The definition of social institutions is the “Major structural entities in socio-cultural systems that address a basic need of the system. Institutions involve fixed modes of behavior backed by strong norms and sanctions that tend to be followed by most members of a society,” (Social Science Dictionary, para. 1, 2008). With this definition in mind, this paper will examine how social institution pertains to organized crime and how it functions in society and if empirical or speculative theories to the perspective are most applicable as applied to organized crime and to crime behavior.
Social institutions help link individuals to a larger social group of people. Like meeting halls, churches, and schools, organized crime, is considered a social institution because it provides people with others who can provide services they may want or need. Some may need drugs, protection from others, prostitution services, etc. , and the services are not available or legal by society standards. Organized crime groups provide the services often demanded, hard to find, provide and are usually unlawful.
During Prohibition between 1920 and 1933, there was a ban on manufacturing, selling, and transporting alcoholic beverages, (Rosenberg, 2013). Though the law was in effect, the demand for alcohol did not wane in America. Organized crime groups provided not only ways to manufacture, transport, and sell the alcohol but also social venues in which to serve the liquor (Lyman & Potter, 2007). Many theories were developed to discover how organized crime started, exists, and continues to exist.
In addition these theories also help law enforcement learn how to investigate and uncover criminal organizations nationally and internationally. Some of these theories are empirical, based on observations, practice experiments, and research, but others are speculative and based solely on conclusions, opinions and theories reached without evidence. In addition these theories try to explain the relationships organized crime has with members of the society in ways that benefit both parties and can also prove detrimental to both.
The empirical and speculative theories are discussed below. One theory is Cloward and Ohlin’s (1960) Differential Opportunity (Lyman & Potter, 2007). This theory discusses the belief that opportunities for advancement or goals appear based on unevenly distributed by class. Those who can achieve their goals and advance in society have an advantage not made available to those of a lower class. This theory could explain why many immigrants entering the country with language barriers and looked down upon, pursued careers in crime as a means of income.
Because of their differences, or bias from the existing citizens, these groups sometimes found opportunities for honest work limited, forcing them into making money in other ways (Lyman & Potter, 2007). Along the lines of the differential opportunity theory, are the Culture Conflict Theory by Sellin, (1938) and the Cultural Deviance Theories (Lyman & Potter, 2007). The Culture Conflict Theory examines the idea of a clash of morals and norms between classes of people. It is believed that those who think they operate within accepted societal norms and morals clash with those who do not adhere to the same set social standards.
The thought of the Cultural Deviance Theories is that those who live below certain prescribed social standards are law violators. In the eyes of the upper class, these law violators are anti-authority of law and government, tough, and look to illegal ways to attain some of what they believe others are entitled to (Lyman & Potter, 2007). Relative Deprivation (Blan & Blan, 1982) is yet another theory that states that the closeness of upper and lower classes in areas causes jealousy, anger, and hostility in the lower class toward the upper class.
Seeing the opportunities of the upper class personally and regularly makes those of the lower class want the same benefits and comforts, without possessing or knowing the appropriate ways of achieving the same goals. This is another possible reason for causing people to choose crime; to attain what they have seen others have. Miller’s Theory (1958) on gangs is another societal and community cause leading to criminal activity. The gang theory suggests that the tough image and cunning youngsters witness by others involved in crime is a breeding ground to cultivate more members. This too is another road to getting into crime.
Bell’s Queer Ladder of Mobility Theory (1953) discusses the generational differences in ethnic groups and how the generations chose to seek success. The theory speaks of first generation methods of trying to be successful in society are believed inadequate and slow to the second and third generations. The younger generation looks for a faster route to success and money by doing things in a less legal and legitimate way (Lyman & Potter, 2007). The aforementioned theories focus on the possible attitudes and actions of one set of citizens causing the illegal actions of another group.
The theories exhibit ways some members of society have labeled and limited other members because of economic status, limited opportunities, racism, education or lack thereof, and misunderstandings. Feelings of deprivation, feeling shut out, denied, ignored, and unworthy by the larger, more fortune society are some causes that have led people into crime. The next theory, Smith’s Enterprise Theory (1980), takes a turn away from societal group differences as the cause for others to turn to crime.
The Enterprise Theory examines the need of services unfulfilled by legitimate businesses and the willingness of the illegitimate businesses to provide. Laws prohibit the use, sale, or distribution of some services that some people want regardless (Lyman & Potter, 2007). Prostitutes, drugs, pornography, (adult or child), rare expensive cars, guns, and alcohol (during the days of Prohibition), are just some of the things some people still want or wanted thought they are illegal. The want was there, and people willing to take chances to provide found they could become wealthy providing the needs of others.
The last theory of major interest is the psychological traits that may make someone have a tendency to become involved in criminal activity. Cleckley (1959), describes the sociopath as antisocial, often in trouble, not affected by consequences of their actions, suffers lack of judgment, shows no remorse for actions, and has no long-term relationships, or commitments. This kind of personality tends to lean toward criminal activity as the sociopath seems oblivious to right and wrong, or shame. Whether this personality would show loyalty to a crime organization or gang is questionable (Lyman & Potter, 2007).
However, this kind of person would appear to unaware or care about what actions asked or the repercussions. The other personality type, the dependent personality was also explored. Someone with the dependent personality is considered as malleable, and described as “…. weak and ineffective, lacking energy, passive and nice but totally inadequate” (Lyman & Potter, p. 64, para. 5, 2007). The lack of energy and wish to do for themselves makes this personality type rely heavily on others (like family) even when an adult. The dependant personality type relies on the advice of others and is easily persuaded, making this person a prime candidate to get into activities that can prove illegal and dangerous. The theories and personality types discussed above are attempts to understand crime organizations. Where did these organizations come from; who started them; who is in charge; how do they get their power; is there one boss or are there many bosses on many levels; what kind of person would get into crime; what would force people into crime; how do they get the illegal merchandise, are the questions studies and theories attempt to answer.
Scholars, theorists, psychologists, and law enforcement have been asking these questions for years. The two main goals with these queries are to find a way to deter or stop criminal organizations and what are the thought processes that would cause someone to become involved in organized crime. Studies have shown that organized crime is not just a specific ethnic problem, as many ethnic groups have been or have become involved in criminal organizations.
It is also not just a question of groups of the underprivileged trying to make money, just as there are many rich and powerful people in organized crime and involved in illegal activities who never suffered deprivation. Therefore, at this point, there is no clear-cut answer to why or how organized crime started or how the organizations are structured, or who may get involved in criminal activity. The only definite known regarding organized crime is the goal: money. With the constant technological changes in the world today it is harder for law enforcement to pinpoint organizations or their activities in the United States and around the world.
Organized crime will continue to thrive as long as what is illegal stays illegal and if people continue to want what is illegal. References Lyman, M. D. , & Potter, G. W. (2007). Organized Crime. Fourth Edition. Prentice Hall. Rosenberg, J. (2013). Prohibition. 20th Century History. About. com. Retrieved from http://www. about. com Social Institutions. (2008). Sociology Dictionary. Social Science Dictionary. Retrieved from http://sociology. socialsciencedictionary. com