Rational Choice, Deterrence, Incapacitation And Just Desert

1677 words - 7 pages

Rational Choice, Deterrence, Incapacitation and Just Desert

In seeking to answer the question, "Why do people engage in deviant
and/or criminal acts?", many researchers, as well as the general
public, have begun to focus on the element of personal choice. An
understanding of personal choice is commonly based in a conception of
rationality or rational choice. These conceptions are rooted in the
analysis of human behavior developed by the early classical theorists,
Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham. The central points of this theory
are: (1) The human being is a rational actor, (2) Rationality involves
an end/means calculation, (3) People (freely) choose ...view middle of the document...

Rational Choice Theory emerged.

"According to this view, law-violating behavior should be viewed as an
event that occurs when an offender decides to risk violating the law
after considering his or her own personal situation (need for money,
personal values, learning experiences) and situational factors (how
well a target is protected, how affluent the neighborhood is, how
efficient the local police happen to be). Before choosing to commit a
crime, the reasoning criminal evaluates the risk of apprehension, the
seriousness of the expected punishment, the value of the criminal
enterprise, and his or her immediate need for criminal gain." (Siegel,
p.131, 1992)

This perspective shifts attention to the act of engaging in criminal
or deviant activity. The issue becomes, what can be done to make the
act of crime or deviance less attractive to the individual? How can
crime or deviant behavior be prevented? "...crime prevention or at
least crime reduction, may be achieved through policies that convince
criminals to desist from criminal activities, delay their actions, or
avoid a particular target." (Siegel, p.133, 1992). Strategies that are
relevant to this perspective include the following: target hardening
(deadbolts, self-defense skills, "the club," neighborhood watch
programs, etc.), and legal deterrents (more police, mandatory
sentencing, "three-strikes" laws, the death penalty, etc.). Research
on deterrence seems to indicate that for some crimes, instrumental
acts designed to produce economic gain and certain predatory "street
crimes", there is a significant correlation between these preventive
strategies and the reduction or deflection of criminal/deviant
activities. However, for other criminal and deviant activities, the
expressive crimes of violence and the subculturally reinforced forms
of deviance, the evidence is less conclusive.

Key concepts in understanding this perspective include:

General Deterrence: People will engage in criminal and deviant
activities if they do not fear apprehension and punishment. Norms,
laws, and enforcement are to be designed and implemented to produce
and maintain the image that "negative" and disruptive behaviors will
receive attention and punishment. Although specific individuals become
the object of enforcement activities, general deterrence theory
focuses on reducing the probability of deviance in the general
population. Examples of control activities reflecting the concerns of
this concept include: Drunk-driving crackdowns, special gang-related
crime task forces and police units, publication and highly visible
notices of laws and policies (Notice: Shoplifters will be prosecuted
to the fullest extent of the law), and the death penalty.

Specific Deterrence: General deterrence strategies focus on future
behaviors, preventing...

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