State-corporate crime is defined as criminal acts that occur when one or more institutions of political governance pursue a goal in direct cooperation with one or more institutions of economic production and distribution. This concept has been advanced to examine how corporations and governments intersect to produce social harm. The complexity of state-corporate crime arises from the nature of the offenses; unlike traditional “street crime,” state-corporate crime is not characterized by the intent of a single actor to violate the law for personal pleasure or gain. Criminal actions by the state often lack an obvious victim, and diffusion of responsibility arising from corporate structure and involvement of multiple actors makes the task of attributing criminal responsibility difficult. Sufficient understanding of state-corporate crime cannot be gained through studying individual actors; one must also consider broader organizational and societal factors.
Further subclassification illuminates the different types of state-corporate crime: State-initiated corporate crime (such as the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion) occurs when corporations, employed by the government, engage in organizational deviance at the direction of, or with the tacit approval of, the government. State-facilitated state-corporate crime (such as the 1991 Imperial Food Products fire in Hamlet, North Carolina) occurs when government regulatory institutions fail to restrain deviant activities either because of direct collusion between business and government or because they adhere to shared goals whose attainment would be hampered by aggressive regulation.
A considerable body of research on societal response to white-collar and corporate crime has evidenced a hardening of public attitudes, including increased perceived seriousness of upper-class criminality and punitiveness toward its perpetrators. These findings suggest that, over time, the public has gained a better understanding of white-collar crime and its deleterious social impact. However, none of the opinion surveys included a direct measure of public knowledge. As a result, it is difficult to determine to which extent U.S. citizens are objectively informed about crimes of the powerful. In fact, only a few studies have focused exclusively on the intersection between knowledge about white-collar crime and sentiment toward it. These scholarly efforts have concluded that the American people continue to underestimate the actual financial and physical consequences of white-collar crime, which may be the result of selective reporting by the mass media and biased research foci by scholars. By choosing to focus on traditional criminal law violations, such as homicide and theft, and relegating white-collar offenses to the rank of victimless crimes, journalists and criminologists have contributed to the construction and propagation of myths about upper-world criminality. In turn, continuous adherence to these myths might lead to polarized opinions about which type of penal policy to adopt against white-collar crime.