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Deterrence and Rational Choice Theories


On Crimes and Punishment, Beccaria (1764) Punishment protects the social contract ... Deterrence theory fell out of favor in the 1800s, replaced by positivism ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Deterrence and Rational Choice Theories

Deterrence and Rational Choice Theories
Medieval Criminal Justice
  • Trial by ordeal
  • Forced confessions
  • Severe public punishment
  • Burning (hell on earth)
  • Mutilation (body subordinate to soul)
  • Ritual of a thousand deaths

A Reform Movement
  • The Enlightenment
  • Faith in rationality, social contract theory
  • Depart from supernatural theory
  • The Classical School of criminology is born
  • Assumptions about human nature
  • Rational, autonomous, hedonistic, calculating

A Theory of Deterrence
  • On Crimes and Punishment, Beccaria (1764)
  • Punishment protects the social contract
  • Punishment should fit the crime, no more
  • Underlying theory
  • Prevention through deterrence is the primary
    justification for punishment
  • Condemned by the Catholic Church

Principles of Deterrence
  • To deter, punishment should be
  • Certain
  • To increase fear of consequences
  • Swift
  • To make association with punishment
  • Severe enough to outweigh the pleasure of crime
  • Any more is tyrannical, inefficient

Elaborations of Deterrence
  • Specific v. general
  • Punishment v. non-punishment
  • Absolute v. restrictive
  • Formal v. informal sanctions

Specific v. General Deterrence
Punishment/Non-Punishment Stafford and Warr (1993)
  • Personal experience with punishment
  • Personal experience avoiding punishment
  • Vicarious experience with punishment
  • Vicarious experience avoiding punishment
  • Determines the deterrent effect

Absolute v. Restrictive Deterrence
  • Absolute deterrence
  • Abstention
  • Restrictive deterrence
  • Less frequent
  • Less severe
  • Displacement

Empirical Research
  • There is moderate support for certainty, little
    to none for severity
  • Why does certainty seem to work better than
    severity? What does this tell us about how
    offenders think?

Formal v. Informal Sanctions
  • Informal unofficial punishment
  • Disapproval from significant others
  • Feelings of remorse, guilt, shame
  • Expands the range of negative consequence
  • Informal sanctions enhance formal sanctions
  • But not for everyone, why?

In and Out and Back In Favor
  • Deterrence theory fell out of favor in the 1800s,
    replaced by positivism
  • Deterrence reemerged in the late 1960s as a
    rationale for punishment
  • Coincided with a renewed emphasis on offender
    deterrence and retribution within the criminal
    justice system

Practical Limits of Deterrence
  • Penalties often learned after arrest
  • Underestimate risk of being caught
  • Clearance rates are generally low
  • Crime displacement may occur
  • Rational abilities may be impaired
  • Drugs, alcohol, passion, mental disorder
  • Some people have little to lose

From Deterrenceto Rational Choice
  • Deterrence theory focuses on the effect of
    punishment on criminal choices
  • Rational choice theory focuses on the effect of
    opportunity on criminal choices

Rational Choice Theory
  • Crime benefits the offender
  • Crime brings pleasure
  • Peoples rationality is bounded
  • We gather, store, use information imperfectly
  • We tend to focus on immediate gains, not
    long-term costs
  • Offenders focus on situational opportunities
  • Criminals are opportunistic

Rational Motivationsfor Crime
  • To obtain something
  • To obtain pleasure
  • To obtain sex
  • To obtain peer approval
  • To prove toughness
  • To escape negative or unwanted situations
  • To assert dominance or get ones way in a dispute
  • To settle a grievance, revenge

Rational Choices?
  • A man beats his wife during an argument
  • A father rapes his stepdaughter
  • A man drives home drunk from a bar

Crimes that are not rational?
Cheating on Exams
  • How would we control cheating using a rational
    choice perspective?
  • Assumptions about cheating
  • Interventions to prevent cheating

Assessment of Choice Theory
  • Opportunity rather than punishment
  • Offenders tend to ignore long-term costs
  • Situational factors rather than enduring
    motivational factors
  • Assume the presence of criminal motivation
  • Focus on offenders assessments of their
    immediate situations

Implications for Policy
  • Situational crime prevention
  • Reduce crime by blocking opportunities
  • Consistent with the CJ emphasis on responsibility
    and punishment
  • All crime is based at least in part on a choice
  • Attempt to make criminal choices less attractive
    by reducing opportunities

Is there a place for morality in rational choice