A link between Anthropology and Criminal Justice

Dual majoring in Criminal Justice and Anthropology requires me to compare and contrast concepts that are taught in both fields.  While reading the last 3 chapters of A Good Book, In Theory I have seen the most connections between the fields than I ever have before, in my 5 years at UW-Parkside.  In Criminal Justice (CJ) we have four theories we focus on to identify why criminal behavior manifests in certain individuals; Structural Functionalism, Conflict theory/Marxism, Interactionism, and Habermasian, the last two you may not heard of, but Conflict theory/Marxism is what resonates closest to me in connection with this course, and what I’ll concentrate on in this blog post.

The nurture versus nature debate is not so much a debate anymore, as we recognize it is often a combination of both that explains particular behaviors.  In terms of nurture, if we zoom out of the individual level, and focus on the macro forms of nurturing provided by the government (nationally, state-wide, and municipally), we can see the disregard for human life, we can see this oppressive and exploitative force the Conflict Theory suggests, that targets lower classes in the United States.  We see a similar oppressive force when we discuss fourth-world peoples, or those who are often marginalized by a larger entity.  Sears & Cairns discuss, on pg. 128, the types of environmental hazards that are inflicted on the working class, people of color, and the impoverished.  In a lecture series hosted at UW-Parkside last semester called Environmental Racism, one speaker explained the types of establishments that are imposed, toxic-waste dumps, large factories, and major highways.  These establishments not only cause extreme health risks, but lower the value of surrounding property thus making it next to impossible to better the conditions of the area.  The people living in these areas do not have the same opportunities or availability to resources as the middle and upper classes, and have little to no authority to stop these institutions from degrading their neighborhoods.

These anti-nurturing conditions elicit an adaptive behavior, and criminal activity could be a behavior produced.  I am not saying all impoverished, or working class, or minorities engage in criminal activity, just like not all pastoralists love cattle as much as the Nuer, but there is a clear correlation between oppressive forces and criminal activity as an adaptive behavior.  The criminal activity I am referring to is not serial killing, acts of terrorism, or assault, but rather petty theft, burglary, prostitution, and drug dealing or smuggling, crimes that have financial or social gain to support a lifestyle.  The cost of living is rising, but minimum wage has remained static, and with much of the work available to the impoverished and working-class being limited to labor, criminal activity is a way to supplement a low income.  I am not condoning any criminal behavior, or stating it is exclusively caused by oppression, I am just astonished on how a theory in Anthropology shed light and further expanded my comprehension of a Criminal Justice theory.

-Saraya Kohloff

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