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Crime Deterrence, and Rational Choice

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1986
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