Class, Race, and Gender in Criminology and Criminal Justice: Ways of Seeing Difference

Class, Race, and Gender in Criminology and Criminal Justice: Ways of Seeing Difference

Gregg Barak, Eastern Michigan University

The following is a Symposium Speech delivered at the Second Annual Conference on RACE, GENDER and CLASS Project in New Orleans on October 20, 2000.


In the post-modern and multicultural worlds of criminology and criminal justice characterized by post-structuralism, post-Marxism, post-affirmative action, and post-feminism, the variables of class, race, and gender remain fundamental to both theory and practice. After all, the disciplines of criminology and the fields of criminal justice have always been about the real and imagined differences between “criminals” and “non-criminals.” Theoretically, explanations of crime and crime control, regardless of perspective or school of thought, have sought to make sense out of these differences. In the process of trying to sort out these differences, virtually every theoretical framework has addressed class and race overtly, and gender at least covertly. Up until recently, the problem with this line of inquiry was not only that there had been very little, if any, agreement on the effects of these three critical variables, but worse yet, folks were still debating whether or not these variables matter.

By the turn of the 21st century, however, a growing number of criminologists from several orientations, including but not limited to critical, feminist, Marxist, positivist, and integrative, had come to appreciate, in different yet related ways, that class, race, and gender matter. Today, many inquiries are interested in finding out just how exactly class, race, and gender matter in the production of crime and criminal justice. Some inquiries focus on class, race, and gender as autonomous variables. Some inquiries focus on these three variables as inter-related. Of course, key questions on the complexities of these relations and on the means of exploring them still remain. And even though the ways of seeing difference or of approaching class, race, and gender vary, there is certainly an emerging consensus on the importance of these three variables, and increasingly, on the intersections between them or on their interactive or reciprocal relationships.

In fact, it is my contention that in present-day criminology and criminal justice, there are at least four approaches to the study of class, race, and gender: (1) quantitative studies; (2) time and place studies; (3) ethnographic studies, and (4) social construction studies. These approaches are part and parcel of older and newer traditions in the study of crime and criminal justice. At the same time, they are also reflective or representative, over the last twenty years or so, of larger movements in academia to distance itself from both essentialism and determinism. Finally, each of these approaches is capable, more or less, of studying class and crime, race and crime, or gender and crime as separate or related phenomena. Whether or not class, race, and gender are studied in isolation or in relation to each other, depends to a very large extent on the kinds of questions that are asked by each of these approaches. When class, race, and gender are studied together, the way they are linked or connected will also depend on the questions asked.

Quantitative Studies:

Quantitative studies in crime and criminal justice are concerned with empirically measuring, capturing, or nullifying the “casual relationships” or “differencing effects” of class, race, or gender on crime, delinquency, violence, law enforcement, adjudication, sentencing, and punishment. In the tradition of “functionalism,” crime and crime control are viewed as indexes of misconduct. Typically, class, race, and/or gender become the “independent” variables and crime and crime control become the “dependent” variables. In the tradition of “positivist” social science, these studies normally engage large data sets involving samples that number into the three or four digits. Data, in the case of crime, is generally gathered through responses to “self-reported” questionnaires, that strive to represent as best as possible the real world breakdowns or population demographics. In the case of the administration of criminal justice, data stems mostly from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, the U.S. Department of Justice, and other governmental documents produced locally or at the state level. Inevitably, there are usually some limitations that restrict generalization such as under or over representation of particular socio-economic group/s.

For the purposes of this presentation, I turned to the May (2000) issue of Criminology, the official quarterly publication of the American Society of Criminology (ASC), and discovered that five out of the ten articles dealt with class, race, and/or gender. Four of those were quantitative studies: “Minority Threat and Police Brutality: Determinants of Civil Rights Complaints in U.S. Municipalities”; “Gender, Structural Disadvantage, and Urban Crime: Do Macrosocial Variables also Explain Female Offending Rates?”; “Perceived Sanction Threats, Gender, and Crime: A Test and Elaboration of Power-Control Theory”; and “The Myth of Social Class and Crime Revisited: An Examination of Class and Adult Criminality.” It is interesting to note, though each of these studies was primarily concerned with race, or gender, or class, that three of them addressed all three variables, and the fourth addressed two out of the three.

In order to convey the complexity and sophistication of these and other quantitative studies, permit me to elaborate a bit more from one of these articles. In this way, I hope to illustrate how thematically there is an emerging consensus around the importance of class, race, and gender, even among quantitative researchers whose studies have tended to nullify the importance of these variables. For example, in “The Myth of Social Class and Crime Revisited,” Dunaway et al. (2000: 589) concluded from a sample of 555 adults living in a large, midwestern city that “regardless of how class or crime were measured, social class exerted little direct influence on adult criminality in the general population.” Nevertheless, in their analysis, the authors revealed a number of caveats about their findings, such as: “The lack of both significant class effects and any race effects in our general crime scale may suggest a possible interaction effect between social class and race” (Ibid: 607).

Regarding the contemporary sophistication of quantitative studies, the authors in this study employed 15 individual indicators of social class, broken down into four gradational class measures (e.g., personal income, family income, SES, education), four underclass measures (e.g., unemployed, welfare, foodstamps, public housing), and seven Marxian class measures (i.e., bourgeoisie, petty bourgeoisie, worker, self-employed). True to quantitative form, they conducted multivariate analyses with respect to general crime measures for the year prior to their survey and since their respondents turned 18. In addition, they conducted multiple regressions on the impact of their social class measures on the prevalence of violent crime as a subscale in their analysis. Finally, as would be expected, they controlled for race, sex, and age. They also controlled for being a parent and for being married.

As for the authors’ caveats or qualifications, their study revealed a number of interesting findings that expose the complexities of class, race, and gender. For example, even though the results left a relatively weak overall impression of direct class impact on general crime, the outcomes were able to show which of the three ways of conceptualizing class, fared the best. The study also found that the “respondents’ gender and age were the most important predictors of crime,” and that “family income was the only class measure observed to significantly affect the incidence of crime in the past year,” (Ibid: 600, 602).

In addition, the study found some support for specifying the class-crime relationships by gender and by race. In the case of men and women, personal income negatively and significantly affected crime for males. By contrast, family income, significantly influenced crime for females. In the case of whites and nonwhites, social class was related to criminal involvement for nonwhites. Finally, the study also points to a significant limitation with respect to its general representativeness: the sample undercounted nonwhites. The percent of nonwhites surveyed was 14.1% compared with the community’s percent nonwhites of 35.3%.

In sum, sophisticated studies like that of Dunaway et al., intimate that there is not only a need for further quantitative research to consider the conditions under which social class is criminogenic, but for the importance of doing qualitative studies as well. As the authors, echoing the insights of John Hagan’s 1991 Presidential address to the ASC on “The Poverty of a Classless Criminology,” underscore in their discussion portion of the article, the direct effect of class on crime is also mediated by cultural and contextual factors and, therefore, it is inevitably bound to be weak! Recent work, such as Wright et al. (1999), suggests “that the actual direction of class effects may be dependent on an array of social psychological factors. Thus, the class/crime relationship may be masked by interactive effects” related to a host of other unaccounted for variables (Ibid: 624).

Time and Place Studies:

Unlike quantitative studies in crime and criminal justice, time and place studies are not engaged in the perennial pursuit of a fine-tuned measure of real crime, nor are they as reluctant to reach “definitive” conclusions regarding the relationships among class, race, gender, and crime. Whether these studies are historical or comparative, incorporate long-term or short-term perspectives, they are concerned empirically with explaining the varying levels of criminal punishment. These studies want to account for why some men or women, or some socio-economic classes, or some racial or ethnic groups, have been more likely or less likely to be sanctioned by the criminal justice system for their involvement in non-conforming behavior. These accounts typically relate the differences in crime control to their structural and institutional relations of class, race, and gender, rather than to their individual or interpersonal relations.

Accordingly, focus shifts away from measurement of crime and crime control as responses to individual or group misconduct in micro society. Instead, crime and social control are viewed in relationship to the dominant political, economic, and social interests of macro society. In the tradition of “insiders” versus “outsiders,” time and place studies want to know how the changing institutionalized relations of social control in general, and in the administration of criminal justice in particular, have been used by the more powerful groups to maintain privilege and inequality in the context of “social conflict.” Thus, time and place studies of class, race, and gender change the emphasis of inquiry from “social conduct” to “social standing,” and to the ways in which institutions of social control reproduce relations of the status quo. In these inquiries, the pursuit of data revolves around exposing the real and perceived relationships between the cultural threats of the “dangerous groups” and the mechanisms of individual and group control, all played out within the context of the prevailing political and economic arrangements.

For the purposes of this presentation, allow me to make passing reference to two recently published anthologies in the areas of criminology and criminal justice. The first is Ethnicity, Race, and Crime: Perspectives Across Time and Place (1995), edited by Darnell Hawkins. The second is Race, Gender, and Class in Criminology: The Intersection (1996), edited by Martin Schwartz and Dragan Milovanovic. What both of these edited readers share in common are “sociology of knowledge” approaches to the study of crime and crime control. That is, each text takes a “critical” stance in relationship to the disciplines of criminology and criminal justice. Moreover, both books not only explore the history, but they reflect on the ways in which the disciplines of criminology and criminal justice have studied, viewed, and treated crime and crime control in relation to the politics and/or ideology of race, ethnicity, class, and gender. Time and place, also become analytical constructs for these books as each consciously set out to include a diversity of intellectual perspectives on the conceptualizations of class, race, and gender relations. Finally, both of these anthologies move back and forth in time and space as they examine concrete applications of and practices in social control.

Comparatively speaking, the objectives of these two books vary, yet they are still related. Ethnicity, Race, and Crime wanted to distinguish not only between the physical and social realities of racial difference, but to look beyond the usual white and non-white distinctions, to include comparative complexities of multiple ethnic group experiences in crime and social control over time. Toward this end, ethnic and racial, and class, and to a lesser extent, gender experiences in social control are analyzed with consideration to the changing relations of inequality and the changing conditions of the socioeconomic orders. Hence, labor market inequalities, distribution of jobs, economic disadvantage, isolation, marginality, moral panics, institutionalized racism, poverty, and more, are brought into the time and place discussions. Finally, the interrelationship among ethnicity, race, and crime is examined in the contexts of the United States, France, and Germany. A sampling of the chapter titles from the “contemporary issues and debates” section of Ethnicity, Race, and Crime reads as: “Ethnicity, Labor Markets, and Crime”; “Crime Control and Ethnic Minorities: Legitimizing Racial Oppression by Creating Moral Panics”; “The Contribution of Institutionalized Racism to Minority Crime”; and “Minority Group Threat, Crime, and the Mobilization of Law in France.”

The objectives inRace, Gender, and Class in Criminologyare explicitly to investigate the various intersections of class, race, and gender, to explore how these relations or configurations are more than the sum of their parts, and to examine how these intersections may structure criminal opportunities and shape criminal behavior. Each of the contributions whether addressing theory or practice, do so from the mutual vantage points of class, race, and gender. At the same time, a variety of theoretical perspectives from critical criminology, including neo-Marxism, feminism, left realism, postmodernism, peacemaking, and newsmaking, are heard from. Each of these contributions tries to capture the way that its particular theoretical framework has or could look at these intersections in relationship to the production of crime and crime control. Thus, all kinds of relationships are discussed including: “structured choices,” “life histories,” “unequal power,” “layers of domination,” “psychoanalytic semiotics,” “mass mediations,” “fluid social constructs,” “axes of differences,” and “interpenetrating effects.” Contributors to this volume come from the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. A sampling of the chapter titles from the “applications” section ofRace, Gender, and Class in Criminology reads: “White Collar Crime and the Class-Race-Gender Construct”; “Aboriginal Australia: Current Criminological Themes”; “Controlling Homeless Mothers: The Surveillance of Women in a Homeless Shelter”; and “Adolescence and the Socialization of Gendered Fear.”

Ethnographic Studies:

Ethnographic studies in crime and criminal justice, particularly those that examine the urban underclass and incorporate community ecology approaches to group related behavior and social control, are concerned with documenting the connections between and among the institutional orders of class, race, and gender and the community-level effects of economic, political, and social deprivation. Ethnographic data is typically gathered at the “grass roots” or street level; it is usually up close and personal. Ordinarily, ethnographic studies are based on in-depth interviews of relatively small samples of representative persons, ranging from the low to high double digits. These ethnographic studies want to “get inside the heads” of perpetrators, victims, police, and so on and so forth. These studies want to capture the experiences of the intersections of class, race, and gender that go beyond statistics and into the realms of the familiar and biographical. As the authors of “Voices from the Barrio: Chicano/a Gangs, Families, and Communities,” convey: “Listening to the multiple voices of community members allows for a multifaceted understanding of the complexities and contradictions of gang life, both for the youths and for the larger community” (Zatz and Portillos 2000).

For the purposes of this presentation, I refer to two noteworthy studies in the sociology of crime that have captured the various nuances in the interactions between class, race, and gender, and the ways in which these influence or socialize each other. The first is Esther Madriz’ examination of women’s fear of crime, and the second is Mark Totten’s investigation into adolescent girlfriend abuse. In both of these ethnographies, the authors are able to present the qualitative differences in the life experiences of men and women, boys and girls, majorities and minorities, in relation to socio-economic status, and to crime and crime control. By taking class, race, and gender into their accounts, both studies demonstrate that there is no particular “class” experience, or “race” experience, or “gender” experience, but rather a repertoire of class, race, and gender experiences that have emerged in the context of social groupings or various combinations of two or more of these inseparable ingredients in the formation of personal and social identity.

In Nothing Bad Happens to Good Girls, Madriz (1997) explored the relationship of the fear of crime among young and old, African American, Latina, and white upper, middle, and working class women, living in the Big Apple. In the process, she was able to demonstrate how fear of crime perpetuates gender inequalities and contributes to the differential social control of women by class and race/ethnicity. In Guys, Gangs, and Girlfriend Abuse, Totten (2000) explored the relations between early childhood abuse, ideologies of family and gender, and the construction of masculinity, on the one hand, with the marginal male socialization experiences of straight, gay, white, black, and Asian teenagers, on the other hand. In this integrative study of class, race, gender, sexuality, and abuse in Toronto, Totten was able to make sense out of the patterned differences of girlfriend abuse with respect to the physical, sexual, and emotional violence meted out by boyfriends. He was also able to explain how the reproduction of violence and social control in these young people’s lives was related to or interacted with the abuse of gays and racial minorities.

What these and other ethnographies on crime and social control reveal is an appreciation for the relations of privilege and inequality that cuts across class, race, and gender oppression. They also demonstrate an appreciation for the fact that crime and crime control cannot be separated from the totality of the ordered, structural, and cultural contexts of their productivity. In other words, the inequalities and the biases in the administration of criminal justice or in social control more generally, are part and parcel of the socialization of class, race, and gender differences, as these are experienced in relationship to differential place, order, conflict, and perception.

Social Construction Studies:

Social construction studies in criminology and criminal justice are concerned with documenting and analyzing the ways that mass institutions-political, media, and cultural-help to produce and reproduce public order and social control. Borrowing from the traditions of “symbolic interactionism,” “labeling,” and “cultural studies,” these interdisciplinary inquiries explore the notions, stereotypes, and discourses on class, race, and gender, in the belief that these help to shape and influence common images of crime, criminals, crime-fighters, and criminal justice, and that these are, in turn, inseparable from images associated with both crime and crime control policies. Data bases have consisted of case studies on the presentation and portrayals of various “crime problems” vis-’Þ¬ê’äΠ-vis institutions of mass communication. Typically, but not always, studies in social construction have involved analyses of the representations of class, race, and/or gender.

Certainly, the most prolific contributor to the literature on “social problems” and the criminalization of deviance, has been Philip Jenkins. His books on the topic include, Intimate Enemies: Moral Panics in Contemporary Britain(1992); Using Murder: The Social Construction of Serial Homicide (1994); Pedophiles and Priests (1996); and Molesters: The Cycle of Sex Offender Panics (1998). Other noteworthy books are Helen Benedict’s Virgin or Vamp: How the Press Covers Sex Crimes (1992); Joel Best’s Random Violence: How We Talk about New Crimes and New Victims (1999); and Drew Humphries’ Crack Mothers: Pregnancy, Drugs, and the Media (1999). Three significant anthologies include: Gregg Barak’s Media, Process, and the Social Construction of Crime: Studies in Newsmaking Criminology (1994); Coramae Richey Mann and Marjorie Zatz’Images of Color, Images of Crime (1998); and Gary Potter and Victor Kappeler’s Constructing Crime: Perspectives on Making News and Social Problems (1998).

Finally, reference is made to another edited collection of social construction, my Representing O.J.: Murder, Criminal Justice, and Mass Culture (1996/1999). As editor and contributor, I deliberately set out to use the Simpson case to examine the relationship between mass-mediated representations of class, race, and gender and the administration of criminal law in the United States. For the purposes of this presentation, allow me to reconstruct (and deconstruct) the class, race, and gender relations in the situation of the national preoccupation with the trial of O.J. Simpson in 1995.

One of the most celebrated courtroom dramas of all time was the nine months long televised trial of O.J. for the cold-blooded murder of his ex-wife and her male friend. For more than 18 solid months, the Simpson case was both a media circus and a public obsession, not to mention a small cottage industry of consumer goods, legal pundits, and television specials-the latter still going on at the time of this writing. I am referring to the making of the “mini-series” TV movie of O.J.’s life and trials, scheduled for network broadcasting some time next year. One can certainly psychoanalyze that the interest, appeal, attraction, disgust, or whatever, with this case had much to do with its converging issues of class, race, and gender.

One can also safely say that the O.J. trial, both inside and outside the courtroom, represented the civics lesson of the 1990s, as it socially constructed and reconstructed, over and over, the general workings of the American systems of law enforcement and criminal justice. More particularly, O.J. became a “crash course” for the masses in constitutional and criminal law, and in articulating the rights of the individual versus the rights of the state. Beyond the social realities and legal realisms of whether or not the criminal justice system was “fixed” or “broken,” were the historical experiences and perceptions that whole groups of people, based on the complexities of their class, race, and gender backgrounds, brought to their evaluations of the systems of law and justice in the United States. These real (and imagined) differences in experience of the legal systems undoubtedly shape and influence people’s views of the administration of justice. The evidence is clear that our social experiences based on class, race, and gender were more important than the actual facts of the case.

In other words, for the most part, people’s views of the criminal justice system and of Simpson’s guilt or innocence, remained the same from beginning to end. In short, beliefs and attitudes were consistent before, during, and after the trial. Some commentators have claimed that the case was an exercise in the reification of whatever people believed in the first place. Other commentators claimed that the Simpson case represented a Rorschach test of sorts. Thus, people could make anything they liked out of it. As both an analyst and a radio commentator during the criminal trial, I would say that the first of these two claims is much closer to the truth. After all, in reality there were many more “spinners of” than there were “spins on” the O.J. phenomenon. For me, however, the interesting question has, less to do, with the fact that people’s views of criminal justice and Simpson remained fairly constant throughout the debacle, and more to do, with the ways in which class, race, and gender shaped those views.

Take the question of guilty or innocent. Generally, persons from higher socio-economic groups thought that O.J. did the murders, and it appears that race and gender made no difference. Among blacks, 70 percent thought O.J. was innocent; more African American males than females thought he was guilty. Among whites, 70 percent thought that Simpson was guilty with slightly more affirmative women than men. How did the jury compare to the public at large? The jury officially voted 12-0, not guilty, on the second round of “polling” themselves. On the first round it was different as one Hispanic and eight black women and one black man had voted not guilty, and the two white women had voted guilty. So the breakdowns of the first jury reactions appear similar to those of the general public.

As meaningful as some of these differences appear, such black and white distinctions were incomplete and misleading to the extent that they failed to poll the reactions of Asians, Hispanics, and other societal groupings. More importantly, these polls in black and white, unlike the more complex and sophisticated polling of the body politic or electorate, failed to breakdown these interpretations by combining age, occupation, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and so on and so forth. Such data would have helped to shed light on the background similarities and differences, for instance, between the 30% of the blacks who agreed with 70% of the whites that O.J. was guilty, and conversely, with the 30% of whites who agreed with 70% of the blacks that he was not guilty. In future public discussions of crime and punishment, for example, expanded data of other ethnic and racial groups in relation to their socio-economic and gender positions, would help the body politic move beyond simple black and white distinctions and closer to the more complex relations of class, race, and gender.

What was particularly interesting to observe during the O.J. saga were the mass-mediated reconstructions to “normalize” this case within the context of the everyday practices of criminal justice in America. In other words, the Simpson case was an aberration in the administration of criminal justice as it departed from the more traditional images and stereotypes of criminal defendants, trial attorneys, expert witnesses, and juries of one’s peers. For example, criminal prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys are much more often than not white and male, the bailiffs are usually men and more often than not of color, court reporters are invariably women, and juries, as infrequent as they are, are rarely constituted by one’s peers. Typically, juries are from higher socio-economic classes than criminal defendants. Ordinarily, both the behavior of the police and the credibility of expert witnesses, are beyond reproach. That is, they are generally treated with a decorum of deference and respect.

In the circumstances of defendant O.J., the status quo was ripped apart. After all, Simpson was a wealthy African American male accused of murdering his formerly dependent–psychologically and economically–white wife and her white working class male friend in a “sexual triangle” of sorts. Of course, Simpson was also a media celebrity from television and films, and a former all Pro running-back for the Buffalo Bills, who was able to retain a million-dollar “dream team” of well-known criminal attorneys, eventually led by the indefatigable Johnnie Cochran. In fact, unlike 99.9% and higher of criminal defendants, O.J. had “deeper pockets” than the prosecution did. As for the prosecuting team, they were led by the unusual combination of a white woman and an African American man. As for the jury, they were composed of 11 women and one man; nine African Americans, one Hispanic, and two whites; all members of the working classes. Finally, presiding over this trial was an Asian rather than an Anglo or Euro American judge.

These and other differences from the normal relations of class, race, and gender that usually surround a murder trial, accounted for the differential applications of the law, or for the special privileges, that O.J. received during his jailed incarceration period, prior to and pending the outcome of his trial. For example, even before the trial began, Simpson reached an unheard of deal in the annals of American criminal justice history. He was able, through his attorneys, to successfully negotiate a deal with the prosecution that should he be convicted of the double murder, that the state would not execute him. Generally, if such deals are reached, the accused has to, in exchange, plead guilty to some crime or another, saving the state the expenses of a costly trial and eliminating the possibility of a non-conviction. O.J. traded nothing except his incredible popularity.

Similarly, because of the high powered nature of the defense team, Simpson’s attorneys were able to effectively put the motives and competencies of the Los Angeles Police Department and District Attorney’s Office on trial. In the process, they raised what appears to have been the “reasonable doubt” in the minds of the jurors; the key to his acquittal in the criminal trial. In sum, the contradictions in the management of criminal justice between the treatment of O.J. and that of the typical person accused of murder, black or white or whatever, were informed by a novel combination of class, race, and gender relations of crime control.


The four ways of seeing difference in the social relations of class, race, and gender that I have described as characteristic of criminology and criminal justice are, of course, ideal types or social constructs themselves. As a proponent of integrative criminology and as one who has advocated for integrating the different criminologies, there are no hard and fast boundaries between the four approaches (Barak 1998). As most social and behavioral scientists of crime and justice would agree, using a variety of methods to validate any phenomenon is generally better than using only one method. By way of discussion and closure, let me try to share some of the thinking behind Barak, Flavin, and Leighton’s forthcoming book, Class, Race, Gender, and Crime: Social Realities of Justice in America (2001).

To begin with, we regard the criminal justice system as a culturally powerful, label-conferring institution that has evolved in relation to the changing definitions of “crime” over time. Additionally, we view the defining of “crime” and “criminals” as a product of moral agents, social movements, political interests, and media dissemination. In other words, what becomes a “crime” and who becomes a “criminal” are politically, economically, and socially constructed phenomena, reproduced daily through various discussions in the streets, the home, the school, the church, the government, the courts, the airwaves, and the other cultural bodies. Finally, we approach “crime” and “justice” from historically developing standpoints of class, race, and gender as these undergo social construction.

When we specifically examine class, race, and gender in relationship to law, order, and crime control, on the one hand, we appreciate the unique histories of these social groupings both in isolation and in combination, and on the other hand, we appreciate the way these different social attributes and cultural constructions represent interrelated axes of privilege and inequality. At any moment, class, race, and gender may “feel more salient or meaningful in a given person’s life, but they are overlapping and cumulative in their effects on people’s experience (Andersen and Hill Collins 1998: 3). As we historically demonstrate in our book, in terms of the social realities of justice in America, the experiences of diverse groups of people in society have contributed to the shaping of the types of criminals and victims that we have had. Like Andersen and Hill Collins (1998: 4) in their discussion of what they refer to as a “matrix of domination,” we too conceive that class, race, and gender represent “multiple, interlocking levels of domination that stem from the societal configurations of these structural relationships. These patterned actions, in turn, affect [ing] individual consciousness, group interaction, and individual and group access to institutional power and privileges.”

For example, Roberts (1993) in her examination of the intersections of crime, race, and reproduction, discusses the convergence between the racial construction of crime and the use of reproduction as an instrument of punishment. She has argued that the “technology of power” that links crime, race, and reproduction epitomizes how racism and patriarchy function as mutually reinforcing systems of domination that help to determine “who the criminals are, what constitutes a crime, and which crimes society treats most seriously” (Roberts 1993: 1945). More specifically, in terms of abortion, birth control, and social control, Roberts discusses how this domination is meted out through the control of black women’s bodies that discourage procreation, subordinate groups, and regulate fertility. As part of our integrative analysis of class, race, and gender, we similarly attempt to explore how each of these hierarchies helps to sustain the others, and how these reinforce the types of crimes and justice we have in society.

More generally, we bring at least four related assumptions to our study in the social relations of class, race, gender, and crime control:

First, that each of these categories of social difference share similarities and dissimilarities of justice, especially as these relate to power resources and to the allocation and distribution of rewards and punishments in society.

Second, that the systems of privilege and inequality derived from the social statuses of class, race, and gender, share distinct as well as integrative, or overlapping and accumulating, affects on the type of crime control that various groups of people receive.

Third, that there are connections and linkages between these systems of difference, inequality, and privilege as each, separately and together, helps reproduce the social divisions of hierarchy and stratification that dynamically affect people’s life experiences, inside and outside, the criminal justice system.

Fourth, that systems of crime control socially construct selectively enforced and differentially applied norms to social groups, according to relationships of power, status, and authority.

Historically, we know that the legal differences favoring corporations over individuals, workers, and consumers, or the wealthy over the middle, working, and poor classes, have remained fairly constant over time despite efforts to regulate and control monopolies of wealth or to assist poverty’s destitute. During the 20th century, we recognize that, on the one hand, the more blatant forms of discrimination based on alleged differences of race, ethnicity, and gender, have been significantly reduced in the United States. On the other hand, we also recognize that although the legalized and institutionalized forms of bias have been reformed and abolished by law, that, in practice, differential treatment based on race and gender still persists. Hence, in terms of the operations of crime control, poor persons still have fewer resources or less power working for them in negotiating outcomes within and without the criminal justice system than the affluent or middle classes. And, when poor persons are of color or are female too, they usually hold even less power, and if they are all three-poor, of color, and female-then they typically possess lesser power still.

Our study is not an ethnographic study of victims or victimizers, but rather its an analytical investigation into the institutionalized practices and outcomes of crime control. Nevertheless, we share the insights and the desires of Madriz and Totten to unravel the complexities of class, race, and gender as these interact with the cultural production of crime, justice, and inequality. We also share their critical view that crime, justice, and crime control cannot be separated from the totality of the ordered, structural, and cultural contexts of their productivity. Each of our cultural approaches holds that the inequalities in control and justice are part and parcel of the social constructions of class, race, and gender differences, as these are experienced in relationship to place, order, conflict, and perception.

Moreover, social perceptions of what constitutes unacceptable social injuries and acceptable social controls are shaped by the underlying elements of social organization, or by the production and distribution of economic, political, and cultural services (Michalowski 1985). Following Antonio Gramsci (1971), we are not talking about conspiracies of elites and decision-makers here, but rather, we are referring to agreed upon definitions of harms and injuries, pains and sufferings, and crimes and punishments that reflect capitalist political-economic relations and interests. Hence, in the final judgment serious crime defined from above or below, from the suite to the street, and from the official reports of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the cultural media, all become statistically mediated and socially constructed phenomena.

In culturally generated numbers, narratives, and pictures alike, a distorted view and limited perception of harmful behavior emerges. Crimes and criminals are restricted primarily to the tabulations and representations of conventional criminal code violations, such as homicide, rape, burglary, robbery, theft, and less often, assault. From a comparative perspective, whatare traditionally omitted from these images and narratives of justice are two things: from below, the grossly under-reported and/or hidden crimes, such as the trafficking and possession in stolen merchandise, illicit sex, gambling, loan sharking, internal pilferage, and less so, the smuggling of weapons; and from above, the severely ignored and invisible crimes, such as the frauds and embezzlements of white-collar and professional criminals as well as numerous corporate offenses against the environment, workplace, and consumer.

Just as these materially and culturally produced images of crime and criminals leave impressions that reinforce one-dimensional notions that criminality and harmful behavior are exclusively the responsibility of the poor and marginal members of society, the material and cultural images of crime control and the administration of justice leave impressions that reproduce limiting social realities of social control and crime prevention. As mass consumers, for example, we all share a virtual reality of mediated facsimiles of lawbreakers and crime-fighters. Common narratives or stories of crime and criminal justice appear and reappear so often in the news, in films, in television, in literature, and in popular discourse, that most Americans imagine similar renderings of crime, criminals, law enforcement, adjudication, punishment, and so forth.

Is it no wonder that when people try to picture the typical American crime, the common images that emerge are of mostly young victimizers and victims of color? In repetitive news stories, African American and Hispanic male youths in particular, have been encountered in pools of blood lying dead, victims of so-called “random” or “senseless” violence. There are also the numerous police action reenactments that can be viewed regularly on such television programs as Top Cops or America’s Most Wanted, that similarly recycle images of these young men as dangerous drug dealers whose dwellings must be invaded during the early hours of dawn by “storm trooper” police and other law enforcement personnel, in order to secure the “war on crime.” In like fashion, the images of crime control that are constructed throughout the criminal justice system as we move from law enforcement to adjudication and from sentencing to incarceration, again serve to reinforce limited and fairly biased portrayals of the realities of criminal justice in America.

When we imagine a criminal courtroom, for example, images come to mind from relatively long and involved trials, exposed either in feature length films, or from Court Television’s gavel-to-gavel coverage of such celebrated trials as the murder conviction of Sandy Murphy and Rich Tablish for killing multi-millionaire and former Las Vegas casino owner, Ted Binion, in September 1998. The actual trial of these two “sympathetic” murderers did not convene until February, 2000, and ended in May with both of them receiving the minimum sentences for murder that the state of Nevada permits. At the same time, the public is led to believe, based on very succinct and curt shots of highly charged courtroom scenes from various television series like The Practice and Law and Order, that competent attorneys for each side are present and engaged in vigorous battle, always doing their best to secure justice for all. In these fictional and non-fictional dramatizations, the images that do not come to mind are the ones where the rights of defendants have been all but eliminated. Reference is made to the overwhelming majority of criminal cases, 90 percent, that are plea-bargained everyday in courthouses throughout the nation. These negotiated deals in lieu of trials usually take less than a few minutes for judges and courts to process and uphold.

Moving from adjudication to punishment, popular images come to mind of dangerously violent offenders who need to be locked up indefinitely. Such pictures make unimaginable the possibility of ever re-aligning the offender, the victim, and the community. As part of the politics of American punishment and the political economy of incarceration, the languages and images of retribution serve to negate efforts in the “rehabilitation” of people while they reproduce the United States’ 100 billion dollar a year criminal justice-industrial complex (Shelden 1999). Overall, the representations of offenders depict feuding convicts divided into racial and religious cliques doing “scared time,” with young and inexperienced inmates guarding their derrieres from sexual predators, rather than images of residents engaged in school or a vocation, and of former offenders “fitting back” into society.

Lastly, the award winning HBO dramatic series of life in a maximum security prison, OZ, portrays a based-on-facts fictional account of the complexity of one of those “hell on earth” holes or archipelagos. On the one hand, such representation ignores the social realities of some 1500 other state and federal prisons of less severity and pain. On the other hand, OZ does not do justice to the growing apartheid like conditions of crime and punishment that disproportionately affects black and brown Americans. At the same time, commercially successful prison films, like Lock Up (1989) or The Shawshank Redemption (1994), tend to personify a plurality of ethnic and cultural diversity in prison, as they tell stories of mostly white inmate protagonists doing conflict with mostly white correctional antagonists, against a background of “out of control” systems of criminal justice. These narratives are not only dated, but they represent “white-washed” versions of life behind bars in the United States.

In the final analysis, what we try to show in our book is how the social relations of class, race, gender, and crime control as well as the ways of seeing difference, are both related to the inequalities of crime, social justice, and culture production. After reviewing in the first portion of the book, the histories of “class justice,” “race justice,” and “gender justice” in the U.S. states, we then examine class, race, and gender in the administration of criminal justice: first, in terms of the relative uniqueness and isolation of class, race, and gender; and second, in terms of the interactions between class, race, and gender. We then go on to discuss alternative discourses on crime and justice as well as to propose policies that reflect upon crime, marginality, and justice in relationship to the prevention and the reduction of harms and crimes in American society.


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