COVID-19, Mortality and the State in the Global North and South

In their recent articles, the State Crime Journal contributions discuss structural violence, penal institutions, racial disparities and accountability issues in the context of the COVID-19 crises around the world.
COVID-19, Mortality and the State in the Global North and South

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State Crime Journal

Volume 10, Number 1

State Crime, Structural Violence and COVID-19

Neve Gordon and Penny Green


Do Prisoners’ Lives Matter? Examining the Intersection of Punitive Policies, Racial Disparities and COVID-19 as State Organized Race Crime

Elizabeth A. Bradshaw

Abstract: Numerous Michigan prisons emerged as national hotspots early in the coronavirus crisis. Once the virus entered the prisons, key actions and inaction by Michigan Department of Corrections and Governor Gretchen Whitmer allowed COVID-19 to flourish unabated, resulting in unnecessary infection and death; a form of cruel and unusual punishment. The callous neglect of the human rights of prisoners during the pandemic is not new, but rather the result of decades of punitive sentencing policies that disproportionately target people of colour. Through a case study examination of early coronavirus outbreaks in Michigan prisons, this paper will consider how Truth in Sentencing legislation, increasingly long prison sentences and declining parole rates, helped set the stage for coronavirus to spread, disproportionately harming Black and elderly prisoners. As the intersecting crises of coronavirus and mass incarceration exemplify, state crime scholars can no longer ignore the state-organized race crime occurring behind prison walls.

Keywords: COVID-19; coronavirus; prisons; mass incarceration; Michigan; state-organized race crime


State Crime, Native Americans and COVID-19

Laura Finley

Abstract: This paper examines how COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Native Americans. It frames the problem as one of existing structural disadvantage that is the result of settler colonialism, showing a history of abuse and neglect in earlier pandemics. The US has an obligation to Native peoples that it is failing to uphold in numerous ways, including needed health care and resources to battle the virus. The paper describes how this is state crime in the form of slow violence.

Keywords: COVID-19; Native Americans; colonialism 

Dying for the Economy: Disposable People and Economies of Death in The Global North

Eve Darian-Smith

Abstract: This essay explores the idea of dying for the economy that has been a proposition supported by President Trump and the Republican Party in discussions about how to reopen the economy in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and massive lockdowns. While to most of us this seems like crazy talk, I argue that the loss of some peoples’ lives in order to sustain a buoyant economy is a rationale acceptable to many in the corporate sector as well as their pro-business political partners. I first explore theoretical discussions about biopolitics, necropolitics, and the long historical relationship between capitalism and death. I then point to an emerging literature on “economies of death” and apply that to the opioid epidemic in the United States as an illustrative case of a “necroeconomy”. I reflect upon parallels between the opioid epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic, turning to current debate in the United States about reopening the economy versus the associated public health risks of further lives being lost. The rhetoric of these debates reflects widespread economic values that prioritize some lives over others, making explicit who is ultimately “killable” in the quest to return to a flourishing and efficient economy.

Keywords: necropolitics; necroeconomy; neoliberalism; racial violence; pandemic


Violating Food System Workers’ Rights in the Time of COVID-19: The Quest for State Accountability

Hilal Elver and Melissa Shapiro

Abstract: Food system workers, accounting for nearly one-third of the global workforce, are vital to the universal realization of the right to food, yet face formidable barriers to the realization of their own rights. Despite state obligations to protect, respect, and fulfil the rights of workers under international human rights law, gaps in legal frameworks and lack of political will have left food system workers exposed to discrimination and abuse at the hands of private actors. Migrant workers, as well as racial and ethnic minorities, in particular, face targeted exploitation without redress. Case studies demonstrate the extent of this harm, even as governments designate workers as “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors of this article argue that deliberate inaction by states to extend meaningful protections to workers or indict exploitative actors demonstrates the need for a new state crime—one that holds accountable governments that are complicit in the grave violations of workers’ fundamental rights.

Keywords: rights; food; workers; COVID-19


The COVID-19 Pandemic in Puerto Rico: Exceptionality, Corruption and
State-Corporate Crimes

Jose Atiles Osoria

Abstract: The COVID-19 global pandemic brings about a new episode in the multi-layered political, economic and humanitarian crisis affecting Puerto Rico since 2006. The 14-years-long crisis has been marked by the U.S. and P.R. governments’ imposition of a permanent state of exception to deal with an economic crisis, bankruptcy, hurricanes, swarms of earthquakes and a pandemic. This paper argues that uses of the state of exception and executive orders created a regime of permission for corruption, state-corporate crimes and human rights violations, while exacerbating the impact of the pandemic, and manufacturing the conditions for further disasters. The paper engages in a sociolegal analysis of the cases of corruption and state-corporate crimes in the procurement of COVID-19 test-kits and medical equipment, and the role of the pharmaceutical corporations in undermining PR’s capacity to react to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keywords: state of exception; state-corporate crimes; corruption; colonialism; pharmaceutical industry


COVID-19 and the U.S. Health Care Industry: Towards a “Critical Health Criminology” within State Crime Studies

David O. Friedrichs and Valeria Vegh Weis

Abstract: The core claim of this article is that critical criminology offers us an especially potent framework for interpreting state-corporate crime with the health care industry in the United States as one illustrative case, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. The unprecedented, surreal pandemic crisis that surfaced in 2020 brought into especially sharp relief many of the core claims of critical criminology in relation to domination, inequality and injustice within a contemporary capitalist political economy, while it also raised the need to broaden critical criminology studies to incorporate the specificities of the health care systems and the pharmaceutical industry. Following this challenge, the article proposes to foster a “critical health criminology” within state-corporate crime research. To do so, this article explores the “big picture” in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and reveals how it can be understood as a criminological phenomenon. Such a project incorporates the identification of some conceptual issues requiring attention in relation to advancing an enriched form of criminological analysis in these times, and toward building a foundation for a more fully realized twenty-first century criminology.

Keywords: critical criminology; state-corporate crime; COVID-19 pandemic crisis; health care industry; pharmaceutical industry


Amplified Vulnerabilities and Reconfigured Relations: COVID-19, Torture Prevention and Human Rights in the Global South

Andrew M. Jefferson, Giorgio Caracciolo, Jeanette Kørner and Nina Nordberg

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has reconfigured personal, organisational and political landscapes in quite radical ways. This paper reflects on the differentiated impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and responses to it. We unpack some of the effects of the crisis on populations already subject to harassment, persecution and deprivation due to their marginal position in society or their resistance to state power. We illuminate how the current crisis is much more than a health crisis; the ways it exacerbates already existing deprivations; and how it might reveal hitherto unrecognised opportunities through which to make the world a more, rather than less, just and equitable place. Focus is on the way the crisis calls forth amplified forms of repression and consonantly amplified forms of vulnerability as well as reconfigured spaces for the operation of civil society organisations. We forward one key proposition, namely that while securitised responses to the crisis reveal an inherent conservatism, civil society responses reveal an agility and a capacity to innovate. While the inherent conservatism of securitised responses gives cause for serious concern, there is some hope to be found in the potential for innovation of civil society organisations. The revelation of humankind’s shared vulnerability that is a feature of the crisis may serve as a springboard for the propagation of progressive change if we keep in mind the fundamentally human, and thus relational, nature of human rights and anti-torture work.

Keywords: COVID-19; vulnerability; exacerbation; violence; civil society organisations


The Harms of State, Free-Market Common Sense and COVID-19

Roy Coleman and Beka Mullin-McCandlish

Abstract: The markedly high levels of preventable death and injury from COVID-19 in the UK have been refracted by government appeals to “British common-sense” in response to the crisis. We critically explore this appeal as a generator of harm continuous with free-market common-sense (FMCS) that stretches back to the start of the 1980s and the Thatcherite assault on state protections, “enemies within” and expertise in the public realm, driving and legitimating a broad landscape of harm under neoliberal restructuring. This is the context for understanding government responses to COVID-19 and the Grenfell fire, both of which have resulted in avoidable death and injury and both of which illustrate the role of “common-sense” in the demonisation and blaming of the victims of state violence along with a deligitimation of expertise in public health. Following Gramsci’s conceptualisation of common-sense and its role in cultivating a never-guaranteed consensus for the continuance of capitalist state power, we explore the emergence of Gramsci’s “good sense” in the current juncture and its challenge to the harms of state that FMCS has generated.

Keywords: free-market; common-sense; Gramsci; good sense; state harm; COVID-19; Grenfell

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