The Definition of Social Harm is Hard to Differentiate

The definition of social harm is hard to differentiate for many sociologists and criminologists (Maguire & Radosh, 1996).  A lot of debates have arisen on the topic of social harm and the justice system.  As neither a sociologist nor a criminologist, I, as a criminal justice student, have my opinions about justice “being blind” or absolutely fair and impartial in regards to social harm.

In my opinion, justice should remain “blind” in relation to social harm.  This thinking stems from the practicality aspect of the justice system which is not ready to handle an enormous task of pure fairness and impartiality.  Although the idea of fairness and impartiality within social harm crimes is grand, there is a certainty that the current criminal justice system is unable to combat socially harmful behavior.  In fact, the system is designed to curtail and control legal wrongs, and socially harmful behavior is considered by the justice system when the behavior is prohibited by statue (Maguire & Radosh, 1996; Goldstein, 2007).

I am not a pessimist, but I do agree with sociologist Edwin Sutherland about social crimes committed by different classes and the bias interpretation of certain laws by the justice system.  According to Maguire & Radosh (1996) Sutherland

“introduced the concept of white-collar crime [where] (…) people of the upper class and the corporations they run were generally able to elude criminal prosecution because of the class bias of the courts and the power of their class to influence the implementation and administration of the law.”

Sutherland saw this concept in the 1940’s, yet this same concept is still persists.  Today, large corporations and avaricious individuals are still treated like the ‘elite’ were treated during the Roman rise throughout the centuries B.C.  In general, while the Roman laws were changing from generation to generation, the ‘elite’ were given choices in the punishment or the fine they needed to pay.  The poor, or otherwise known as the lower class, had little option in the choice of their punishment as their social status, lack of money and material possessions gave them no bargaining power (Roth, 2005).

In conclusion, the idea of social harm and absolute fairness and impartiality by the justice system is nothing more than a nebulous dream.  The present legal and justice system is unable to delve into social harm crimes and issues due to the large occurrence of such infractions.  In my experience, the justice system is near, or even past, its capacity of handling cases, therefore, one must imagine what social harm violations would do to the present justice system.  Also, it is evident that certain aspects of the Roman law are still present in our interpretation of crimes and punishment, and that includes social harm and its ramifications based on an individual’s class type (Roth, 2005).  This phenomenon is still present and often portrayed in the media.  Take the O. J. Simpson case into consideration.  This ordeal, although not truly a social harm crime, cost Simpson a fortune to battle the legal system.  In essence, Simpson was tried in front of the unremitting public, which in masses viewed Simpson’s money and social status as the prime reason he was acquitted of murder.  In reality, crime doesn’t pay all that well and social harm isn’t in the cross-hairs of the American justice system just yet.  Perhaps, time will change everything in regards to social harm, but for now, it is best to have some money or a couple sheep, cows, or chickens to trade.


Goldstein, D. (2007). Introduction to the History of the Criminal Justice System. Retrieved May 24, 2007, from Boston University, Vista Online Website:
Maguire, B., & Radosh, P.F. (Eds.) (1996). The Past, Present and Future of American Criminal Justice. New York: General Hall, Inc.
Roth, M. (2005). Crime and Punishment: A History of the Criminal Justice System. Belmont: Thomson-Wadsworth

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

0 comments… add one

Leave a Comment