Sample Criminal Justice Term Paper on Punishment of Traditional Crimes v White Collar Crime

Punishment of Traditional Crimes v. White Collar Crime

Over the years, there have been debates on which between traditional crime and white-collar crime deserves heavier punishment than the other. Before coming up with a determination on this, it is essential to understand the meaning of the two concepts. Foremost, traditional crimes are those committed every day in the streets with most of them being committed under the influence of drugs and alcohol. The most common traditional crimes include murder, bodily injury, rape, theft, robbery, hooliganism, vandalism, illegal possession of weapons, and drug trafficking. Traditional crime is considered one the most dangerous types of crimes given that they create situations or psychological climates that are unfavorable to victims. On the other hand, a white-collar crime is that committed by individuals who falsely present themselves s government representatives, business people or law enforcement personnel. White-collar crime entails illegal activities that result in the redistribution of legal income with the most common types being fraud, industrial espionage, corruption, false bankruptcy, and others. It is believed that white-collar crime results in the most significant economic damage in society (Croall, 2001). Unfortunately, white-collar crime rarely becomes the object of criminal repression, which is one of the greatest concerns in recent times.

Overview of the Issue

There are several white-crime cases whereby it is believed that the persons involved were handed relatively light punishments despite the cases having significant victim impacts and involving the loss of massive amounts of money. An example of a court case involving white collar crime is Skilling v. United States.In this case, a Texas federal District court sentenced Jeffrey Skilling, a former CEO of Enron Corporation, on the grounds that he was involved in conspiracy, insider trading, making false representations to auditors, and securities fraud. In the case, it was argued that during the beginning of the 2000s, Enron, a U.S-based company, had revenues exceeding $100 billion. During this time, Enron was on the verge of being named as the most innovative company in America by Fortune. However, the company’s objectives fell short when there were rumors of its involvement in illegal accounting procedures with Arthur Anderson, its accounting firm. At the time, Arthur Anderson was considered one of the biggest accounting firms in the United States. The crime involved the then president and CEO, Jeffery Skilling, and his staff, who embezzled several billion dollars (“10 White Collar Crime Cases,” 2012). They succeeded in this through poor financial reporting and relied on accounting loopholes where the executives deceived the company’s board of directors regarding its accounting practices.After investigations were conducted upon a decline in stocks, Fastow was sentenced to 6 years whereas Skilling was sentenced to 24 years in prison (“10 White Collar Crime Cases,” 2012). There is no doubt that the amount of money lost in the crime was so big that the sentence tended to be light. In contrast, in Birmingham, Alabama, a 41-year-old man by the name William Merriweather Jr. was recently sentenced to life imprisonment for taking part in a bank robbery that resulted in the death of two people and two others. The ramifications of Skilling’s white-collar crime are more far reaching than William’s crime. This means that the 24-year imprisonment sentence to Skilling is lighter as compared to the life imprisonment sentence to William.

Nature of the Issue

On several occasions, courts have rejected the appeal to have perpetrators of white-collar crime subjected to longer prison sentences because of the threat they pose to society, especially from economic perspectives. Across criminal justice systems, there is the belief that white-collar criminals should be subjected to light sentences because they are in a position to offer more to society than those who perpetrate traditional or street crime with no such knowledge and skill. Irrefutably, the impact of white-collar crime remains far broader than traditional or street crimes. The prevalence of relatively light white-collar sentences or punishments has harmed the society in various ways. It is argued that the extent of damage and actual loss caused by white-collar crime in society are greater than those caused by traditional crime. One of the evident harms caused by white-collar crime is economic decline or deterioration (Dutcher, n.d.). According to Dutcher, white-collar crime is responsible for far more economic damage than traditional crime in society today. For instance, in 2001, there was a report from the FBI that attributed traditional crime to a significant economic loss, approximately $17.2 billion. This was believed to have been less than a third of total economic loss linked to white-collar crime the same year (Dutcher, n.d.). Moreover, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that in 1997, white-collar crime resulted in the total loss of $338 billion, a figure believed to have been eight times the total value lost from traditional crime such as theft and robbery (Reiman& Leighton, 2015).

Reasons for This General Policy

There has been a general policy around the world where white-collar offenders are handed less harsh punishments or prison sentences as compared to street or traditional criminals. Many criminal justice systems have the perception that the disgust that members of society have with white-collar crime often overlooks a commonality among white-collar offenders. One of the reasons for treating white-collar criminals less harshly is the strong belief that they are individuals with no history of prior criminal conduct (Podgor, 2006). This contrasts the belief that traditional or street criminals are often repeat-offenders that ought to be subjected to heavy punishments to prevent recidivism. Seemingly, white-collar criminals are wealthy and educated individuals who have never been convicted of criminal conduct previously. Another reason for treating white-collar criminals less harshly is that they are people with power (Podgor, 2006). Sentencing powerful people in society can be more challenging than sentencing frequent street offenders, and therefore, judicial systems often prefer to treat the former less harshly. Most individuals that engage in white-collar do not have previous criminal records.As a result, those involved in corporate fraud accounting cases are law-abiding citizens hence the less harsh treatments accorded to them (Podgor, 2006). An example is Jeffery Skilling whose involvement in the collapse of Enron was his first criminal offense.

Many argue that white-collar crime, unlike street crimes, can be prevented if the offenders are caught early in the schemes. Furthermore, white-collar offenders are often subjected to several collateral consequences, and this is considered a reason for the less harsh treatments. For instance, for a lawyer who is a white-collar offender, they could end up losing the ability to practice law. It is also highly unlikely for professional stockbrokers involved in white-collar crimes to go return to their profession. For medical professionals involved in white-collar crime, the government may exclude them from federal programs, which is already a far-reaching effect. Other than resuming their professions, those involved in white-collar crime might be affected by license denial, debarment, and government exclusion (Podgor, 2006). Based on these perspectives, white-collar offenders tend to receive or face collateral consequences for having a skill, and this is often considered when they are sentenced or punished.

Importance of this Issue

The underlying issue is that white-crime offenders are subjected to less harsh punishments or sentences as compared to traditional or street criminals. The fact that society continues to focus more on traditional crime than white-collar crime is astonishing. The biggest difference between white-collar and traditional crime is that the former includes an assortment of non-violent crimes that are often targeted at achieving financial gain. This aside, the consequences of both white-collar and traditional crime are far-reaching. In fact, white-collar crime often hits hard on the balance sheet of businesses and companies as well as the pockets of individuals (Dutcher, n.d.). The challenge in fighting white-collar crime is that there is difficulty when it comes to the loss or damage caused. Often, governments overlook white-collar crime with the argument that it is committed by individuals who contribute significantly towards community growth. The harm or adverse effects caused by white-collar crime is worse than that caused by traditional crime hence the need to address the underlying issue. Losses accruing up to $60 billion result from white-collar crimes annually (Dutcher, n.d.). It is argued that this figure translates to 6 percent of the GDP of the United States. These statistics are astonishing meaning that white-collar crimes must be stopped. To stop an escalation of white-collar crimes, it is important to do away with the policies that dictate handling light sentences to white-collar offenders.

Relevant Theories

The current public policy allows harsh treatment of traditional crime offenders and not white-collar crime offenders. Several theories can best explain this current policy including sociological and criminological theories. One of the sociological theories that can best explain the current public policy is utilitarianism. Proponents of utilitarianism aver that the primary goal of the government and society should be to maximize human happiness, and this can be achieved when the focus is solely on maximizing the greatest good for people his can only be achieved by focusing primarily on maximizing the greatest good for several people. Further, according to utilitarians, punishment is a key component that is justified only if it is beneficial to society. This best explains the current public policy whereby judicial systems and society in entirety believe that punishing white-collar offenders harshly could waste their lives and those of other people and jeopardize their possible contributions to society given their high level of knowledge and skills (Dutcher, n.d.). The current public policy can also be best explained using criminological theories, the best being the choice theory. This theory states that individuals often choose to engage in crime once they look at the opportunities before them. This means that people who take part in crime often weigh the benefits at hand versus the potential punishment (Tania, 2014). When applied to the current public policy, the criminal justice systems and society are often forced to look at the benefits of white-crime offenders versus the punishment to be handed to them. As already mentioned, white-crime offenders are persons with advanced knowledge and skills that are of significance to the community, and therefore, there is the pressure to subject them to less harsh punishments.

Proposed Policy


A policy that would address the current conundrum regarding the treatment of white-collar crime in relation to the prosecution of traditional street crimes is having criminal punishment match the blameworthiness of the offender. For a long time, people have had problems with the fact that white-collar offenders are handed light punishments whereas street or traditional crime offenders are handed heavy punishments or sentences. With this proposed policy, white-collar crime offenders will be prosecuted bearing in mind their blameworthiness (Strader, 2007). For instance, an individual who takes part in corruption or fraud resulting in the loss of a huge sum of money, for instance, $100 billion, will be subjected to several years in prison as is the case for traditional crime offenders. This policy would also consider the continuing impact of the harm caused to victims. A scenario involving the loss of $100 billion, as was the case involving Enron, could result in economic instability that could have adverse impacts on victims. The loss of such an amount of money can cause a massive loss of jobs for citizens. In such a case, the proposed policy would consider the blameworthiness of the offender and subject him or her to punishment or sentence in line with the same. This policy would see an individual who takes part in a white-collar crime resulting in the loss of huge sums of money subjected to several years in prison.

Rationale for the Proposed Policy

Today’s society is deeply conflicted about the kind of punishment to which white-collar criminals should be subjected. This comes amidst increased high-profile white-collar crimes in society. Of course, such incidences demand an end to white-collar crime hence the need to come up with a policy such as having criminal punishment match the blameworthiness of the offender. Governments alongside criminal justice systems have continued to treat traditional crime offenders harshly while ignoring the white-collar crimes committed despite their adverse effects on society. In the U.S., for instance, the government has been criticized on several occasions for declining to charge white-collar offenders. An example is when the government refused to charge Martha Stewart with insider trading in ImClone stock (Strader, 2007). Seen to agree with the position of the government, the courts have revered convictions of white-collar offenders because they pose no threat to society. It remains eminent that today’s prosecutors and lawmakers are not consistent in the degree to which they channel their resources and time on fighting both white-collar and traditional crime. On the other hand, juries are also inconsistent in their willingness to convict or charge white-collar offenders. Amidst the confusion, coming up with a policy that would ensure both white-collar and street criminals are punished according to the level of crime committed, and its impacts on society is crucial. Therefore, the policy of having criminal punishment match the blameworthiness of the offender would help solve the conundrum.

The Targeted Audience

The proposed policy would target prosecutors, lawmakers, and judges. As mentioned earlier, prosecutors, lawmakers, and judges often show inconsistencies when enforcing or formulating laws aimed at reducing both white-collar and traditional crimes. The most energy, time, and resources are channeled to fighting traditional crimes while ignoring the perpetrators of white-collar crimes. This policy would ensure that the primary focus of lawmakers, prosecutors, and judges is on the blameworthiness and crimes committed by an offender rather than the education, wealth, and social status of the offender (Henning, 2015).

Laws That Will Need to Be Passed to Support the Policy

The extent to which the proposed policy is enforced depends on the support it receives from legislative bodies and judicial institutions. First, judicial institutions may play a major role in the enforcement of the policy by restoring the discretion of judges in sentencing. For a long time, judges have been criticized for their leniency when it comes to sentencing or punishing white-collar offenders, what might be attributed to the judicial statutes in place (Bennett, Levinson, &Hioki, 2016). Second, legislative bodies might influence the enforcement of the proposed policy by passing certain laws to support its enforcement. One of the laws that will need to be passed by legislative bodies to support the proposed policy is the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA). This law will put in place a level ground for sentencing both white-collar and traditional or street offenders (Bennett, Levinson, &Hioki, 2016). Without this law in place, the enforcement of the proposed policy might be a challenge since prosecutors and judges might continue with the practice of handing heavy sentences for street criminals and only light sentences to white-collar offenders.

Impact of the Policy on the Criminal Justice System

The fact that the proposed policy will have impacts on the criminal justice system cannot be doubted. Currently, in the criminal justice system, inconsistencies are evident among prosecutors and judges in the degree to which they focus their resources and time on fighting white-collar crime. Moreover, juries show inconsistency in their willingness to convict white-collar offenders. From a general perspective, courts also show inconsistency when it comes to deciding whether to interpret white-collar crimes narrowly or broadly and whether it is advisable to impose long sentences on white-collar offenders. The good news is that the proposed policy will have positive impacts on the criminal justice system as it will help alleviate the inconsistencies witnessed (Dervan, 2011).

Cost-Benefit Analysis

The proposed policy will ensure white-collar offenders are subjected to lengthy sentences in line with their blameworthiness. Thus, it is projected that the proposed policy will have numerous benefits including preventing economic damage caused by white-collar crime annually. If this policy had been embraced in 2004, for instance, the estimated loss of $660 billion to white-collar abuses and crimes in the U.S. would have been reduced significantly (Bennett, Levinson, &Hioki, 2016). It is projected that rolling out the proposed policy would not cost more than $1 billion. The fact that the policy can prevent the loss of approximately $660 billion loss to white-collar crimes and abuses annually indicates that the benefits of the policy outweigh associated costs.


As discussed in this paper, the debate on which crime between white-collar crime and traditional crime deserves heavier punishment than the other is far from over. Traditional or street criminals remain prejudiced and are subjected to heavier and longer sentences as compared to white-collar criminals. The problem is the current criminal justice system that treats white-collar offenders based on their education levels, knowledge, skills, and wealth. There is a need to come up with a policy that will create a common ground for sentencing both white-collar and traditional or street offenders. However, both forms of crime should be tackled with the same magnitude as they cause adverse impacts to the society. A policy that would help realize this objective is that of having criminal punishment match the blameworthiness of the offender. There is no doubt that this proposed policy will help address the inconsistencies witnessed among prosecutors and judges when it comes to sentencing white-collar offenders. With this policy, the huge economic losses attributed to white-collar crime today will be reduced significantly in the future.


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