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essay excerpt

Durkeheim & Reiman

Macmillan Publishers Ltd. The Division of Labor in Society. Emile Durkheim, The Free Press A Division of Macmillan, Inc., 1984, pp. 41.
Pearson. The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison. Jeffrey Reiman. Pearson, 1979, pp.7.

"Thus he [Durkheim] argues that human society, in defining morality, also define the legal boundaries in terms of what this morality entails. In preserving these boundaries, a society may then preserve safety and protection of human morality and human life. Safety and protection, however, mask an underlying motive: the seek for vengeance that is rooted in the emotional trauma and pain a crime has inflicted on the collective morality (Durkheim, 1893/1984, p.35). Vengeance through sanctions ultimately reestablish and reaffirm the legal boundaries of a society, the laws in which sustain a society’s collective moral compass. But this raises a great assumption that all law-abiding societies are solidified by a collective consciousness, a collective understanding of what morality means. Indeed, this reflects traditional societies driven by repressive law: law that is easily understood, shared, and have deep religious, metaphysical origins that make these laws incontestable, and if betrayed, would be considered an act of blasphemy and would place the convicted under strict scrutiny of religious powers and the human beings who uphold and preserve these powers (Durkheim, 1893/1984, p.37)."

“In a society, such as that of the United States of America, that is weakly bound by a shared and homogeneously accepted way of life, how do the different preconceptions of morality become proportionally reflected into the legal system? Durkheim believes this issue gives rise to the split between civil and criminal law in that as societies become less and less traditional and much more specialized and heterogeneous, the more there will be the need for civil law to regulate the different moral compasses and needs of a society."

"In the split between criminal and civil law, Reiman argues that through our legal system’s process of intentionally and successfully branding the image of crime as the poor man’s act, criminal law has solidified itself as the land of the criminal poor. The specialized bodies of the upper hierarchies of our legal system must represent in its fullest form its people; however, this is most often not the case. The conductors of the legal system, when they represent a distant body than that of their constituents, have the power to not only convict poor people of the crimes they commit but do so at a disproportionate rate than that of wealthy criminals who commit white collar crimes. In doing so, not only does punishment become the result, but also a larger sample pool and record of poor, convicted criminals. This sample pool of data then ultimately brands the image of crime as an act committed by a disproportionate amount of poor people. Criminal law feeds off of this labelling power. In the conviction of poor people at a much higher rate, our legal system then perpetuates the cycle of poverty, creating stagnation in the social and economic mobility of poor people."

"The legal system does not exist to alleviate or eradicate crime, in Reiman’s view; in fact, he believes it exists to create an illusionary image that poor people, and only poor people are the root of our astonishing rates of crime (Reiman, 1979, p.62). Reiman unveils the crime committed by that of wealthy criminals and explains that our legal system waters down the severity of these crimes by labelling them as merely private, civil cases between working professionals whose premeditated and intentional acts of harm are justified by their economic endeavors and societal power. The legal system views crime committed by well-respected individuals of society–the malpractice of an accredited physician, the mass murders of workers placed in unsafe working conditions–as private civil cases that are not sanctioned equally to the crimes of convicted poor people. The only difference between these two groups is economic power, and this division in economic power drives the split between criminal and civil law according to Reiman."

November 22, 2019
Est. Reading Time: 7min

“However, how is morality conceived within a more modern society driven by the mechanics of a growing division of labor?”

Special thanks to Professor Kwai Ng for a great quarter.

Professor Kwai Ng
Sociology 140 - Sociology of Law
Sociology 160E - Law & Culture