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Crime Deterrence, and Rational Choice

NCJ Number
American Sociological Review Volume: 51 Issue: 1 Dated: (February 1986) Pages: 101-119
Date Published
19 pages
This study examines the deterrence effect of formal sanctions on criminal behavior.
While most research on deterrence assumes a rational-choice model of criminal decisionmaking, few studies consider all the major elements of the model. In particular, three critical limitations characterize the empirical literature on deterrence: the failure to establish a causal ordering of sanctions and crime consistent with their temporal ordering; the focus on conventional populations and nonserious criminal acts, which are of less interest to the question of how society controls its members; and the inattention to the return or reward component of the decision-making process. To address these issues, we specify, estimate, and test a rational-choice model of crime on data that were collected on individuals, gathered within a longitudinal design, and derived from three distinct populations of persons at high risk of formal sanction. The results support the reward component of the rational-choice model, but fail to support the cost or deterrent component, as measured by perceived risks of formal sanctions. (Author abstract)

Date Published: January 1, 1986