Ch 4: To the Vanquished
Belong the Spoils: Who Is Winning the Losing War Against Crime?
To determine how a criminal justice system that
neither protects society nor achieves justice is still functioning, Reiman
examines who is benefiting from the failure.While pointing out that the wealthy are the
beneficiaries of the current system, Reiman is not arguing that this is
conspiracy; it's a result of historical inertia.
The Pyrrhic defeat theory, used to explain the persistence of failing
criminal justice policy, suggests that those who have power to change the
system benefit from the way it operates: they can go on committing
harms and accumulating wealth without punishment, while the country
remains focused on street crime and poor minority
Reiman discusses the ideology, or message that our
criminal justice system conveys that individual criminals bear full
responsibility, while inequality and other social conditions that
contribute to crime are rendered invisible in the discussions. Reiman also addresses
the role of ideology in creating and maintaining this continued
The poverty of criminals and the crime of poverty
In this section Reiman explains that the criminal
justice system diverts attention and critical analysis from itself by
focusing on individuals as criminals. This focus conveys the message that our institutions are
politically neutral, and they remain immune from critical examination. Reiman argues that focusing on individual wrongdoers allows us to
address only half of the problem of justice: whether the individual has fulfilled their
obligation to society, but not whether society has fulfilled its
obligation to the society.
Reiman asserts that goals of success are quite the
same for individuals, however the means by which to achieve these goals
are quite different. To put
it simply, few poor people have access to the mechanisms known to produce
financial success. Therefore
they seek illegitimate means to achieve those legitimate goals.
The image conveyed is that the typical criminal is
poor and that if people are poor it
is their fault, not the fault of our system; the individual is in need of
reform, not any of our social institutions. Perceiving the threat to be
from the poor -- not the vast quantity of corporate crime -- Middle
America calls for a war on (street) crime, leading to the "continued
dismal failure of class based politics in America" (p 171). In order
for the benefits of bias to continue, the CJ system must also fail to
reduce crime and instead help create a visible, continued level of street
crime. As discussed in Chapter 1, the tough on
crime policies (more police, more punishment) do not get at the source of
the problem, and yet society goes for more of the same.
The video on the right shows distributions of wealth - how we believe it should be, what we believe the reality is and the facts. We very much underestimate inequality.
Reiman points out that the laws of the state or
nation are made to serve the interests of the powerful and not society as
a whole. He demonstrates
that those who both make and interpret the laws are from the upper class
with strong connections to business. Recent events and history demonstrate how the criminal justice system is used to protect the
interests of the powerful against the lower class and political
dissenters. Ideology is not just deliberate deception, but includes a
variety of ways the carnival mirror (Chapter 2)
appears to be reflecting a real image rather than a distorted image (where
street crime is magnified and corporate crime is diminished).
Laws shape the way people think about the
world and naturalize the current arrangements. Also, the powerful have a prevailing say in what is heard and said about
society because they control mass media
outlets. [see also how corporate
crime isn't covered on TV news] The images relayed by the mass media
reinforce the message of dangerous poor people committing street crime
because of individual pathology. The vast
disparities in income and wealth can only be maintained when inequality
is seen as justified.
vast majority, the many millions struggling hard to satisfy basic needs,
to acquiesce to the vast wealth of a small minority, it is necessary that
the majority come to believe that these disparities are justified, that
the present order is the best that human beings can accomplish, and that
they are not being exploited by the have-plenties"
By suggesting that the system is
‘designed’ to fail and the failure benefits the powerful, many people
assume Reiman means a conspiracy theory. He explicitly states he does not
believe in conspiracy theories because it could not be kept secret and
“most people most of the time seem sincerely to believe that what they are
doing is right.” Instead, criminal law had its origins in one-on-one
harms, a punitive orientation to crime and was embedded in a system of
inequality. Criminal justice policy never focused on effective crime
prevention, criminalized harmful acts of the powerful or eliminated economic
bias because these failures do not generate effective demand for change. The
powerful benefit from this system and most people believe that the system is
fighting the real threats (so they ask for more police and prisons).
The result is that there remains a large
amount of street crime from which people are inadequately protected, and
people are inadequately protected from harms of the powerful.
The game of
a Stratified Society is similar to the board game, but with changes to reflect that not everyone starts off with the same bank
account and the same likelihood of ending up in prison