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Chapter 4

Choice Theory

The Development of Rational Choice Theory

Roots in the classical school of criminology developed by Cesare


Beccaria.
Beccaria called for fair and certain punishment to deter crime
Beccaria argued against marginal deterrence which refers petty
offenses being subjected to same punishment as more serious
crimes

The Development of Rational Choice Theory

The Classical Theory of Crime


Jeremy Bentham (1748-1833) believed people choose
actions on the basis of pleasure and avoid pain
Punishment should have four objectives:
Prevent all criminal offenses
When it cannot prevent crime, it should convince the
offender to commit a less serious offense
To ensure that a criminal uses no more force than
necessary
To prevent crime as cheaply as possible
Beccarias writings have been credited with the
elimination of torture during the 19th century

The Development of Rational Choice Theory

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The Development of Rational Choice Theory

Choice Theory Emerges


Choice theory re-emerged in the 1970s
A significant increase in the reported crime rate and the
media depictions of criminals helped to create public fear
of crime
James Q. Wilson helped debunk the positivist view that
crime was a function of external forces
Coinciding with Wilsons view was the conservative shift
in U.S. public policy, which embraced his notions
Many opponents of abortion became ardent supporters of
the death penalty and the conservative get tough
attitude prevailed despite the anguish of liberal followers

The Concepts of Rational Choice

Offense-and Offender-Specific Crime


Offense specific refers to offenders reacting selectively to the
characteristics of particular crimes (evaluating a target victim)
Offender specific refers offenders engaging in random antisocial
acts (evaluating skills, motives, needs and fear)

The Concepts of Rational Choice

Structuring Criminality
Personal factors condition people to choose criminality
such as significant financial rewards (I.E. Ivy League
Hooker)
Criminals may learn the limitations of their powers; when
to take a chance and when to be cautious
Criminals report learning techniques that help them
avoid detection (I.E. Jacobs study of crack dealers)

The Concepts of Rational Choice

Structuring Crime
Criminals carefully choose where they commit crime
Rational choice is based on:
The type of crime (professionals or generalists)
The time and place of crime (I.E. burglars)
The target of crime (I.E. corner homes)
Criminals are unlikely to travel long distances to commit
crimes and often consider the capabilities of police
before committing crime

Is Crime Rational?

Is Theft Rational?
Common theft-related crimes seem to more likely random acts of
criminal opportunity
Professional thieves may be more likely to calculate their crimes
(I.E. boosters)
Experienced burglars seem to use skill and knowledge when
choosing their targets

Is Crime Rational?

Is Drug Use Rational?


Research seems to indicate from it onset drug use is
controlled by rational decision making
Drug dealers show signs of rationality and cunning in
their daily activities (I.E. Women being drawn into drug
dealing)

Is Crime Rational?

Is Violence Rational?
Rational Robbers:
Street robbers are likely to choose victims who are
vulnerable
About three-fifths of robbers avoid victims who may
be armed and dangerous
Robbers tend to pick the time, day, and targets
carefully

Is Crime Rational?

Rational Killers:
People who carry guns do so for rational reasons
Serial murderers are the most rational of all
offenders
Serial murderers choose defenseless victims rather
than potentially powerful people
Rational Rapists:
Serial rapists show rationality in their choice of
targets

CNN Clip - Preppy Murderer Released

Eliminating Crime

Situational Crime Prevention


Situational crime prevention involves developing tactics
to reduce or eliminate a specific crime problem (i.e.
shoplifting)
Oscar Newman coined the term defensible space to
refer to the use of residential designs that reduce
criminal opportunity
Targeting Specific Crimes:
Increase the effort needed to commit crime
Increase the risks of committing crime
Reduce the rewards for committing crime
Induce guilt or shame for committing crime

Eliminating Crime

Increase Efforts
Increase the effort needed to commit crime (using
unbreakable glass)
Steering locks on cars
Locking devices to prevent drunk drivers from starting
vehicles
Curfew laws

Eliminating Crime

Reduce Rewards
Removable car radios
Gender-neutral phone listings
Tracking systems (Lojack)

Eliminating Crime

Increase Risk
Crime discouragers (Marcus Felson)
Guardians who monitor targets
Handlers who monitor potential offenders
Managers who monitor places

Table 4.1 Crime Discouragers

Eliminating Crime

Increase Guilt
Induce guilt or shame for committing crime (publishing
john lists)
Caller ID reduces obscene phone calls

Eliminating Crime

Situational Crime Prevention: Costs and Benefits


Hidden Benefits: Diffusion
Occurs when efforts to prevent one crime
unintentionally prevents another
When crime control efforts in one locale reduce crime
in other non-target areas
Discouragement:
Occurs when crime control efforts targeting a
particular locale help reduce crime in surrounding
areas and populations (I.E. SMART in Oakland, CA)

Eliminating Crime

Hidden Costs: Displacement


Crime is not prevented but simply re-directed,
deflected, or displaced to a more vulnerable area
Extinction: Phenomenon in which crime reduction
programs may produce short-term positive effects but
criminals adjust to new conditions
Dismantling of alarms
Trying new offenses previously avoided (robbery
instead of burglary)

Eliminating Crime

General Deterrence
General deterrence strategies hold that crime rates are
influenced and controlled by the threat of punishment
Factors of severity, certainty, and speed of punishment
may also influence one another
Deterrence theorists suggest certainty has more of an
impact than severity or speed

Eliminating Crime

Certainty of Punishment
Tipping point refers to the likelihood of getting caught
reaching a critical level to deter a person from crime
The likelihood of being deterred from crime has little
effect if criminal believe they have only a small chance of
suffering apprehension and punishment
Impulsive acts are indifferent to the threat of punishment

Eliminating Crime

Does Increasing Police Activity Deter Crime?


Early studies suggested increasing numbers of police has
little effect on deterring crime (I.E. Kansas City Study)
Recent research suggests presence of police does in fact
have a substantial deterrent effect
Police Crackdowns: Used to communicate the threat or
actual certainty of punishment
Police crackdowns may have a short-term deterrent
effect
Legislative Crackdowns: Lawmakers act quickly to reduce
hazardous behavior which has become the focus of public
attention (I.E. drunk driving)
Legislative crackdowns may be effective for certain
crimes (fatal crashes resulting from drunk driving)

Eliminating Crime

Severity of Punishment and Deterrence


There is little consensus that the severity of punishment
alone can reduce crime
Capital punishment does not appear to deter violent
crime
Informal Sanctions: May have a greater crime reducing
impact than the fear of formal legal punishment
Sanctions administered by significant others such as
parents, peers, neighbors, and teachers
Shame and Humiliation: Fear of shame and
embarrassment can be a powerful deterrent
Spouse abusers are more afraid of the social costs
Informal sanctions may be more effective for
instrumental crimes

Eliminating Crime

Critique of General Deterrence


Rationality: Some criminals are desperate and calculated
choices become reasonable alternatives
Need: Desperate people who are cut off from the rest of
society may not be deterred by punishment
Greed: Profits may outweigh the risks of getting caught
Severity and Speed: Only 10 percent of all serious
offenses result in apprehension

Eliminating Crime

Specific Deterrence
Sanctions so powerful than known criminals will never
repeat their criminal acts (I.E. life in prison-death
penalty)
Incarceration: about two-thirds of all convicted felons are
rearrested (recidivism)
Criminals who receive probation are less likely to
recidivate than those sent to prison

Eliminating Crime

Incapacitation
There is little evidence that incapacitating criminals
deters them from future criminality
Stable crime rates may be controlled by:
The size of the teenage population
The threat of mandatory sentences
Economy
Gun laws
The end of the crack epidemic
The implementation of aggressive policing strategies

Eliminating Crime

Can Incapacitation Reduce Crime?


Most studies have not supported that strict
incarceration will reduce crime
Steven Levitt argues that the social benefits
associated with crime reduction equal or exceed the
social costs of incarceration

Eliminating Crime

The logic behind Incarceration:


Incarceration should work since people are locked up
but it does not deter them from future offending
Exposes young offenders to greater risks
Imprisoning established offenders may open new
opportunities such as drug markets
Most young offenders are not sent to prison, which
may negate the impact of incarceration
The incapacitation strategy has resulted in an ever
expanding prison population

Eliminating Crime

Selective Incapacitation
Designed to incapacitate chronic offenders
Habitual offender laws (three-strikes)
Criminologists suggest such strategies may not work due to 1)
most three-time losers are on the verge of aging out, 2)
current sentences are already severe, 3) expanding prison
populations will drive up the costs of prison, 4) there is racial
disparity in such sentencing, 5) increased danger for police
arresting a third-time loser with nothing to lose by killing
police, and 6) the prison population already has the highest
frequency criminals

Public Policy Implications of Choice Theory

Choice theory Influences the relationship between law, punishment,


and crime.
Just Desert: Severity of punishment commensurate with the
seriousness of the crime
Those who violate others rights deserve to be punished
We should not deliberately add to human suffering;
punishment makes those punished suffer
However, punishment may prevent more misery than it inflicts
Desert theory is also concerned with the rights of the accused:
punishment should be the same for all people
The model suggests that retribution justifies punishment