Thursday, December 31, 2009

Teaching Deviance and Safe New Years Eve Plans

As a teacher of crime and deviance, one of the biggest yet most basic points I try to get across to my students is that the two are not the same. That is, not all crimes are deviant and not all deviant acts are crimes. It sounds like a basic and obvious point, which it really is, but it's so important for how we make laws and use the limited resources of our criminal justice system. It's equally important for understanding why certain crimes tend to be committed by certain people and why some communities barely look askance at crimes that shock other communities.

The most obvious example of this concept is speeding. Speeding is a crime, yet it's not at all deviant, seeing as roughly 99% of our population does it (I just made that number up, but I would not be surprised if it were true). But I think a more illustrative example is drunk driving -- it's certainly illegal, and in most places it's also fairly deviant. But even for something so obviously dangerous and risky, there are still varying shades of deviance attached to it (even though it's illegal throughout the U.S.).

For instance, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and the Dakotas almost always fill out the list of top 5 states for DUI arrests. Now this could be because DUI enforcement is stronger in these states, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would say it more likely stems from the fact that we here in the Upper Midwest like our alcoholic beverages. Also, we tend more rural with far fewer taxis or dependable forms of public transportation.

As such, while drunk driving is still illegal, and probably still seen as pretty deviant by many people around here, it's probably less deviant in the Upper Midwest than it is elsewhere. So while the legal regulations on drunk driving are pretty uniform across the nation (all 50 states now have a BAC limit set at .08), the social regulations on drunk driving are probably weaker around here. And given that social pressures tend to be much more effective in limiting criminality than are legal regulations, you have people more likely to drink and drive yet face the same legal sanctions as they would in a place where it's less socially acceptable.

Now, I'm certainly not saying that it's socially acceptable around here to drive with a BAC of .708 as they do in South Dakota, but if you live in the Upper Midwest and are heading out to a party tonight, you should probably be a little extra cautious about drunk drivers...

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