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Prison for white collar criminals not as bad as commonly thought
December 8, 2013 8:12 PM   Subscribe

The Atlantic cities reports: "Criminologists call it the 'special sensitivity hypothesis.' Defense attorneys often cite it as a mitigating circumstance when asking for lighter sentences for white collar clients. But according to researchers at the University of Cincinnati and the University of Missouri, "special sensitivity" may not actually exist. In the forthcoming December 2013 issue of Justice Quarterly, UC's Michael Benson and his co-researchers argue that white collar offenders adapt to prison just as well as other types of offenders, and in some categories, do even better.... 'Prisons are bureaucracies that have rules and regulations,' Benson says. 'People from middle class and white collar backgrounds understand rules and bureaucracies. I did an interview for my dissertations where I talked to a small number of white collar offenders. Before they went they were scared to death. They imagined all these bad things happening. Once they get there, after the initial shock passed, they realized it’s just a big organization. Follow the rules, be polite to people, don’t go outside your space, and you’ll be fine.'"
posted by bookman117 (27 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's an interesting article, but it's not exactly hard to imagine that the sample data, from 1986-1988, no longer applies, as the prison population has exploded (with overcrowding a nearly inevitable response). In fairness, the article acknowledges this, but federal prisons from the 80s where violent offenders are 6.6 percent of the population are pretty different from what a lot of prisoners face today.
posted by dsfan at 8:23 PM on December 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


"What our main point is is that they’re not affected any more negatively than anybody else."

So, they are just as negatively affected as everyone else. That's nice. It makes it all sound so humane. How well do they fare in society after experiencing these prison conditions? Are they better for it?
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:29 PM on December 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Come to think of it, it seems like a strikingly classist/racist thing to do.
posted by pmv at 8:34 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's just a big organisation... That's designed to dehumanise inmates and leave them with little chance of healthy reintegration into society.
posted by arcticseal at 8:41 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


The title of this FPP confused me. "Prison for white collar criminals not as bad as commonly thought." -- Hmm, I thought, the prisons to which white collar criminals are sent tend to be better than those to which others are sent, no?

Then I realized that's not what the link was arguing (I was parsing "prison for white collar criminals" as a unit.) I think the FPP title would have been clearer as "Prison not as bad as commonly thought for white collar criminals."
posted by dhens at 8:43 PM on December 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Or even "Prison, for white collar criminals, not as bad as commonly thought."
posted by dhens at 8:45 PM on December 8, 2013


Follow the rules, be polite to people, don’t go outside your space, and you’ll be fine

Well, yeah---that's pretty much what prison is supposed to teach.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:48 PM on December 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Aside from the data problems identified above, I think there are many factors that could make prison "easier" for someone from a middle/upperclass background:

(1) Your friends and family have money and their own car. This means they can visit you. Having regular visits provides a connection to the outside world and can really help someone who might otherwise be struggling.
(2) You can give your friends/family money beforehand with instructions to send you books from amazon every month. This is good for obvious reasons. You can also give books away when you're done, which will make you friends.
(3) Your prison account is always full, which means you can get anything you need at the commissary. You can also afford to give things away, which will make you very popular.
(4) Your friends/family will accept collect calls.
(5) In federal prison, you have access to email. This isn't very helpful if your friends/family don't have regular access to email.
(6) You are probably educated, which means you can help people research and write their legal documents, even if you actually know nothing about the law. This will also make you very popular.
(7) Some classes/programs require a fee. You can pay the fee.
(8) You weren't in a gang prior to your incarceration. Good for obvious reasons.

There might also be something to a white collar criminal's ability to master the bureaucracy easier than someone with little formal education and/or little to no experience filing taxes or buying a house or taking out a loan etc. etc. The prison rules and regs can be really, really confusing and difficult to parse. Even a seemingly simple request will require the inmate to follow a very specific set of procedures, and no one seems to want to help. As a white collar inmate, if you can't figure it out, you can probably get in touch with a family member, friend (or even an attorney) who feels comfortable calling the department of corrections to get answers.

Most importantly is that the vast majority of white collar criminals have some sort of support system to rely on once they are released. They also have an education and some work experience. In other words, white collar criminals are generally not as concerned with HOW they will survive after they are released. Reentry is never easy, but some have it better than others.
posted by snarfles at 8:59 PM on December 8, 2013 [26 favorites]


So, not so bad then.
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 9:04 PM on December 8, 2013


Grace Jones: White Collar Crime: "It's all the same."
posted by ovvl at 9:09 PM on December 8, 2013


Related: The Subjective Experience of Punishment
posted by snarfles at 9:09 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


...not as bad as commonly thought as argued by defense attorneys.

The rest of us commonly assumed that white collar criminals who were rich enough went to Club Fed.
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:09 PM on December 8, 2013


One last thing before I leave.

Defense attorneys often cite it as a mitigating circumstance when asking for lighter sentences for white collar clients.

This technique is much more coded than "Poor Mr. Smith is rich and white and prison will be hard for him!" Attorneys will emphasize Mr. Smith's lack of criminal history, how hard the prison sentence will be on his family (he'll miss birth of grandchild; his dad is dying, etc.), his otherwise upstanding life helping people and donating to charity, etc. etc. The underlying message to the judge being that this isn't the type of guy that belongs in jail; he's just a regular guy like you and me that made a mistake. I wouldn't be surprised if this technique backfired as often as it was successful.

I don't think I've ever actually heard of an attorney blatantly claiming that prison is harder for a white collar criminal, at least in my personal experience.
posted by snarfles at 9:22 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


This article seems to be saying, "relative to people in prison for other reasons, people in prison for trying to game the system and conning people are found to be good at gaming the prison system and getting along with people." Though maybe I read it wrong?

Out of the people I know, the main difference between people who have gotten in trouble for white collar crimes v. basically any other kind of crime, is that the white collar criminals are relatively slick. I'm sure being slick *is* a skill that is helpful to them in prison. *shrug*

White collar criminals are also people who are not incarcerated for problems with drugs or violence. To me, that means they were likely more functional within society than the people who have problems with drugs and violence were, and so it's not surprising that they'd be more functional within prison as well as outside of it.
posted by rue72 at 9:22 PM on December 8, 2013


Somehow I hear the prisons where they put the guys who typed a lying number into Excel are nicer than the prisons where they put lowlife gansters who'll shank a bitch... IT IS A MYSTERY???

Seriously, there's all sorts of crime and they do all mix but some people are pretty much just businesscriminals, and the I think the system would be remarkably adept at telling who needs to be behind bars, doors, and gates and who needs to stay in the dorm for curfew from 8 PM to 8 AM.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 12:15 AM on December 9, 2013


Nelson Mandela quote of the day: "A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest ones"
posted by Mister Bijou at 12:53 AM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


1. Prisons should be rehabilitative, not punitive, and the current US system of prison being a violent, psychopath training ground should be dismantled and replaced with something entirely different.

2. Failing that, "white-collar criminals" should be not be segregated from other criminals because doing so perpetuates and intensifies all sorts of systemic injustice. There are so many things wrong with this practice, I don't know where to start.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:13 AM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Imagine if police wandered through back-rooms at banks, checking peoples' spreadsheets, the way they wander the streets frisking people in some locations.

I know it's not that relevant to the post. Just a thought that came to me.
posted by Jimbob at 3:07 AM on December 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


Ivan Fyodorovich: Failing that, "white-collar criminals" should be not be segregated from other criminals because doing so perpetuates and intensifies all sorts of systemic injustice.

It makes no sense to treat all crime the same. I do not want non-violent criminals to be imprisoned with violent criminals on the grounds of 1) fairness, 2) saftey and 3) preventing increased criminalization of reconcilable convicts. Arguing that we need to treat more people worse until the whole system is fixed is itself injust, not matter how much one rationalizes.

The question should not be how can we send more white-collar criminals to terrible prisons. It should be how can we send more non-violent offenders to Club Fed.
posted by spaltavian at 6:02 AM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


"special sensitivity" may not actually exist.

Tell that to sex offenders.
posted by likeatoaster at 6:07 AM on December 9, 2013


Yeah, seriously. Prison is where low and mid-level criminals go to learn how to become better criminals. We don't need any more Walter Whites running around learning about meth and murder and then being released with no way to go back to their previous corporate lifestyle, thus giving them no option but to use the skills they learned on the inside.

Also, how are there no Office Space references in here yet?
posted by Blue_Villain at 6:09 AM on December 9, 2013


I've heard a number of upper class British ex-lags saying that prison was survivable because they had already been through British boarding schools... I'm not sure if its entirely a joke.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:16 AM on December 9, 2013


Also, how are there no Office Space references in here yet?

I think the one relevant Office Space reference is a rape joke, and it's refreshing not to see it here.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:05 AM on December 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


::furiously puts together study about how being crushed by heavy stones isn't nearly as bad a sentence for white collar criminals as their defense attorneys suggest::
posted by FatherDagon at 10:11 AM on December 9, 2013


1: Release the drugs-only offenders w/out violent convictions.

2: Replace them with banksters and thieving white-collar criminals who steal people's life savings and drive the country into Econopopcalypse

3: Profit! Civilization & Justice!
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:47 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


TheWhiteSkull: "Also, how are there no Office Space references in here yet?

I think the one relevant Office Space reference is a rape joke, and it's refreshing not to see it here.
"

Well, there is the conjugal visit one.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:41 PM on December 10, 2013


(1) Your friends and family have money and their own car. This means they can visit you. Having regular visits provides a connection to the outside world and can really help someone who might otherwise be struggling.

A friend I grew up with went to prison (for home invasion, I believe - I never got the details), and I decided to visit him for the first time about three years after he was imprisoned. He helped protect me in a really shitty and violent middle school environment, so I thought it was the least I could do. It required lots of forms in advance, a really early start for a long drive out to the middle of nowhere and a lot of incidental costs like food and gas.

When he was brought in, he was given instructions on how things worked, where he would sit, where the vending machines were, the rules, etc. It slowly dawned on me that he had not had a single visitor in the three plus years in prison.

His family was poor, hundreds of miles away and busy trying to survive themselves. So yes, a million times, having resources and a support network makes a huge difference.
posted by letitrain at 12:47 PM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


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