By C. J. Oakes

Globalization and Criminal Justice

Globalization and criminal justice as it relates to the international community should be a topic of interest to any student of law and order. As the world becomes more closely connected via the Internet and rapid transit, crime become easier to commit in larger scales. This puts a strain on governments worldwide. Finally, criminal justice authorities are bound by borders while criminals are not.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines globalization as an “increasingly integrated global economy, marked especially by free trade [and] the free flow of capital” (2013). Considering that many criminal enterprises, especially organized crime groups function primarily for economic gain (Schmalleger, 2009) this definition gives any student of criminology reason to believe that globalization would foster the expansion of criminal behavior.

This is certainly the case. As one writer put the situation today, technology and political changes have flattened the world, erasing boundaries that once kept criminal behavior fairly isolated and in check (Modafferi, 2007). Criminals are now thinking globally and law enforcement must as well.

Globalization and the U.S. Criminal Justice System

English: Keynote speech to Delta Air Lines exe...
English: Keynote speech to Delta Air Lines executives on subject of the “universal worker” and globalization. Lui, May, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Globalization is nothing new. When Europeans discovered America and began to settle the region, globalization was the driving force. In fact, every global expansion that resulted in a more integrated world economy than previously, can be termed globalization (Modafferi, 2007). Thus, when small organized crime groups such as the Policy Kings in Chicago and the Black Mafia in Philadelphia began to ship illegal narcotics into the United States, these acts were made possible by the increased globalization of the day (Schmalleger, 2009). This demonstrates how globalization, or the increasing of free markets and freer flow of capital, easily translates into increased criminal opportunity.

Thus in cities such as New York and Miami, where large international communities live and capital flows readily, law enforcement officials face more sophisticated criminal organizations. One development is that whereas at one time many organized crime groups operated under a hierarchical structure, the evening of the international playing field is erasing such structures. Instead of fighting for territories, many groups are now working together, carving the world into niches. Law enforcement in the United States likewise adheres to a hierarchical structure but must adapt so as to fight effectively against organized crime (Modafferi, 2007). At the center of the rapidly shifting globalization is the Internet.

The Impact of Globalization on Major Crimes

English: Young anarchist feminists at anti-glo...
English: Young anarchist feminists at anti-globalization rally and protest quote Emma Goldman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Clearly, not everyone welcomes globalization. To be sure, the global changes sweeping the world today do pose serious challenges to peace and justice.

Globalization is affecting crime, especially major crime in very distinctive ways. Whereas at one time the world community had largely denounced and stopped slavery, the practice continues throughout the underworld and often in plain sight.

As the world becomes more interconnected, people naturally seek more opportunities to relocate. Sometimes the desire to move to another country is fueled by disaster, sometimes by war, sometimes by famine, sometimes economics, and sometimes for other reasons. Regardless of the reason, people like never before in human history are traveling, relocating, or otherwise being transported from nation to nation.

Such movements create opportunities for the criminal minded. As noted by Couch (2015), human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world. Estimates for enslaved people vary widely with some organizations placing the figure at over 20 million in 2013. Regardless of the exact number of people trafficked and sold into slavery worldwide, this remains one of the most profitable and easiest to conduct criminal enterprises.

Facts about Globalization

The term “globalization” first appeared in 1983, in a Harvard Business Review article by marketing Professor Theodore Levitt.

“Globalization promotes convergence, harmonization, efficiency, growth, and, perhaps, democratization and homogenization.”

“Globalization also has a dark side. It produces economic and social dislocations and arouses public concerns over job security; the distribution of economic gains; and the impact of volatility on families, communities, and nations. “

The “two principal drivers to globalization: technological innovation and changing ideas about how to organize and regulate economic activity.”

“The current brand of globalization in American diplomacy can be traced back to the post–Civil War era, when internationalization and Americanization emerged in U.S. ideology and expressions of power.”


This is largely a result of globalization: When people want to relocate, getting them to cooperate in a scheme to enslave them becomes easy. Whether the human trafficking involves sex markets or labor crews, South Asia or America, young or old, male or female, the end result is the same: A lifetime of terrible misery…a terrible injustice which must be addressed by the criminal justice and legal systems of the world.

 Globalization of Justice Systems: The Impact of Technology

The advantages of the Internet to global commerce are well established, but not surprisingly the disadvantages rival these. For instance, just as the Internet provides for easier transfers and conversions of currencies, likewise the Internet better enables money laundering and fraud. Just as the Internet permits increased communication abilities among people worldwide, criminal organizations are likewise taking full advantage of this ability. Thus, just as the Internet is fueling rapid growth in legitimate business enterprises and speeding globalization exponentially, organized crime is growing just as fast (Schmalleger, 2009).

One problem facing law enforcement was highlighted in June 2013 when Edward Snowden leaked United States government documents revealing the nation was engaged in possible illegal spying on its own citizens. At the time of this writing, the United States was unsuccessfully attempting to extradite Snowden from Russia. Thus, one serious problem law enforcement faces in fighting the new criminal has to do with jurisdiction. If Russia refuses to release Snowden to stand trial in America, there is little that the United States law enforcement can do (Kerr, 2013).

Another problem this issue demonstrates is just how insecure supposedly secure law enforcement operations are. Snowden worked for the government security contractor Booz Allen. He claims to have taken the job to gather information about the inner spying of the National Security Agency and this harmonizes with the information he leaked. The National Security Agency is a top law enforcement agency (CNN Staff, 2013).

Finally, the issue of how far the government may go concerning privacy is highlighted by this case. The Snowden case centers on the actions of the National Security Agency as illegal activities. Indeed, the government has denied for years that it has been spying on Americans, but this case demonstrates that to be a clear lie. That aside, for law enforcement, the issue is simple: Criminals know no boundaries so to catch criminals, boundaries must be lifted for law enforcement. There is simply no other way. Unless law enforcement can cross boundaries, both literal and virtual, it cannot effectively deal with criminal activities.

Global Police Overview

Although police throughout the world share the common goal of working to combat criminal activity, the methods employed and the organization of forces varies.

Map of currently existing continental unions. ...
Map of currently existing continental unions. EU is dark blue, AU is green, USAN is red, Australia is orange, and the United States of America is light blue. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For instance, in just the Americas, law enforcement varies considerably. In the United States, police forces prior to 2001 were very autonomous, but after the signing of the USA PATRIOT Act, the Department of Homeland Security was established, effectively merging the resources and intelligence of all police departments nationwide. In every state, this department has agents working closely with local law enforcement to not only combat terrorism but also, human trafficking, immigration violations, cyber attacks, and other serious criminal violations. No nation in the Western Hemisphere at present is as integrated (DHS, 2013).

Is Globalism to Blame for Increases in Human Trafficking? Read more here.

Likewise, the European nations have adopted similar organizational structures. Europol was first conceptualized by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1991. The initial concept was to create an agency modeled after the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation. After the initial agency was developed a few years later, the responsibilities were expanded as a result of globalization. Today, Europol not only investigates and enforces major drug crimes and money laundering, but also terrorism, cyber crimes, and human trafficking. The agency also works closely with American agencies (Europol, 2013).

Asian nations have yet to establish any kind of unified organization for policing, but many work closely with United States organizations on major crime operations. For instance, South Korea, Japan, and Australia each works closely with American agents in solving major crimes involving Asian-based organized crime groups (DHS, 2013).

President George W. Bush addresses an audience...
President George W. Bush addresses an audience Wednesday, July 20, 2005 at the Port of Baltimore in Baltimore, Md., encouraging the renewal of provisions of the Patriot Act. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Africa, most police agencies remain autonomous but in recent years one organization called the African Police Resource Network has developed to assist police organizations throughout the Continent. It is too early to tell if this organization will advance a similar organizational structure as Europe and America, but this does appear to be a goal (APRN, 2013).

Finally, it should be noted that the concept of an International police organization is not new. As early as 1914, several nations cooperated in forming Interpol. Interpol is an international police organization developed to help combat major crimes which both cross and transcend national borders. To this end, Interpol developed a Criminal Information System database called ICIS in 1998. This system was designed to better equip member nations to share intelligence about criminal figures and crimes. The organization is governed by a body of representatives from member nations (Interpol, 2013).

Globalization, Criminal Justice Systems, and Crime Behavior

Trafficking In Persons Report Map 2010
Trafficking In Persons Report Map 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although criminal organizations operate various illegal activities, there is a single common factor: Each must find a way to hide its illegal monies. Thus, attacking money laundering operations is considered to be one of the key elements in combating organized crime worldwide. However, shutting down these operations is not easy. Globalization has created a level of cooperation unlike ever in history and the Internet has facilitated very sophisticated means of cleaning dirty funds.

In addition, although it is not difficult to determine the direction of the flow of such funds, it is difficult to prove criminal connections in many cases.

How does the World View Crime and Justice? Read our Global Assessment here.

For instance, in the case of drugs, law enforcement officials know that the drugs generally originate in third-world nations with the sales directed at Western nations. However, the money may be laundered through sophisticated networks completely unrelated to the origin and destination nations. Locating and cutting off these networks requires much more than traditional police abilities allow.

In addition, whereas human trafficking is ancient, it has taken on very sinister elements. Young women are abducted in Europe for sale to wealthy buyers; children are sold into sex slavery in many parts of Asia; infants are abducted and sold to avoid regular adoption channels; and adults pay large sums to be transported illegally into various countries. With so much illegal activity occurring in so many locations, tracking and stopping it is a virtually impossible (Schmalleger, 2009).

Headquarters of the NSA at Fort Meade, Marylan...
Headquarters of the NSA at Fort Meade, Maryland. Español: Instalaciones generales de la NSA en Fort Meade, Maryland. Русский: Штаб-квартира АНБ, Форт-Мид, Мэриленд, США (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As more nations adopt stricter laws against dumping toxins, criminal organizations are taking on an entirely new scope. With huge profits to be made, entire ships sail the oceans and dump illegal waste so deep that investigations are impossible.

The Internet has facilitated the widespread growth of fraud. In many developing nations, especially African, no restrictions exist to combat fraudulent activities. In these locations, many develop scams and schemes directed primarily at American and European Internet users. Without laws in the nations where the crimes originate, a prosecution is impossible. Even with laws in place, locating the persons responsible is difficult (Schmalleger, 2009).

Criminal behavior worldwide is being facilitated by the Internet and globalization is resulting in more money flowing from wealthier western nations into mostly impoverished nations. In many developing lands, activities deemed criminal in most developed lands are primary means of earning a living.

The Relationship Between Globalization, Criminal Justice Systems, and Law

There are, generally speaking, only three types of legal systems in existence: Civil, Common, and Religious. Any other system of law can usually be condensed into some form of these or a combination of two or all three.

Civil law is that which has been codified and made part of the legal system which provides a framework upon which civilized governance may be possible. Common law is a law which has been passed on by tradition, whether orally or written, such as when courts establish a precedent. Religious law is any legal system established using the tenets of a religious order, sect, or faith. In reality, most religious law is little more than a fusion of common and/or civil law passed from earlier generations, but because religious law is often so radically different from secular law codes, it deserves its own identifier.

Why are such law code distinctions, identifiers necessary?

As the world becomes more alike, as efforts are made to further integrate nations such as happened with the EU or is currently taking place in other regions, the nations of the world will have to find common ground upon which to govern all. Although law systems around the world appear very different, they really are not.

We have launched an initiative to explore the legal elements of global criminal justice. To learn more, read Global Assessment: How does the World View Crime and Justice.

Most legal systems have some law regarding murder, theft, and corruption. These are things which nearly all can agree. So, moving forward with globalization, the criminal justice system can find commonalities upon which to agree and make progress toward unification.


English: A chart showing positive correlation ...
English: A chart showing positive correlation between level of human trafficking in countries and number of female children out of primary school. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Globalization is nothing new, but the degree to which the world is becoming more economically interconnected is. Whereas police organizations must adapt to the new circumstances of the new global economy, criminal organizations are able to adapt more quickly for they are unhindered by legal restrictions. Although crime knows no boundaries, law enforcement must adhere to jurisdictional limits.

Thus, criminal justice and globalization are two concepts at odds. Criminal justice is easier to achieve in a closed society whereas, in an economy where money and the means of gaining capital are freer, law enforcement must work harder to achieve the same results. Globalization has always presented criminal justice organizations with increased challenges. This too is nothing new.

What is new is the extent and speed with which efforts at global unity, globalization are taking place. Thanks to technology, globalization is progressing faster than any would have imagined just two decades ago. Thanks also to technology, the threats to world peace and unity which is possible through globalization have also never been greater. The solution lay in finding the ability to find and agree on common ground. This is not easy within a nation; it is infinitely harder in the global community, but it can be done.


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