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Choosing Crime: Close Your Eyes and Take Your Chances

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1990
18 pages
A sample of 60 repetitive property offenders was interviewed to learn the nature and the incidence of their offending and how they incorporate the threat of punishment into the decision to commit a crime.
Previous research on the incidence of property crimes shows that a small group of repeat offenders is responsible for 60 percent of armed robberies and burglaries. Indeed, only after having served at least two prison sentences and after suffering serious extralegal consequences did the majority of offenders in this sample claim that they would desist from committing property crimes. Three themes were most common in explaining the absence of deterrent effects on these respondents' actions: (1) they believed they would not be caught for their crimes; (2) they believed that if they were caught, they would be imprisoned for a relatively short time; and (3) they considered prison to be a nonthreatening environment. The implementation of harsher penalties may be adequate to deter those populations who either do not commit crime or do so infrequently, but it appears to be dubious when applied to frequent offenders. 3 tables, 7 notes, and 53 references. (Author abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 1990