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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

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medieval criminal justice
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
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
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
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
Elaborations of Deterrence
  • Specific v. general
  • Punishment v. non-punishment
  • Absolute v. restrictive
  • Formal v. informal sanctions
punishment non punishment stafford and warr 1993
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 v. Restrictive Deterrence
  • Absolute deterrence
    • Abstention
  • Restrictive deterrence
    • Less frequent
    • Less severe
    • Displacement
empirical research
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
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
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
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 deterrence to rational choice
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
Rational Choice Theory
  • Crime benefits the offender
    • Crime brings pleasure
  • People’s 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 motivations for crime
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 one’s way in a dispute
  • To settle a grievance, revenge
rational choices
Rational Choices?
  • A man beats his wife during an argument
  • A father rapes his stepdaughter
  • A man drives home drunk from a bar
cheating on exams
Cheating on Exams
  • How would we control cheating using a rational choice perspective?
    • Assumptions about cheating
    • Interventions to prevent cheating
assessment of choice theory
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
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