Rationality and Choice

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					        Morality and Crime

Rationality and Choice
Cornish and Clarke (1987):
Rational Choice theory
                 Offenders    seek to
                  benefit themselves by
                  criminal behaviours:
                 Doing so involves
                  making decisions and
                  choices,      however
                  rudimentary      these
                  might be.
Cornish and Clarke (1987):
Rational Choice theory
 The decision-making process is constrained
  by the time available (many criminal
  opportunities have a limited life-span).
 By the availability of relevant information
  (frequently this will be incomplete) and by
  the offender‟s own cognitive abilities
  (related, presumably, to verbal IQ).
 It follows that rationality will be limited,
  rather than complete.
Cornish and Clarke (1987):
Rational Choice theory
 Both the decision-making process and the factors
  taken into account by offenders vary greatly at
  different stages of decision-making and between
  different crimes (and presumably
 Also between different offenders within crimes;
  there are marked differences in success-rates, with
  planning ahead being a key feature of the more
  successful offenders).
Cornish and Clarke (1987):
Rational Choice theory
 Cornish and Clarke (1987) argue the need to
 (a) crime-specific when analysing criminal
 (b) to treat decisions as relating to varying
  stages of the involvement of an offender in
  a particular crime.
Cornish and Clarke (1987):
Rational Choice theory
 The following is a list of choice structuring
   properties for crimes involving cash (i.e., money
   rather than goods, from bank robbery to
   computer fraud, Cornish and Clarke 1987).
  1.   Availability (number of targets, accessibility)
  2.   Awareness of method (i.e., technical know how).
  3.   Likely cash yield per crime.
  4.   Expertise needed.
  5.   Planning necessary.
6. Resources required.
7.  Solo versus assistance required.
8.  Time required to commit.
9.  Cool nerves required.
10. Risk of apprehension.
11. Severity of punishment (if caught).
12. Instrumental violence required.
13. Confrontation with victim.
14. Identifiable victim.
15. Social cachet [in the criminal world] (safebreaking
    versus mugging).
16. Fencing accessories (getting rid of any goods stolen).
17. Moral evaluation.
Cornish and Clarke (1987):
Rational Choice theory
 Their work is supplemented and illustrated by a
  report by Walsh (1980), based on interviews with
  45 men in British prisons who had been
  convicted of burglary.
 Their ideal target was a business firm rather than
  a private house (more to be stolen) and, while
  half used information, the other half burgled on
  impulse (presumably, the latter were more likely
  to be caught and hence were more available for
 There    was much fear concerning being
  interrupted during a burglary, with the
  consequent possibility of violence and, hence, of
  a more severe sentence if arrested.
 They found it easier to justify to themselves a
  business than a household target (particularly if
  the latter were “ordinary”), adding to their
  preference for the former.
 They saw themselves as desisting with
  increasing age (the risks of capture increased,
  sentences stiffened and the risk/return balance
  generally less favourable).
Deterrence Hypothesis
 Crime is due to a lack of general deterrence (that
  is, the threat of punishment) or specific deterrence
  (that is, the actual punishment of future
 So a calculation is made by the criminal of
  subjective benefits against the costs of deterrence
  before a crime is committed.
 This simple equation is probably more applicable
  to instrumental crimes' (with material benefits,
  like robbery), than „expressive crimes' (like sexual
  offences which seek non-material needs)
  (Blackburn, 1993).
Perception of risk
 Rettig and colleagues (e.g., Rettig 1966, Rettig
  and Turroff 1967) gave students a hypothetical
  criminal opportunity in which several potential
  determinants of a decision to steal were
  systematically and simultaneously varied.
 The greatest effect was exerted by the amount of
  punishment involved — this exceeded both the
  probability of detection and the incentive present.
Problems with rational choice theory
 Does not explain impulsive crimes
 Offenders at different stages of their criminal
  career will judge crime opportunities differently.
 Carroll and Weaver (1986) found that when they
  analysed offenders‟ verbalised thoughts during
  crime simulations, experienced shoplifters were
  adept at evaluating opportunities for offending but
  used the information selectively, while novice
  shoplifters focused on the major question of
  whether to offend at all.
 Their cognitive processes were thus utilised quite
  differently, and the concepts of rationality and
  choice were shown to be problematic.
 Problems with rational choice theory
 Research is based on simulations which are
  very different from real crimes and real
  decision making.
 Less variables have to be considered.
 How the problem is framed may affect the
  decision making.
 Often student samples
 Experimental method
The End