Class, Status, and the Punishment of White‐Collar Criminals

David Weisburd*, Elin Waring, Stanton Wheeler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The treatment of white‐collar offenders by the criminal justice system has been a central concern since the concept of white‐collar crime was first introduced In general, it has been assumed that those higher up the social hierarchy have an advantage in every part of the legal process, including the punishment they receive as white‐collar criminals. In a controversial study of white‐collar crime sentencing in the federal district courts, Wheeler, Weisburd, and Bode contradicted this assumption when they found that those of higher status were more likely to be imprisoned and, when sentenced to prison, were likely to receive longer prison terms than comparable offenders of lower status. While they argued that results were consistent with “what those who do the sentencing often say about it,” their analyses failed to control for the role of social class in the sentencing process. In this article we reanalyze the Wheeler et al sentencing data, including both measures of socioeconomic status and class position. Our findings show that class position does have an independent influence on judicial sentencing behavior. But this effect does not demand revision in the major findings reported in the earlier study.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)223-243
Number of pages21
JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1990


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