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Political crime is an illegal offense against the state (oppositional crime) with the intention of affecting its policies or an illegal offense by the state and its agents. Individually based political crimes benefit individuals as do occupational political crimes committed within legitimate occupations and intended to benefit office holders. Organizational political crimes benefit the state and its policies.
Some scholars, claiming that all crime is politically constructed, suggest using social harm as a broader definition of crime. Those most egregious behaviors arguably have been carried out by state agents who generally are free from legal prosecution. Under a broader definition, the state’s unethical behaviors would be subject to the criminal label. More recent literature suggests using human rights violations as a definition.
In recent years the terms state crime, which better articulates the state’s role and state-corporate crime, which focuses on the political activities of the state in conjunction with industry, have proven useful for detailing harmful actions within public and private bureaucracies.
There is no widely accepted theoretical explanation for political crime or method for studying it. Various sociological theories have been used; research methods mainly have been case studies. Although egregious, political crime has received scant coverage in text books and today often is omitted from survey classes.
- Ermann, M. D. & Lundman, R. J. (2001) Corporate and Governmental Deviance. Oxford University, New York.
- Tunnell, K. D. (1993) Political Crime in Contemporary America. Garland, New York.