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“Rational Choice” and Opportunity Theories. “Rational Choice Theory”. Economics (language, theory) “Expected Utility” = calculation of all risks and rewards Same assumptions as deterrence theory This is because “economic theory” (supply/demand, rational consumers) has same roots.

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rational choice theory
“Rational Choice Theory”
  • Economics (language, theory)
    • “Expected Utility” = calculation of all risks and rewards
  • Same assumptions as deterrence theory
    • This is because “economic theory” (supply/demand, rational consumers) has same roots
rationality assumption
Rationality Assumption
  • How “RATIONAL” is the offender?
    • PURE = only expected utility matters
      • BECKER ARTICLE closest example
    • LIMITED = then, what else matters?
      • CORNISH AND CLARKE good example
gary becker crime and punishment an economic approach 1968
Gary Becker: Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach (1968)
  • “Classic” article that signaled the rebirth of classical school ideas
    • Recast deterrence in “economic language”
  • Major Assumption
    • “A person commits an offense if the expected utility to him exceeds the utility he could get by using his time and other resources at other activities”
becker cont
Becker cont.

What affects “expected utility?”

1. Probability of arrest/conviction

a. analogous to the probability of having to “pay”

2. Severity of punishment

b. analogous to “price”

3. “Other variables”

a. Income available in legal or illegal activities

b. Willingness to commit an illegal act

c. Intelligence, age, education, family upbringing….

cornish and clarke 1986
Cornish and Clarke (1986)
  • Crime as a Rational Choice
    • Criminal Involvement: the decision to engage in crime (versus other activity)
    • Criminal Event: factors that influence the decision to commit a specific crime
criminal involvement
Criminal Involvement
  • Choices to become involved in crime, to continue in crime, and to desist from crime
    • Each (involvement, continuance, desistence) need separate explanation
    • Involvement decisions are multistage and multi-factor, extending over long time periods
example of factors that explain initial involvement
Example of factors that explain initial involvement:

Background Factors

  • temperament, intelligence, cognitive style, sex, class, education, neighborhood, broken home…

Previous experience

  • Direct and vicarious learning, moral attitudes, self-perception, foresight and planning

Solutions evaluated

  • Degree of effort, amount/immediacy of reward, likelihood and severity of punishment, moral costs
criticisms see akers
Criticisms (See Akers)

What happened to our “rational” offender guided by “free will?”

  • In their models, rational thinking and free will are very constrained/limited
  • Not much different from other theories of crime
    • Borrow liberally from learning theory, psychology, social control theory…
  • At what point does their theory cease to be a “rational choice” model?
example of continuance in burglary
Example of Continuance in Burglary

Increased Professionalism

  • pride in skills, reduce risk (better planning), acquire fencing contacts, skill in dealing with criminal justice system

Changes in Lifestyle and Values

  • choose work to facilitate burglaries, enjoy “life in fast lane,” devalue legitimate work

Changes in Peer group

  • lose contact with prosocial friends, labeled as criminal, quarrels with family...
the criminal event
The Criminal Event
  • Focus on predictors of specific crimes, look at immediate (situational) factors
    • e.g., what might lead a person to commit a burglaries in middle class neighborhood?
  • Area
    • Easily accessible, few police patrols, low security
  • Home
    • anyone home?, especially wealthy, detached, bushes/other cover, dog, security system...
evaluating rational choice
Evaluating Rational Choice
  • Empirical Support?
    • Criminal Involvement
      • Ethnographic research suggests limited (if any) rational reasoning or weighing of costs/benefits.
    • Criminal Event
      • Ethnographic research somewhat supportive, but many crimes suggest limited appraisals.
  • Parsimony and Scope?
  • Policy Implication?
routine activities theory
Routine Activities Theory
  • Cohen and Felson (1979): “Crime and Everyday Life”
  • Crime as the Convergence in Time and Space of Three Factors

1. Motivated Offenders (typically ignored)

2. Suitable Targets

3. Lack of Capable Guardianship

  • Scope: “Direct-Contact Predatory Crimes”
motivated offenders taken for granted
Motivated offenders taken for granted
  • Assumption is that they are always present
  • Criticized for this (really a theory of crime?)
  • Really explains “victimization” or the “criminal event”
    • Similar to Cornish and Clarke in that respect
suitable targets
Suitable Targets
  • Value ($, ability to fence)
  • Visibility (sights and sounds)
  • Accessibility (why autos are victimized)
  • Weight and Mobility (high tech movement)
lack of capable guardianship
Lack of Capable Guardianship
  • Strength in numbers
  • Protection from police
    • Less emphasis in this over time
  • Informal social control
  • Time spent at home
evaluating routine activities theory
Evaluating Routine Activities Theory
  • Empirical Support
    • Household activity ratio related to crime
    • Criminal “Hotspots” within high crime areas
    • Prison Studies (% time outside of cell)
    • Victimization Studies
  • Criticism? Confirming common sense.
policy implications
Policy Implications
  • Physical Crime Prevention
    • Target Hardening
    • Construction
    • Strength in Number
  • Defensible Space
    • Criminal Hot Spots as convergence of three elements