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Decisions to Participate in and Desist From Four Types of Common Delinquency: Deterrence and the Rational Choice Perspective

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1989
34 pages
Empirical tests of the deterrence doctrine have suffered from two deficiencies: (1) they have rarely been conducted within the context of a more general theory of social control, and (2) they have confounded the effects of sanction threats on different kinds of offending decisions.
In this paper, deterrence variables (perceived certainty and severity) were incorporated into a rational choice mode of common (minor) delinquent offending. The rational choice perspective presumes that crime and delinquency are the products of imperfectly informed choice and that decisions to offend are made, assessed, and remade. It was assumed here that decisions to offend and cease offending would in part be affected by the contemplation of sanction threats in addition to material, affective, and moral considerations. The data in support of the inclusion of deterrence variables in a rational choice model were equivocal. Although perceptions of certain punishment had a significant effect on the decision to commit and desist from some offenses, the observed effects were marginal and far less consequential than were the effects of social costs and other considerations. The data did indicate that certainty of punishment (but not severity) affects some offending decisions. Tables, figures, references. (Publisher's abstract)

Date Published: January 1, 1989