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A Comparative Assessment of Serious Harms

The purpose of this assignment is to conduct a comparative assessment of the harms that may or may not be prosecuted as a crime.

Title: A Comparative Assessment of Serious Harms that may or may not be Prosecuted as Crime

The financial crisis of 2008 caused one of the worst economic downturns in the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Although key actors in major banks and other financial institutions were believed to be engaged in fraudulent mortgage practices that contributed to this financial crisis, to this date, not a single Wall Street executive has been charged and prosecuted for their behavior. Indeed, despite the enormous harm caused by deceptive mortgage practices leading to the crisis of 2008, the fact that nobody from the big banks and investment firms has been punished is not surprising because the vast majority of white collar/corporate criminals never receive a prison sentence. This, of course, contrasts sharply with the response to “street crime” and “drugrelated” offenses. To learn more about the banking activities that led to the financial crisis of 2008, watch the documentary video below. Watch the PBS Frontline documentary titled “The Untouchables” here:

In 2000, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) contacted both Ford Motor Company and Firestone Tire and Rubber Company about the hundreds of individuals injured or killed in vehicle accidents as a result of defective tires on multiple Ford model vehicles. Upon further investigation, it was found that Ford and Firestone knew about faulty tires and their level of risk; however, they never reported their findings to the NHTSA. Read about the Ford/Firestone story from TIME Magazine here:,8599,128198,00.html

After watching the documentary and reading the article, answer the following questions: For each of the following questions, please provide one full paragraph (6-8 sentences) for each question:

 1. Based on the information presented in the PBS documentary and the TIME article, describe how the behaviors of corporations, such as Ford, Firestone, and the financial institutions on Wall Street, could be understood as crime whether or not they have been prosecuted? How do these activities differ from those involved in “typical” street crimes?

[competency #1]

2. As shown in the documentary, Senator Kaufman – who spearheaded the Senate’s investigation of Wall Street – was appointed to the office and thus did not receive campaign donations. How might this have influenced his ability to investigate financial crimes? How does this differ from other elected officials? [competency #1: Political]

3. How does the social reaction to harms caused by powerful actors (i.e., from the criminal justice system, the media, and the public) differ from the social reaction to “street crime”.

[competency#1: Social]

4. How does American cultural values (e.g., the American Dream) contribute to the perpetration of white-collar crime? How might these behaviors actually go against American values? How has cultural tolerance for white-collar changed in the last 10 years since the events described in the two sources? [competency #1: Cultural]

5. How have you been affected by white-collar crime? How have these experiences shaped your perception of white-collar crime? [competency #1: Personal]

6. Find a historical account of another white-collar crime using a reputable source for journalism (e.g., New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New Yorker, Mother Jones, Atlantic). Briefly describe the event and the evidence presented in the article. Was there evidence that a social harm was committed? Please explain [competency #2 and competency #3: Data Collection]

7. Compare and contrast the white-collar crimes presented in the PBS documentary and TIME article with your article. What do all three crimes have in common? How are they different? Based on the evidence presented in all three sources, which white-collar crime caused the greatest social harm? [competency #3: Data Analysis]

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