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Chapter 4. Choice Theory. The Development of Rational Choice Theory. Roots in the classical school of criminology developed by Cesare Beccaria. Beccaria called for fair and certain punishment to deter crime

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Chapter 4

Choice Theory


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The Development of Rational Choice Theory

  • Roots in the classical school of criminology developed by Cesare Beccaria.

    • Beccaria called for fair and certain punishment to deter crime

    • Beccaria argued against marginal deterrence which refers petty offenses being subjected to same punishment as more serious crimes


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The Development of Rational Choice Theory

  • The Classical Theory of Crime

    • Jeremy Bentham (1748-1833) believed people choose actions on the basis of pleasure and avoid pain

    • Punishment should have four objectives:

      • Prevent all criminal offenses

      • When it cannot prevent crime, it should convince the offender to commit a less serious offense

      • To ensure that a criminal uses no more force than necessary

      • To prevent crime as cheaply as possible

    • Beccaria’s writings have been credited with the elimination of torture during the 19th century


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The Development of Rational Choice Theory

  • Weblink:

    http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Biographies/Philosophy/Bentham.htm


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The Development of Rational Choice Theory

  • Choice Theory Emerges

    • Choice theory re-emerged in the 1970s

    • A significant increase in the reported crime rate and the media depictions of criminals helped to create public fear of crime

    • James Q. Wilson helped debunk the positivist view that crime was a function of external forces

    • Coinciding with Wilson’s view was the conservative shift in U.S. public policy, which embraced his notions

    • Many opponents of abortion became ardent supporters of the death penalty and the conservative “get tough” attitude prevailed despite the anguish of liberal followers


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The Concepts of Rational Choice

  • Offense-and Offender-Specific Crime

    • Offense specific refers to offenders reacting selectively to the characteristics of particular crimes (evaluating a target victim)

    • Offender specific refers offenders engaging in random antisocial acts (evaluating skills, motives, needs and fear)


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The Concepts of Rational Choice

  • Structuring Criminality

    • Personal factors condition people to choose criminality such as significant financial rewards (I.E. Ivy League Hooker)

    • Criminals may learn the limitations of their powers; when to take a chance and when to be cautious

    • Criminals report learning techniques that help them avoid detection (I.E. Jacobs’ study of crack dealers)


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The Concepts of Rational Choice

  • Structuring Crime

    • Criminals carefully choose where they commit crime

    • Rational choice is based on:

      • The type of crime (professionals or generalists)

      • The time and place of crime (I.E. burglars)

      • The target of crime (I.E. corner homes)

    • Criminals are unlikely to travel long distances to commit crimes and often consider the capabilities of police before committing crime


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Is Crime Rational?

  • Is Theft Rational?

    • Common theft-related crimes seem to more likely random acts of criminal opportunity

    • Professional thieves may be more likely to calculate their crimes (I.E. boosters)

    • Experienced burglars seem to use skill and knowledge when choosing their targets


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Is Crime Rational?

  • Is Drug Use Rational?

    • Research seems to indicate from it onset drug use is controlled by rational decision making

    • Drug dealers show signs of rationality and cunning in their daily activities (I.E. Women being drawn into drug dealing)


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Is Crime Rational?

  • Is Violence Rational?

    • Rational Robbers:

      • Street robbers are likely to choose victims who are vulnerable

      • About three-fifths of robbers avoid victims who may be armed and dangerous

      • Robbers tend to pick the time, day, and targets carefully


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Is Crime Rational?

  • Rational Killers:

    • People who carry guns do so for rational reasons

    • Serial murderers are the most rational of all offenders

    • Serial murderers choose defenseless victims rather than potentially powerful people

  • Rational Rapists:

    • Serial rapists show rationality in their choice of targets



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Eliminating Crime

  • Situational Crime Prevention

    • Situational crime prevention involves developing tactics to reduce or eliminate a specific crime problem (i.e. shoplifting)

    • Oscar Newman coined the term “defensible space” to refer to the use of residential designs that reduce criminal opportunity

    • Targeting Specific Crimes:

      • Increase the effort needed to commit crime

      • Increase the risks of committing crime

      • Reduce the rewards for committing crime

      • Induce guilt or shame for committing crime


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Eliminating Crime

  • Increase Efforts

    • Increase the effort needed to commit crime (using unbreakable glass)

    • Steering locks on cars

    • Locking devices to prevent drunk drivers from starting vehicles

    • Curfew laws


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Eliminating Crime

  • Reduce Rewards

    • Removable car radios

    • Gender-neutral phone listings

    • Tracking systems (Lojack)


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Eliminating Crime

  • Increase Risk

    • Crime discouragers (Marcus Felson)

      • Guardians who monitor targets

      • Handlers who monitor potential offenders

      • Managers who monitor places



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Eliminating Crime

  • Increase Guilt

    • Induce guilt or shame for committing crime (publishing “john lists”)

    • Caller ID reduces obscene phone calls


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Eliminating Crime

  • Situational Crime Prevention: Costs and Benefits

    • Hidden Benefits: Diffusion

      • Occurs when efforts to prevent one crime unintentionally prevents another

      • When crime control efforts in one locale reduce crime in other non-target areas

    • Discouragement:

      • Occurs when crime control efforts targeting a particular locale help reduce crime in surrounding areas and populations (I.E. SMART in Oakland, CA)


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Eliminating Crime

  • Hidden Costs: Displacement

    • Crime is not prevented but simply re-directed, deflected, or displaced to a more vulnerable area

  • Extinction: Phenomenon in which crime reduction programs may produce short-term positive effects but criminals adjust to new conditions

    • Dismantling of alarms

    • Trying new offenses previously avoided (robbery instead of burglary)


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Eliminating Crime

  • General Deterrence

    • General deterrence strategies hold that crime rates are influenced and controlled by the threat of punishment

    • Factors of severity, certainty, and speed of punishment may also influence one another

    • Deterrence theorists suggest certainty has more of an impact than severity or speed


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Eliminating Crime

  • Certainty of Punishment

    • Tipping point refers to the likelihood of getting caught reaching a critical level to deter a person from crime

    • The likelihood of being deterred from crime has little effect if criminal believe they have only a small chance of suffering apprehension and punishment

    • Impulsive acts are indifferent to the threat of punishment


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Eliminating Crime

  • Does Increasing Police Activity Deter Crime?

    • Early studies suggested increasing numbers of police has little effect on deterring crime (I.E. Kansas City Study)

    • Recent research suggests presence of police does in fact have a substantial deterrent effect

    • Police Crackdowns: Used to communicate the threat or actual certainty of punishment

      • Police crackdowns may have a short-term deterrent effect

    • Legislative Crackdowns: Lawmakers act quickly to reduce hazardous behavior which has become the focus of public attention (I.E. drunk driving)

      • Legislative crackdowns may be effective for certain crimes (fatal crashes resulting from drunk driving)


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Eliminating Crime

  • Severity of Punishment and Deterrence

    • There is little consensus that the severity of punishment alone can reduce crime

    • Capital punishment does not appear to deter violent crime

    • Informal Sanctions: May have a greater crime reducing impact than the fear of formal legal punishment

      • Sanctions administered by significant others such as parents, peers, neighbors, and teachers

    • Shame and Humiliation: Fear of shame and embarrassment can be a powerful deterrent

      • Spouse abusers are more afraid of the social costs

    • Informal sanctions may be more effective for instrumental crimes


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Eliminating Crime

  • Critique of General Deterrence

    • Rationality: Some criminals are desperate and calculated choices become reasonable alternatives

    • Need: Desperate people who are cut off from the rest of society may not be deterred by punishment

    • Greed: Profits may outweigh the risks of getting caught

    • Severity and Speed: Only 10 percent of all serious offenses result in apprehension


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Eliminating Crime

  • Specific Deterrence

    • Sanctions so powerful than known criminals will never repeat their criminal acts (I.E. life in prison-death penalty)

    • Incarceration: about two-thirds of all convicted felons are rearrested (recidivism)

    • Criminals who receive probation are less likely to recidivate than those sent to prison


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Eliminating Crime

  • Incapacitation

    • There is little evidence that incapacitating criminals deters them from future criminality

    • Stable crime rates may be controlled by:

      • The size of the teenage population

      • The threat of mandatory sentences

      • Economy

      • Gun laws

      • The end of the crack epidemic

      • The implementation of aggressive policing strategies


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Eliminating Crime

  • Can Incapacitation Reduce Crime?

    • Most studies have not supported that strict incarceration will reduce crime

    • Steven Levitt argues that the social benefits associated with crime reduction equal or exceed the social costs of incarceration


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Eliminating Crime

  • The logic behind Incarceration:

    • Incarceration should work since people are locked up but it does not deter them from future offending

    • Exposes young offenders to greater risks

    • Imprisoning established offenders may open new opportunities such as drug markets

    • Most young offenders are not sent to prison, which may negate the impact of incarceration

    • The incapacitation strategy has resulted in an ever expanding prison population


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Eliminating Crime

  • Selective Incapacitation

    • Designed to incapacitate chronic offenders

    • Habitual offender laws (three-strikes)

    • Criminologists suggest such strategies may not work due to 1) most three-time losers are on the verge of aging out, 2) current sentences are already severe, 3) expanding prison populations will drive up the costs of prison, 4) there is racial disparity in such sentencing, 5) increased danger for police arresting a third-time loser with nothing to lose by killing police, and 6) the prison population already has the highest frequency criminals


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Public Policy Implications of Choice Theory

  • Choice theory Influences the relationship between law, punishment, and crime.

    • Just Desert: Severity of punishment commensurate with the seriousness of the crime

      • Those who violate others’ rights deserve to be punished

      • We should not deliberately add to human suffering; punishment makes those punished suffer

      • However, punishment may prevent more misery than it inflicts

    • Desert theory is also concerned with the rights of the accused: punishment should be the same for all people

    • The model suggests that retribution justifies punishment


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