Justice Blind? Ideals and Realities of American Criminal Justice by Matthew B. Robinson offers a challenging analysis of American criminal justice to enact substantive change in our judicial and political systems. Matthew B. Robinson teaches as an associate professor at Appalachian State University’s (ASU) Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice. In the fourth chapter, the author demonstrates how the criminal justice system in the nation focuses nearly solely on street offenses committed by a small percentage of the populace. Generally, the chapter concludes that crime in the United States is not as easy as it sounds, except for serious crimes like murder and corporate corruption.
The author defines what crime is at the outset of his discussion. Although there is a clear-cut legal definition of crime, most consider crimes to be any purposeful actions that result in physical or financial harm to another person. If someone hurts a person, whether it is against the law, a person could feel like the victim of a crime. According to the author’s discussion of the legal definition of crime, a crime occurs when a person intentionally violates the criminal law by acting, failing to act, attempting to work, or agreeing to act in a way that violates the law (Robinson, p. 86). The criminal justice system is a network of public and private institutions that work successfully to manage accused and convicted criminals.
Next, the author begins by outlining the many types of crimes. He starts by mentioning serious street crime as the first crime category. The author inquires at the outset of his treatment of this kind of crime. According to the author, crimes were initially classified according to the following criteria: harm, frequency of occurrence, pervasiveness across the nation, and the likelihood of being reported to the police (Robinson, p. 86). According to The Uniform Crime Reporting Program (UCR), severe crimes include the violent crimes of murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, aggravated assault, burglary, property crimes of theft, arson, and motor vehicle theft (Robinson, 2002).
Other criminal offenses, also referred to as Part II Offenses of the UCR, are figuratively regarded as “less serious.” It is considered less severe because they are less harmful, frequent, or ubiquitous across the nation. Simple robberies, fraud, theft, receiving or having stolen merchandise, vandalism, prostitutes, other commercial character flaws, sex crimes, drug infractions, gambling, and crimes against the spouse and kids are a few examples (Robinson, 2002, p. 86). Even though these behaviors are seen as less severe, the author argues that they actually cause more harm—both physically and financially—and happen more frequently than the crimes people view as the most serious.
The author advocated for the definition of victimhood to be expanded to cover any purposeful, careless, reckless, or willfully committed conduct that results in monetary or physical harm. However, according to the author, the term “victim” most appropriately “refers to all those persons who face injury, loss, or difficulty owing to any reason” about the meaning of the term (Robinson, 2002, p. 87). The author states that a new definition of the term “victim” is necessary, one that includes specific individuals, teams of individuals, or companies that are harmed by actions taken intentionally, negligently, recklessly, or knowingly.
After explaining a crime, the author suggested some potential sources for further information. According to the chapter, there are two key U.S. government publications where people can learn more about street violence. Depending on the information people wish to acquire, one may be superior to the other. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), and self-report studies are three essential sources of crime data in the United States.
UCR is arguably the most often cited source of crime statistics in the United States; however, the author states that it has drawbacks. The UCR measures only crimes known to the police, which is one of the many limitations of the UCR and the most concerning in terms of both crime frequencies and crime trends (Robinson, 2002, p. 90). Despite these and the fact that these numbers only include offenses reported to the police, the UCR provides some helpful information regarding the crime.
Because the factors influencing victim memory and reporting to researchers are more constant than those impacting UCR crime trends, the NCVS is also a better estimate of crime trends than the UCR. Studying actual criminals through self-report studies, including conversations with both incarcerated and active offenders, is another way criminologists have learned about crime. Challenges with validity and reliability are the main issues with self-report studies.
The author concludes by claiming that only a small percentage of actions harmful to Americans are classified as “crimes.” The government reserves the term “severe crime” for offenses it believes are committed mainly by the underclass. This explains why street crime is prioritized in the U.S. rather than elite deviance, despite the latter being much more hazardous. The author claims that the sources people use to understand how much crime there is in the United States reflect this bias: we depend more on less reliable measurements like the National Crime Victimization Survey than we do on the error-prone Uniform Crime Reports.
Robinson, M. B. (2002). Chapter 4 “Crime: Which is worse, crime on the streets or crime in the suites?” In Ideals and Realities of American Criminal Justice. essay, Pearson/Prentice Hall.