Radical criminology

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Radical criminology states that society "functions" in terms of the general interests of the ruling class rather than "society as a whole" and that while the potential for conflict is always present, it is continually neutralized by the power of a ruling class.[1][2][3] Radical criminology is related to critical and conflict criminology in its focus on class struggle and its basis in Marxism. Radical criminologists consider crime to be a tool used by the ruling class. Laws are put into place by the elite and are then used to serve their interests at the peril of the lower classes.[4] These laws regulate opposition to the elite and keep them in power.

Given its nature, radical criminology is not well funded by governments and is generally not supported by government policies.[1]


Radical criminology is based on a variant of Marxism called Instrumental Marxism. It rose in popularity in the US in the 1960s amid the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements. The protests of students and minorities caused sociologists and criminologists to look to situational explanations of social and political unrest in America.[5] Radical criminology's popularization coincided with the rise of conflict and critical perspectives. All three share a common basis in Marxist ideals. In 1990 the Division of Critical Criminology was recognized by the American Society of Criminology, which solidified radical criminology as a legit theory.[5]


Radical criminology posits that the current criminal justice system seeks only to serve the interests of the ruling class and thus perpetuates inequality in society. The justice system creates white collar, high class jobs while alienating oppressed minorities from the job market. The justice system’s fixation on repeat offenders and punishment reflects an adherence to individual blame theories that alleviate the blame on those in power. This is seen through the focus on street crime rather than white collar crime.[6]

Definitions of crime[edit]

Radical criminologists reject the legalistic definition of crime for one centered in the violations of human rights. This includes the crimes committed by the ruling class such as pollution and exploitation that are not typically considered crimes. Radical criminologists also reject all individualistic theories of crime such as biological and psychological in favor of analyzing the social conditions that cause individuals to be labeled as criminals. Radical criminologists see mainstream theories of crime and deviance as serving to uphold the status quo of capitalism. The only way to solve the crime problem is to overthrow the capitalism system from which the conflict originates.

Radical criminologists are abolitionist in that they seek to end all state criminal justice systems that cause the suffering of the oppressed.[6]

Views on property crimes[edit]

Radical criminologists believe that traditional criminology puts too much emphasis on the violence of property crime. Property crime is a symptom of a system that exploits the lower classes and puts the well-being of the property of the upper class above the needs of the lower class. Therefore it is not truly a crime, but only a reaction to an unjust society. Under capitalism, all crimes committed by the lower class are necessary for their survival.[6]

Views on illegal immigration[edit]

Radical criminologists reject the ideas of national sovereignty and border security. These exist because of the state's oppression and should be challenged.[6] Therefore, no immigration should be illegal.

Role of criminologists[edit]

Radical criminologists believe that criminology should be public, that is, should exist and have an impact outside of academia. The role then, of radical criminologists is to educate the public of the dangers of capitalism, while actively campaigning for its demise.[7]


Recently a group of anarchists and abolitionists associated with the Critical Criminology Working Group in the Criminology Department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University have advocated an activist, explicitly anti-capitalist and anti-statist radical criminology. In 2012 they launched the journal "Radical Criminology." An outline of a contemporary radical criminology and a call to action was issued in the journal's "Radical Criminology: A Manifesto."[citation needed]


Critiques of radical criminology come from both traditional criminologists who reject the failings of capitalism, and from other conflict criminologists who follow different interpretations of Marxist thought. Given its anti-capitalist stance, radical criminology is rejected by proponents of capitalism and those who reject the Marxist theories upon which radical criminology is based.[8] Still others who may agree with some of the core beliefs of radical criminology find it is too impractical and idealistic.

Radical criminology fails to take into account the many varied causes and reasons for crime. Therefore, it also can't explain the relatively low crime rates in some capitalist countries when compared to others. If class conflict was the only cause of crime than all capitalist countries should have relatively the same crime rates. Additionally, countries that have successfully overthrown their capitalist structures should have eliminated crime, yet crime in socialist countries does not often differ from that of capitalist countries. With such an advanced economy, social class is not always tied so clearly to owning the means of production, and definitions of who belongs to which classes are too often ambiguous.[9]

Some find issues with radical criminology's definition, or lack thereof, of crime. Since they reject the consensus perspective of crime, definitions of crime then vary from person to person, and are based on value judgments rather than a set of standards.[8]

Further reading[edit]

  • Tony Platt, "Prospects for a Radical Criminology in the United States." Crime and Social Justice 1 (Spring/Summer, 1974).
  • Michael J. Lynch, ed. (January 1997). Radical Criminology. The International Library of Criminology, Criminal Justice and Penology Ser. Ashgate Publishing, Limited. ISBN 1-85521-858-5.
  • Jeff Shantz, "Radical Criminology: A Manifesto." Radical Criminology. Issue 1: 7-17, 2012. [1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Mike Maguire; Rodney Morgan; Robert Reiner (2007). The Oxford handbook of criminology (4, Illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-920543-1. Retrieved 22 February 2010.
  2. ^ Johnson, E. H. (1978). "Radical Criminology and Marxism: A Fallible Relationship". Criminal Justice Review. 3: 53–63. doi:10.1177/073401687800300107. S2CID 145195080.
  3. ^ "Radical Criminology: Theoretical Origins" (PDF). Retrieved 22 February 2010.
  4. ^ crit (2010-04-15). "Radical Criminology". Critical Criminology. Retrieved 2019-04-28.
  5. ^ a b Cardarelli, Albert; Hicks, Steven (Fall 1993). "Radicalism in Law and Criminology: A Retrospective View of Critical Legal Studies and Radical Criminology". Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. 84 (3): 502. doi:10.2307/1143962. JSTOR 1143962.
  6. ^ a b c d Shantz, Jeff (2012-10-29). "Radical Criminology - A Manifesto". Radical Criminology. 0 (1): 7–17. ISSN 1929-7912.
  7. ^ On public criminology. Shantz, Jeff,, Piché, Justin,, Sanders, Carrie B.,, Eisler, Lauren,, Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Critical Criminology Working Group. Surrey, BC. ISBN 9780692311417. OCLC 923022753.CS1 maint: others (link)
  8. ^ a b Bernard, Thomas J. (1981). "The Distinction between Conflict and Radical Criminology". The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. 72 (1): 362–379. doi:10.2307/1142914. ISSN 0091-4169. JSTOR 1142914.
  9. ^ Sparks, Richard F. (January 1980). "A Critique of Marxist Criminology". Crime and Justice. 2: 159–210. doi:10.1086/449069. ISSN 0192-3234.

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