Stealing Like Artists: Using Court Records to Conduct Quantitative Research on Corporate Environmental Crimes

Published date01 August 2020
Date01 August 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2020, Vol. 36(3) 451 –469
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1043986220931631
Stealing Like Artists: Using
Court Records to Conduct
Quantitative Research on
Corporate Environmental
Matthew J. Greife1 and Michael O. Maume2
A major challenge in conducting quantitative analyses in the field of corporate
environmental crime is the lack of a readily accessible data set. At least in the United
States, currently the best available datasets regarding environmental crime generally
are produced and disseminated by government agencies like the Environmental
Protection Agency (“EPA”). However, these datasets have multiple limitations that
force researchers to “scour” through the informational landscape for other primary
and secondary sources to conduct more robust quantitative analyses. In this article,
we document the attempts researchers have made to create broader datasets for
corporate environmental crime analysis, with the hope that it will assist researchers
working to create useful bodies of data for analysis.
corporate crime, green criminology, environmental crime
Criminologists studying criminal offenses against the environment have produced a
sizable research literature over the previous several decades. Although some have
argued that the heyday for such research peaked in the 1970s (Dabney, 2016; Snider,
2003), others have argued that the research is still in its infancy (Burns & Lynch, 2004;
Rebovich, 1998). We suggest that recent developments in the availability of data and
1Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA
2University of North Carolina Wilmington, NC, USA
Corresponding Author:
Michael O. Maume, Department of Sociology and Criminology, University of North Carolina
Wilmington, 601 S College Road, Wilmington, NC 28403, USA.
931631CCJXXX10.1177/1043986220931631Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeGreife and Maume
452 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 36(3)
methodological techniques provide the potential for criminologists to reinvigorate
such research efforts. In her recent address to the American Society of Criminology,
(ASC) president Sally Simpson (2019) assessed where criminology stands with regard
to white-collar crime studies 80 years after Sutherland’s presidential address. Among
other issues, she notes that
[b]ecause systematic counts and measures of business crimes still do not exist, the process
of creating an offending database is, even now, labor intensive. Researchers must scour
criminal, civil, and regulatory documents to match firms with reports of wrongdoing
across a variety of different offense types. (Simpson, 2019, p. 193)
The purpose of this article is to assist criminologists interested in “scouring” court
records to conduct quantitative research on corporate environmental crimes (CECs),
while acknowledging the learning curve required for criminologists new to data on
environmental violations (Gibbs & Simpson, 2009), legal research (Nolasco et al.,
2010), and the complex structural context of U.S. firms (Fligstein & Roehrkasse,
2016; Prechel & Zheng, 2016). Our article also addresses those seeking to answer a
recently expressed call for more quantitative research under the auspices of “green”
criminology (M. J. Lynch et al., 2017).
Although such efforts could apply to crimes of the powerful in a number of domains,
we take a particular interest in CECs for two reasons. First, the costs of such crimes—
although inestimable on the whole—are likely to be enormous, given the cost esti-
mates on individual cases such as the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the resultant
oil spill, which resulted in the loss of numerous lives (both human and non-human),
income, and billions in cleanup costs (Cohen, 2016). In addition, as Cohen (2016)
notes, such crimes are likely to have very large intangible costs that “may never be
monetized” (p. 95). The cost of CECs and other corporate crimes such as antitrust
frauds outweigh not only street crimes but other white-collar offenses. It is difficult to
reconcile these costs against the continued absence of a national database to address
such crimes (Shover & Routhe, 2005). There is thus a clear imperative to understand
and address such CECs. Second, the harms resulting from CECs are expected to con-
tinue as the “treadmill of production” runs apace under current economic regimes
(Stretesky et al., 2014). Such green crimes are to be expected as commodities are
extracted from the environment and such extraction in turn causes further ecological
harms. Green criminologists have called not only for more attention to be paid to
CECs, but their regulation and enforcement as well (Cochran et al., 2018; Greife et al.,
2017; Ozymy & Jarrell, 2015; Stretesky et al., 2014).
Efforts to Compile CEC Data
Our focus here is limited to environmental crimes involving corporate offenders
accused of violating U.S. federal laws designed to protect the environment.1 We focus
on federal-level data because most of the efforts to compile CEC data come from fed-
eral prosecutions rather than state prosecutions. The Environmental Protection Agency

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