Organized crime is distinguished from most other types of crime in that it often represents a career choice. Many of those who engage in organized criminal activities are long-time offenders. This is not the case with many other kinds of criminal behaviour, such as juvenile delinquency, where very few are frequent or serious offenders. In fact, as expressed in the United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (The Riyadh Guidelines), juvenile delinquency "is often part of the maturation and growth process and tends to disappear spontaneously in most individuals with the transition to adulthood" (UNGA, 1990).
Thus, whereas most criminal behaviour is spontaneous or involves little planning, organized crime implies organization and rationality in order for it to be profitable and survive over the long term. This element of durability is part of the very nature of organized criminal groups and often makes participation in such a group a distinctive criminal choice.
As analysed in Module 1, the Organized Crime Convention includes as part of its definition of an organized criminal group the goal of its participants, which is "to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit" in the commission of crimes. Profit is thus the ultimate objective of organized criminal groups. Nonetheless, this does not fully explain why participants in organized criminal groups use criminal planning and ongoing schemes over a period of time to commit crimes on a systematic basis.
There have been many explanations offered for criminal conduct, although very few theories of criminal behaviour specifically address the unique features of organized crime: the career criminal pattern and the organized nature of the criminal acts. This Module organizes these theories into a four-part typology of existing explanations of crime: positivist, classical, structural, and ethical. Case studies are used to show how these explanations can apply to individual instances of organized crime.
The sub-pages to this section provide a descriptive overview of the key issues that lecturers might want to cover with their students when teaching on this topic.