﬀorts are purely subtractive: They can
take away from oﬀending but cannot add to it. Oﬀending and potential oﬀending are taken as endogenous. Enforcement failures fail to control, but this means only that oﬀending is not reduced, or is reduced only somewhat, from otherwise natural levels. We do not much entertain the idea that enforcement eﬀorts can be additive, or criminogenic. This is inaccurate; they can be. There are a number of important ways in which oﬃcial behavior can encourage oﬀending and, in particular, can undercut deterrence.