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Chapter Four:. Choice Theory: Because They Want To. Chapter Objectives. Be familiar with the concept of rational choice Know the work of Beccaria Be familiar with the concept of offense-specific crime Be familiar with the concept of offender-specific crime

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chapter four

Chapter Four:

Choice Theory:

Because They Want To

chapter objectives
Chapter Objectives
  • Be familiar with the concept of rational choice
  • Know the work of Beccaria
  • Be familiar with the concept of offense-specific crime
  • Be familiar with the concept of offender-specific crime
  • Be able to discuss why violent and drug crimes are rational
  • Know the various techniques of situational crime prevention
  • Be able to discuss the association between punishment and crime
  • Be familiar with the concepts of certainty, severity, and speed of punishment
  • Know what is meant by specific deterrence
  • Be able to discuss the issues involving the use of incapacitation
  • Understand the concept of just desert
development of rational choice theory
Development of Rational Choice Theory
  • Has its roots in the classical school of criminology
  • These ideas declined by the end of the 19th century and re-emerged in the 1960s
  • Developed by the Italian social thinker Cesare Beccaria, he and other utilitarian philosophers suggested that:
    • People choose all behavior, including criminal behavior
    • Their choices are designed to bring them pleasure
    • Criminal choices can be controlled by fear of punishment
    • The more severe, certain, and swift the punishment, the greater the ability to control criminal behavior
rational choice
Rational Choice
  • Law-violating behavior is the product of careful thought and planning
  • Offenders choose crime after considering both personal and situational factors
  • The reasoning criminal evaluates:
      • the risk of apprehension,
      • the seriousness of the expected punishment,
      • the potential value or benefit of the criminal enterprise,
      • his/her ability to succeed, and
      • the need for criminal gain
contemporary choice theory emerges
Contemporary Choice Theory Emerges
  • By the mid-1970’s, there was renewed interest in the classical approach to crime
  • Rehabilitation of known criminals was under attack
  • National surveys failed to find good examples of what worked regarding rehabilitation of offenders
  • Criminologists began to suggest that it made more sense to frighten criminals with severe punishments than to waste public funds trying to improve social conditions linked to crime
offense specific crime
Offense-Specific Crime

The idea that offenders react selectively to the characteristics of particular crimes

  • Example burglary:
      • Evaluating target
      • Probability of security devices
      • Police patrol
      • Getaway car
      • Ease of selling stolen merchandise
      • Presence of occupants
      • Guard dogs
      • Escape routes
offender specific crime
Offender-Specific Crime

The idea that offenders must decide whether they have the prerequisites to commit a successful criminal act.


  • Evaluate the necessary skills required to commit the crime
  • Their need for money or other valuables
  • Whether legitimate financial alternatives to crime exist
  • Their fears of expected punishment
  • Option of alternative criminal acts
  • Physical ability
  • Heath and strength
personal factors contributing to criminality
Personal Factors Contributing to Criminality
  • Economic opportunity
  • Learning and Experience
  • Knowledge of Criminal Techniques
structuring crime
Structuring Crime

The decision to commit crime is structured by

analysis of:

  • Choosing the Type of Crime

(a specialist vs. a generalists)

  • Choosing the Time and Place of the Crime (burglars 9:00 am – 11:00am)
  • The Target of Crime

(people with “dirty” hands make suitable targets)

is crime rational
Is Crime Rational
  • It is relatively easy to show that some crimes are the product of rational, objective thought, especially when they involve an ongoing criminal conspiracy centered on economic gain.
    • Examples:
      • Bankers indicted for criminal fraud
      • Stock market manipulations
      • International drug dealings cartels
violence a matter of choice
Violence: a matter of choice

Serves specific goals:

  • Control - control over the victim,
  • Retribution – perpetrator may want to punish
  • Deterrence – attacker may want to stop someone from repeating acts they consider hostile or provocative
  • Reputation – An attack may be motivated by the need to enhance reputation and create self-importance
controlling crime
Controlling Crime
  • Rational choice theorists suggest four ways to reduce crime:
    • situational crime prevention
    • general deterrence
    • specific deterrence
    • incapacitation
situational crime prevention
Situational Crime Prevention
  • Situational crime prevention: in order to reduce criminal activity, planners must be aware of the characteristics of sites and situations
  • Criminal acts will be avoided if:
    • potential targets are carefully secure
    • the means to commit crime are controlled, and
    • potential offenders are carefully monitored
target specific situational crime prevention
Target SpecificSituational Crime Prevention

Five Strategies:

  • Increase the effort needed to commit a crime
  • Increase the risks of committing crime
  • Reduce the rewards of crime
  • Reduce provocation/induce guilt or shame for committing crime, and
  • Reduce excuses for committing crime
increase efforts
Increase Efforts
  • Target hardening techniques
  • Curfew laws
  • After school programs for kids
reduce rewards
Reduce Rewards
  • Reduce the value of crime to the potential criminal
        • Removable car radios
        • Marking property more difficult to sell
        • Gender-neutral phone listings to discourage obscene calls
        • Tracking systems (Lojack)
increase risk
Increase Risk


  • Crime discouragers: three categories

1. guardians: who monitor targets (store security guards)

2. handlers: who monitor potential offenders (parole officers and parents)

3. managers: who monitor places (homeowners and door way attendants)

  • Crime discouragers have different levels of responsibilities.
increase shame reduce provocation
Increase Shame/Reduce Provocation
  • Setting strict rules to embarrass offenders
  • Publishing “John lists” in newspapers
  • Caller ID displays
  • Create programs that reduce conflict
  • Early closing of bars
  • Posting guards outside of schools
remove excuses
Remove Excuses
  • Electronic flash cars’ speed rate, “I didn’t know excuse.”
  • Litter boxes, brightly displayed
situational crime prevention costs and benefits
Situational Crime Prevention: Costs and Benefits
  • Diffusion ~ when efforts to prevent one crime unintentionally prevents another crime as well in another area
  • Discouragement ~ when crime control efforts targeting a specific location help reduce crime in surrounding areas and populations
situational crime prevention costs and benefits continued
Situational Crime Prevention: Costs and Benefitscontinued
  • Displacement ~ when crime control efforts redirect offenders to alternative targets, crime not prevented but deflected and displaced
  • Extinction ~ when crime reduction programs produce a short-term positive effect, but benefits dissipate as criminals adjust to new conditions
  • Encouragement ~ when criminals increase rather than decrease the potential for crime.
        • Well-lighted areas may bring a greater number of potential victims and potential offenders in to the area
general deterrence
General Deterrence
  • A crime control policy that depends on the fear of criminal penalties, convincing the potential law violator that the pains associated with crime outweigh its benefits
  • Certainty of punishment, if probability of arrest, conviction, and sanctioning could be increased, crime rates should decline
  • The greater the severity, certainty, and speed of legal sanctions, the lower the crime rate
specific deterrence
Specific Deterrence
  • The view that criminal sanctions should be so powerful that offenders will never repeat their criminal acts
  • The idea that keeping offenders in confinement will eliminate the risk of their committing further offenses