chapter  6
19 Pages

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.