An interview with Jagad Guru Chris Butler

(The following interview with Jagad Guru covers basic questions people have regarding the crime problem.)

QUESTION: Maybe I’m just a bleeding heart, but I can’t keep from thinking that poor people commit more crimes because they don’t have as much as they need.

JAGAD GURU: Why do you say that poor people commit more crimes?

QUESTION: Well, there’s a lot more poor people in our prisons.

JAGAD GURU: All that shows is that poor criminals can’t afford lawyers to keep them out of jail. Furthermore, the kinds of crimes that poor crooks engage in are quite different from those carried out by “rich” crooks. Every middle- and upper-class person who cheats on his tax returns is stealing as much or more than a burglar. And the government estimates that there are literally millions of such tax cheaters. These people just aren’t caught, that’s all. There are also millions of middle- and upper-class white-collar criminals who are also never caught. The emphasis in law enforcement just isn’t on such crimes. The poor criminal has to do his thing on the street level—where there’s a greater chance of confrontation with those who would stop him. Therefore, there’s not only a greater chance of his getting caught, but also a greater potential for violence. And it is the violence that law enforcement agencies tend to focus on. So just because there are more “poor” criminals in prison doesn’t mean that there are more poor criminals.

You said you think most “poor” criminals steal out of a genuine physical need. That’s not true. Do you really believe that the guy who robs a liquor store takes that money and buys a loaf of bread for his starving mother? No. Such petty thieves spend their money on flashy clothes, cars, jewelry, and, more than anything else, drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, etc. In fact, recent studies show that most street crimes are committed by a relatively small number of thieves—each of whom commits hundreds of crimes a year.

These guys are mugging and robbing primarily to obtain money for illegal drugs. Otherwise they would be rich, right? If you commit an average of one or two robberies a day and average $100 a hit, you’re looking at an income of between $40,000 and $80,000 tax-free dollars a year. In other words, the so-called poor criminal who commits most of the street crimes isn’t poor at all—unless you call someone with a $40,000-$80,000 yearly income poor.

QUESTION: But if it’s their addiction to drugs that leads them to commit the crimes, and if their use of drugs is due to being poor and thus frustrated, then poverty is the root cause of their criminal behavior.

JAGAD GURU: No. The frustration due to being poor may be an immediate cause of their turning to drugs and thus to crime—but it’s not the root cause. If poverty were the root cause, then people who are not poor to begin with would not be frustrated and would not be turning to drugs. But people who have been wealthy their entire lives are also frustrated and thus into drugs.

A poor person may be frustrated because he sees all the advertisements for the goodies, but he doesn’t have the money to buy them—so he takes drugs to forget his frustration. The rich person, on the other hand, has the goodies that are supposed to satisfy him, but they don’t. So he’s also frustrated, and he also turns to drugs to forget his misery. By the way, the “rich” person may also turn to crime in order to help pay for his drug habit. But due to his position in society, his crimes are less noticeable, so he’s less likely to be caught.

In any case, it’s clear that the root cause of crime—at least in the West—is not the lack of the basic necessities of survival. The root cause of our crime problem is the lack of wisdom and inner spiritual satisfaction.