Deviance and Crime

1. The first reading starts out the topic discussion with some interesting insights into crime and incarceration policies in this country, which as many of us suspect, do not work really well. You may be aware that today’s crime policy is heavily focused on incarceration (building more prisons) instead of applying other, more effective measures to fight crime. As a matter of fact, there have never been more people incarcerated anywhere, and at any time in the history of the world, than there are inmates currently in American prisons – some 2.3 million people behind bars! Just to add to the apparent irrationality of this system, consider the fact that minorities are disproportionately represented in prisons and on death row. “While African Americans make up only 12 per cent of the national population, they account for more than 40 per cent of the country’s current death row inmates, and one in three of those executed since 1977”!

All this is happening while crime statistics continue to decline, including violent crimes. Contradictions? Absolutely! The article explains at least some of them.

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<!1 Read: PDF file (below): Crime Control in America

2. The second article goes hand in hand with the previous one explaining how public policy (such as crime policy) may have something to do with our culturally constructed opinions. Specifically the article argues that many of our fears of violent crime are unfounded, but because they are so entrenched in our cultural imagination, politicians feel pressured to choose policies that address these public sentiments.

2. Read Reader 47: The Culture of Fear–Culture_of_Fear.pdf

3. Before you read your next article, consider to what extent the idea of something being deviant depends on culture. Whether we consider some things as good or bad, and some people as attractive or not, has everything to do with culture. You know this when you see the standards of beauty change over time as do our standards of what is right and wrong, normal or abnormal. So, whether we see something as deviant too depends on culture; or perspective. Smoking marihuana is considered something deviant, illegal in fact in the US, but not in Amsterdam or India. Cocaine being illegal now wasn’t illegal a century ago when it was the main ingredient in many potions prescribed by country doctors. Coca Cola would probably not become the major brand it is today had it not been for its main ingredient – coke – which has supposedly been removed from the coca leaf extract that is still part of the recipe today … I wonder why it is so addictive! So you can see that deviance does not exist outside of the cultural definitions. Nothing is inherently deviant; all deviance is a matter of perspective.

So how does something become deviant? Sociologists have several perspectives, but we will take a closer look at Labeling Theory. You must understand Labeling Theory before you can read your next article, which is an example of the theory in a real-life scenario.

Watch a short video on Labeling Theory below:

<!-. Reader 46: On Being Sane in Insane Places

4. Video: When Kids Get Life (link below)

When Kids Get Life

5. Complete questions below.

Crime Control in America

1. Since the 1990’s the number of prison inmates skyrocketed. According to the article, is that the cause of declining crime rates?

2. What are some of the real reasons behind the decline in crime rates, according to the reading?

3. Since this crime policy apparently does not work, what should instead be the focus of crime policy?

The Culture of Fear

4. Why does the author say we fear the wrong things?

5. What are some of the real things we should fear, but ignore instead?

6. How does the “culture of fear” have to do with what the first article talked about: policies that do not work (emphasis on incarceration)? Does the culture of fear play role in this policy choice that emphasizes incarcerations?

On Being Sane in Insane Places

7. Were the pseudo patients’ schizophrenics? Explain using the labeling theory.

8. What made them schizophrenics? How have they “contracted” the “disease”?

9. Why did the staff treat them as mental patients (deviants) when there was obviously not anything wrong with them, nor did they exhibit any non-standard behavior?

10. Upon release, were they considered cured?

Video: When Kids Get Life

11. What is the main point of this documentary?

The first article discusses the absence of family policy in the US and its consequences. In comparison, most other advanced countries of the world have a family policy (set of policies that contribute to the well-being of the family) in contract to just leaving the family to fend for itself as is the case in the US.

Below are some data to consider. Because of the absence of family policy, the US fares among the worst, in comparison with other advanced nations, in statistics on overall poverty, and child poverty. It is though appropriate policies (lacking in the US) that these issues can be mitigated, which is what other advanced countries chose to do.

Poverty and children:

The largest proportion of people living below the official poverty rates in the US are women and children (3/4 of the poor)

Child mortality rates are higher in the US than in any other advance country

(1997) 1 in 5 children lived in poverty (14 million) – official poverty rates (US Bureau of the Census)

Children constitute 40% of people in poverty, they only constitute26% of the population

More than 14 million of American children, the equivalent of a medium sized country, are disparagingly poor

Over 6 million of these children are considered “extremely poor” by the government, which means their income is less than ½ of the official poverty rates

Hundreds of thousands of children are homeless, many more are hungry

(Luxemburg Income Study, 1995) – US accounts for 70% of the poor children in the 18 richest industrialized nations

Nearly ½ of all American preschoolers live in poverty or near poverty—poverty is therefore a mainstream occurrence in all races and ethnicities and areas

(Columbia University National Center for Children in Poverty) 5.5 mil. American children (under age 6) – 23 % (1in 4) lived in severe poverty (1996)

Compare US and other advanced countries on policies:

Child spending (child well-being) in France (much smaller country) is $230 bill/year, in contrast to US spends only $146 bill/year

West European countries spend two or three times as much as the US on families with children – these policies are the main reason behind poverty, hunger and homelessness

US child poverty rate is about 4x the average of Europe

US children are 2x as likely to be poor than Canadian children, 3x a likely as British children, 4x as likely as French children, and 7-13x more likely than German, Dutch and Swedish children

The average American child living in low-income family in the other 17 countries (18 advanced countries) is at least 1/3 better off than the average American child

child poverty rates:

o US 19.9%

o Scandinavia – below 5%

o Europe 5-9%

Europe – most nations have child poverty rates 12-30% prior to government interventions!!!! (same problems, different policies)

Economists argue, these rates still do not present an accurate picture because they do not include things like free healthcare, childcare and other benefits common in Europe and Canada

2. The second article discusses how the school, an institution that is supposed to provide equal opportunities for everyone, isn’t exactly living up to it. Schools in different communities do not provide the same life chances for white, minority, well-to-do and poor populations. There are vast differences.


1. PDF file : An Agenda for Family Policy in the United States (link below)

2. Watch short video on Maternity Leave Policy in the US vs. other countries – link below (you will be surprised!)

3. Reader 26: Savage Inequalities

4. Complete questions below.


An Agenda for Family Policy in the United States

12. Is there a need for family policy in the US? Explain (Consider: The modern family is very different from the agrarian /peasant family)

13. Use ” family policy” as an argument to explain the dramatically higher child poverty, and overall poverty rates in the US, as compared to other advanced countries.

Video: Maternity Leave in the US vs. Other Countries

14. Where does the US stand in comparison with other countries when it comes to family policy (maternity leave). Explain

Savage Inequalities

15. Do all children have an equal chance at academic success, and by extension, at future prosperity?

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