A Suitable Amount of Crime

A Suitable Amount of Crime

A Suitable Amount of Crime

A Suitable Amount of Crime


Crime and punishment are social and cultural manifestations; they are closely bound up with people's perceptions of morality, norms and values. In this book, Nils Christie argues that crime is a fluid and shallow concept - acts that could be construed as criminal are unlimited and crime is therefore in endless supply. It should not be forgotten that there are alternatives, both in the definition of crime, and in responses to it.

A Suitable Amount of Crimelooks at the great variations between countries over what are considered 'unwanted acts', how many are constructed as criminal and how many are punished. It explains the differences between eastern and western Europe, between the USA and the rest of the world. The author laments the size of prison populations in countries with large penal sectors, and asks whether the international community has a moral obligation to 'shame' states that are punitive in the extreme.

The book is written in an engaging and easily accessible style that will appeal to anyone interested in understanding contemporary problems of crime and punishment.



We are four and a half million people in Norway. In 1955, we got our first statistics on crime reported to the police. The figure was shocking: close to 30,000 cases were reported. In 2002, the figure was 320,000. The number of persons linked to these crimes has increased from 8,000 to 30,000, the number of those punished has increased from 5,000 to 20,000, and the prison population has doubled compared to its lowest point after World War II.

Does this mean that crime has increased? I do not know! And more important: I will never know!

1.2 The suffocated wife

As reported from Stockholm, a man drugged his wife, thereafter causing her death through suffocation. Then he wrote to the police, told them what he had done, and also what would be the end of the story. He would board the boat to Finland, load heavy stones on his body and jump. The letter reached the police two days later. They found the entrance door to the apartment unlocked, as the man had said in his letter. They also found his wife, as he had said. The body was cared for in the old-fashioned way-cleaned, and left with a linen cloth over the face. She was 86, he 78. She had Alzheimer's. He had nursed her for a long time but now she was about to be sent away. They were very close, said the family doctor. We look for the man, he is under strong suspicion for having committed a pre-planned murder, said the police.

* * *

To some this is a story of Romeo and Juliet. To others, it is one of plain murder. Let me illustrate what might be behind these contrasting interpretations by turning to some occurrences where central authority collapses.

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