chapter
22 Pages

STATE CRIME

State crime refers to those offences and violations committed by the state and its agents or officials. The criminological study of state crime is a very recent develop-

ment. The historical neglect of such crimes can be viewed as the result of criminology’s close relationship (both intellectual and political) with the state and its agendas. Criminology had tended to take as its starting point those laws and sanctions created by the state to control and punish the behaviour of its citizens, and the crime-control activities undertaken by state agencies such as the police. Thus the state is seen as the primary actor in the fight against crime, rather than a potential or actual perpetrator of crime. Insofar as criminology takes for granted that crime is that which is criminalised by the state, the state itself disappears from criminological view, since it is in a unique position to exclude its own harmful behaviour from the array of legally prohibited actions. For these reasons, the state-as-criminal has been largely absent from criminological analysis. William Chambliss (1989: 184) defined state crime as comprising

‘acts defined by law as criminal and committed by state officials in the pursuit of their job as representatives of the state’. He later extended this definition to include ‘behaviour that violates international agreements and principles established in the courts and treaties of international bodies’ (1995: 9). Kramer and Michalowski (2005) go a step further and include within their understanding not only criminal acts committed by state agents acting on the orders of or on behalf of the state, but also those criminal acts committed by officials over which the state fails to exercise appropriate control or diligence. Thus state crime would encompass illegal acts committed by state-empowered actors (for example, police, judges, civil servants, ministers) even if they act without explicit or tacit authorisation for their actions, and insofar as the state fails to adequately control or prevent such conduct. State crimes can take a variety of forms, including:

1 Those crimes committed by state officials in the course of securing or maintaining political control of the state and its apparatus. Examples would include the fixing of elections, bribery and coercion, intimidation or silencing of political opponents (for example through censorship of other political parties). Such practices have been identified in states worldwide, with one of the most notable recent instances being the alleged electoral fraud committed during the US presidential election in 2000.