“Not only Injurious to Individuals, but Dangerous to the State”: A Theory of Disaster Crime



Publication Date


Document Type

Book Chapter


Purpose – This study explores legal justifications for applying an enhanced criminal sanction to wrongs committed before, during, and after disasters.

Design/methodology/approach – This study uses recent social science evidence to evaluate the need for criminal statutes covering looting, price gouging, and other disaster-related offenses. Further, this study considers a broader historical context, identifying intersections of disaster crime and the common law's treatment of riots and public disorder.

Findings – Although individual disaster victims and communities are vulnerable to criminal harm, and this vulnerability often appears to motivate the punishment of disaster-related crimes, it is not the only or even the strongest justification available. As an alternative approach, one could focus on the public dimension of the harm – disaster-related crimes are particularly pernicious because they threaten to undermine the legitimate governing authority of the state.

Originality/value of paper – The public-order thesis yokes current legal doctrine to longstanding common law themes and, in so doing, departs from conventional justifications for the enhanced punishment of disaster-related crime. The critical perspective offered here could be extended to criminal penalty enhancements more generally. Moreover, because the rationale for identifying and punishing wrongful conduct is the fundamental question of criminal law, even a modest reassessment has potentially far-reaching implications.


ISBN: 978-1780529141