Public-Order Offenses and Values

Public-order offenses, which are also known as victimless crimes, are those that offend the values of a segment of society and that are against the law, but that have the willing participation of all parties to the activity and cause no obvious harm to anyone involved. Some argue that these offenses have general or indirect victims (family members, friends, society in general). Laws prohibiting public-order offenses are designed to protect people and society, but are also based on social sensibility.

Substance abuse is important to the study of criminology because drugs and alcohol influence behavior. Substance abuse is related to other types of crime, and the war on drugs is difficult, dangerous, and costly. Early U.S. laws restricting the sale of alcohol or drugs were economic in nature. Opium became popular in the United States after the Civil War, until the federal government restricted opium smoking and banned opium imports in 1890. Opium was replaced by morphine, to which many Civil War soldiers became addicted. Patent medicines, popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were a socially acceptable way to use drugs or alcohol. The 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act required the amount of each ingredient in patent medicines be listed on the label. The 1914 Harrison Act was a tax law designed to regulate the sale of drugs. The 1933 Marijuana Tax Act criminalized the use of marijuana. The 1970 Comprehensive Drug Abuse and Prevention Act and 1988 Omnibus Drug Act made sweeping changes to drug laws. Today, the most commonly abused substance is alcohol. Theories used to explain drug usage focus on biological addiction and psychological dependence. Legalization would make some drugs legal to consume whereas decriminalization would reduce the legal penalties.

Some sex offenses, such as prostitution, pornography, are also considered to be public-order offenses. Prostitution involves an activity that has sexual significance for the purchaser, involves an economic transaction, and is conducted with emotional indifference. There has been little research on male prostitution, but it appears to share many of the concerns of female prostitution. There are many arguments for and against the legalization of prostitution. Child prostitution is not a victimless offense, and includes problems of abuse, violence, and exploitation. Pornography refers to representations designed to arouse and give sexual pleasure to those who read, see, hear, or handle them. In Miller v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court developed a test of obscenity. Currently, there is much debate over the issue of pornography on the Internet and how it might be controlled

Gambling involves both chance and risk, although some types of gambling provide more opportunities to affect the outcome than others. There are many reasons why games of chance are disapproved of socially and are illegal in many jurisdictions. Almost every state has some form of legal gambling, usually a state lottery, but many states restrict gambling to state government. Despite the availability of legal gambling, many people still gamble illegally as well, primarily because many gamblers find the availability of legal gambling insufficient to meet their desires.