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Sutherland’s White-Collar Criminality

The field of criminology has evolved over the years through the contributions of various criminologists who have sought to understand the causes of deviant behavior. Although many theories have attributed criminal behavior to lower class and social differences, criminologists such as Sutherland and Brantingham have strived to comprehend the crimes conducted by privileged individuals as well as those carried out against the environment. This essay aims to explore Sutherland’s White-Collar Criminality and Brantingham and Brantingham’s Environmental Criminology. The essay further analyzes the development of both theories over the years and their impact on the criminal justice system.

Edward Sutherland was not only one of the first criminologists to write about White-Collar crime but also the person who coined this term. This crime was seen as a grey area and even to this day it is not a widely pursued subject by the experts in the field, however, Sutherland was able to put white-collar crime, permanently in the criminology agenda and made it a common term in sociology. He was a strong critic of the previous theories presented before his work, as these theories explained the method of crime committed rather than the process and thinking behind it. Sutherland argued that white-collar crimes are committed by people of higher social class and they use their status to evade punishment. These crimes may be non-violent and range from minor offenses to more serious illegal activities. He explained that the previous theories fall short of correctly defining white-collar crimes leaving a gap in the justice system which is then exploited by privileged people (Sutherland, 1940).

According to Brantingham and Brantingham’s Environment Criminology, criminal events that occur within a specific setting, at a specific time and place, and that impact that environment in a negative way are termed as environmental crimes. Various examples of such crimes are prevalent, for instance, illegal trade in wildlife, trade of hazardous substances, illegal and unregulated fishing, etc. These crimes firstly relate to a place and secondly to the way individuals and organizations shape their activities spatially and as a result damage the place (Siegel, 2016). The authors’ study was in hopes of understanding the thinking and processes of these people that lead to the choice of crime sites (Brantingham & Brantingham, 1981). Many of these crimes have left an everlasting impact on the environment and contributed to global issues.

Presently, both these theories have gained significant traction and evolved with time, however, the white-collar crimes are still not clearly understood and it has been observed that these crimes receive shorter sentences as compared to other crimes. Privilege and social status are still being used as a shield to get away with crimes committed by the people of high society. The absence of severity in punishment of white-collar crimes is leading to higher recidivism rates. Lack of public knowledge about this type of crime is leading to lax and lenient sentencing and punishments. Similarly, the environmental theory has evolved to include the crime-infested areas and neighborhoods and the effects these had on the criminal activity in that area.

In conclusion, white-collar crimes still fall under grey area and lack of research and understanding is contributing to the prevalence of these crimes, lenient sentencing is leading to re-offense. If proper research is not conducted and more contributions are not made in white-collar criminology then these crimes will continue to prevail and with time may become more heinous. On the other hand, environmental criminology is advancing in the right direction to understand the factors behind the crimes and trying to get inside the criminals’ minds to gain insight into the crime. This theory is also expanding to include other deviant behaviors and situations that impact the environment and also the impact of the environment on the criminal. This evolution and expansion of environmental criminology will help in learning more about different factors that contribute to environmental crime.


Brantingham, P. J., & Brantingham, P. L. (1981). Environmental Criminology. Beverly Hills, California: Sage Publications.

Sutherland, E. H. (1940). White-Collar Criminality. American Sociological Review, 1-12.

Siegel, L. J. (2016). Criminology: The Core. Cengage Learning: Boston, MA.



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