The Rational Offender
Rational Choice Theory
Routine Activities Theory
• Classical School Criminology (1750s)
– Bentham, Beccaria as “utilitarian philosophers”
– Articulated a “general theory” of human behavior
• Rebirth of Deterrence
– Social Context of U.S. in the 1970s
– Murray, Martinson, Economists
Base Assumptions about Humans
1. Rational (cost/benefit)
3. Human behavior can be controlled through certain, swift, severe
Additional Baggage (assumptions)
• General theory (explains all crime)
• Equally feel pain
• Equally judge opportunity, pleasure
• Criminal behavior (or crime rates) vary directly with _______ of
• MICRO or MACRO?
• Specific or General
Marginal versus Absolute
• Absolute deterrence: the existence of formal punishment
• Marginal: increases in existing formal punishment reduces
General Deterrence (Macro)
• What should reduce crime rates?
– Severity of Punishment
• Death Penalty Research
– Certainty of Punishment
• Experiments in Certainty (KC patrol)
– Swiftness of Punishment?
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
– Better: what do you think the clearance rate is?
Perceptual Deterrence Research
• Initial cross sectional studies:
Perceived risk, severity SR crime
– But, what is the causal order??
– Deterrence vs. “Experiential” effect
• Manipulation of Perceived Risk
– Scared Straight
• A person who commits a crime and is punished is less likely to
commit additional crimes.
– Swift, Certain, Severe (Marginal)
• How test these propositions?
Testing Specific Deterrence
• Prison vs. Probation?
– Perhaps, “time in prison” or “type of prison”
• More realistically
– Probation vs. Intensive Probation
– Probation vs. Boot Camp
• Deals only with formal legal sanctions.
– Is this fair?
• Empirical Support?
– General Deterrence
• Micro (Perceptual)
– Specific Deterrence
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!
• 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?