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The Rational Offender. The “Classical School” Deterrence Theory Rational Choice Theory Routine Activities Theory. Social Context of the “Classical” School. Prior to the 1700s “The devil made me do it” Punishments/justice system? . Social Context II.

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The Rational Offender

The “Classical School”

Deterrence Theory

Rational Choice Theory

Routine Activities Theory

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Social Context of the “Classical” School

  • Prior to the 1700s

    • “The devil made me do it”

  • Punishments/justice system?

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Social Context II

  • Classical School Criminology (1700s-1800s)

    • Bentham, Beccaria, others rail against an “inhumane” justice system

  • Along the way, they articule a “general theory” of human behavior

    • Borrow heavily from Thomas Hobbes

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  • An Essay on Crimes and Punishment (1764)

    • On the origin of punishment (Hobbes)

      • What is the nature of human beings?

      • “War of all against all”

    • What should be done to the system of laws?

      • Interpretation of Laws

      • Obscurity of Laws

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Beccaria II

  • What is the purpose of punishment?

    • “Prevent the criminal from doing further injury to society, and to prevent others from committing the like offense.”

  • Necessary conditions for this?

    • Proportion between crimes and punishment

    • Advantage of immediate punishment

    • Certainty more important than severity

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The Classical School Fades

  • By the early 1900s, most dismissed this as a valid theory of criminal behavior

  • What emerged is called the “Positive school”

    • Changes in legal system didn’t lower crime rates

    • “Armchair theorizing” questioned

    • Humans as “determined” rather than “rational”

  • From early 1900s until the 1970s, the positive school was unchallenged

    • Sociology was dominant force (search for root cause)

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Rebirth of Deterrence

  • Social Context of U.S. in the 1970s

  • James Q Wilson, Thinking About Crime

    • There are no “root causes of crime”

  • Martinson

    • “Nothing Works” in rehabilitation

  • Murray

    • “Punishment Programs” rather than rehab programs

  • Economists enter Criminology

    • Becker’s “Rational Choice” article

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Current Neo-classical Theories

  • Deterrence theory

    • Swift, certain, severe punishment reduces crime

    • Focus on formal punishment

  • Rational Choice theory

    • Focus on how rational offender is

    • The “flip-side” of deterrence

  • Routine activity theory

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Deterrence Theory Assumptions

1. Humans are Rational (cost/benefit)

2. Humans are self-interested and hedonistic

3. Human behavior can be controlled through certain, swift, severe punishment

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Deterrence Theory

  • Criminal behavior (or crime rates) vary directly with _______ of FORMAL punishment.

    • Certainty

    • Severity

    • Swiftness


  • Specific or General

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Marginal versus Absolute

  • Absolute deterrence: the existence of formal punishment reduces crime

  • Marginal: increases in existing formal punishment reduces crime further

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General Deterrence (Macro)

  • What should reduce crime rates?

  • Evidence:

    • Severity of Punishment

      • Death Penalty Research

    • Certainty of Punishment

      • Experiments in Certainty (KC patrol)

    • Swiftness of Punishment?

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General Deterrence Micro Level

  • An individuals perceptions of _______ influence their decision to commit crimes.

    • “Perceptual Deterrence”

  • Criticism of “objective” = do people really know the clearance rate?

    • Better: what do you think the clearance rate is?

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Perceptual Deterrence Research

  • Initial cross sectional studies:

    Perceived risk, severity SR crime

    • But, what is the causal order??

    • “Experiential” effect

      SR crime perceptions or certainty/risk

  • Manipulation of Perceived Risk

    • Scared Straight

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Specific Deterrence

  • A person who commits a crime and is punished is less likely to commit additional crimes.

    • Swift, Certain, Severe (Marginal)

  • How test these propositions?

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Testing Specific Deterrence

  • Prison vs. Probation?

    • Perhaps, “time in prison” or “type of prison”

  • More realistically

    • Probation vs. Intensive Probation

    • Probation vs. Boot Camp

    • Sherriff Joe’s pink underwear tent camp study

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Larry Sherman’s Domestic Violence Experiments

  • Random assignment of police response to D.V.

    • Counsel

    • Separate

    • Arrest

  • Minneapolis results = very positive (arrest decreases crime)

    • Leads to “Mandatory Arrest”

    • BUT….

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Sherman Experiments II

  • Replication in Milwaukee

    • Arrest increases future D.V.

    • Re-analysis of data—different effects depending upon whether individuals were employed

    • Similar results from other D.V. experiments

      • WHY? Formal Sanctions may “Activate” Informal Sanctions (fear of job loss, fear of disapproval)

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Deterrence Review:

  • Deals only with formal legal sanctions.

    • Is this fair?

    • Classical school roots, policy implications

  • Empirical Support?

    • General Deterrence

      • Macro

      • Micro (Perceptual)

    • Specific Deterrence

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Why little support for deterrence?

  • We can’t get certain, severe, swift enough

  • The theory is based on bad assumptions

    • How rational are we?

    • Equality of opportunity, pleasure, pain?

  • “Marginal” deterrence

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  • General Deterrence: certain, swift, and severe punishment reduces crime rates, or the probability that an individual will offend

  • Specific Deterrence: CS&S punishment reduces recidivism

  • Can’t/Won’t make sentences swift, certain, and severe enough?

    • Incapacitate