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Lecture 2

SOC*2700 Lecture Week 2

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University of Guelph
SOC 2700
C Yule

Tuesday, Jan 15, 2013 Classical/Rational Choice Perspectives & Deterrence Overview What are the causes of crime? - Review quiz 1 - The Rise of the Classical Perspectives - Beccaria - Bentham - Deterrence Theory - General and Specific Deterrence - Canadians views on crime are hardening, along with the Classical perspective - strong sense in Canada that severe punishment is an appropriate response The Rise of the Classical Theory: Cesar Beccaria & Jeremy Bentham (18th c.) Cesar Beccaria - at 26, wrote a very influential essay called On Crime and Punishment - identified 4 key principles about the relationship between law and society: 1. Equality - everybody should be treated equally under the law 2. Liberty - people had the right to protection from abuses of power by the state 3. Humanitarianism - punishment should be fair and humane 4. Utilitarianism - the goal for society was to produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, punishment should be useful, rather than focusing on retali- ation, punishment should be a deterrent - Beccaria credited with developing Classical Theory - all behaviour is chosen - choices are controlled by threat of punishment - criminal justice system must coincide with the cost/benefit calculation of potential offenders - for punishment to deter, it must be certain (predictable - criminal justice system should work to eliminate discretion and arbitrariness - for punishment to deter, it must be fair (proportional) What is Proportional - rank the following crimes in terms of their seriousness - assign an appropriate sentence - (1 is the worst) 1. Crime D: impaired driving causing death (maximum: life in prison) 2. Crime A: robbery of a convenience store while armed with a knife and a bat, no vio- lence used but victim was left emotionally shaken (maximum: life in prison) 3. Crime B: trafficking cocaine, half-ounce for $1000 (6 months prison & $2000 fine to maximum 2 years in prison) 4. Crime C: theft of itms from a discount department store, valuing $290.43 (maximum: life in prison) - even if we can rank the offenses, what is proportionate is difficult to determine - there was a real case in Canada of a guy who rapes his friend when she was passed out and he only got 90 days in prison - another casein Georgia of a client who was going to be executed in 10 days, wanted her to go back in history and make a point that people who do this crime don’t usually get put to death - his crime was that he was in an off-again on-again relationship and followed her to a convenience store and shot her and her niece and in the moment, took $500 from the store - it was actually the $500 that got him the death penalty, the court decided to view it as a robbery with a murder as opposed to a domestic abuse, if he had merely killed his girl- friend, he wouldn’t have received the death penalty - the point is what is a proportional sentence? - how social science research can inform what actually happens in the court Jeremy Bentham - maximize happiness, minimize pain - principle of utility/ “Greatest Happiness Principle” - criminal behaviour is influenced by the same mechanisms as other behaviour - created a theory of psychological hedonism - the pursuit of happiness, people are go- ing to pursue happiness but while doing so weighing the costs - society should evaluate behaviour on the greatest happiness for all - should only be punishing things that overall are going to hurt the society - laws should be set up so that people are convinced it is in their self-interest not to com- mit crimes - according to this view, criminal behaviour is influenced by the same mechanisms as other behaviour, which means we don’t need special criminological theories to explain crime - we are all free to choose crime as one of the many behaviours we can choose to en- gage in - the cost-benefit analysis you engage in when you decide if you want to go to class is the same analysis you engage in when you decide to rob a convenience store Classical Theories: Assumptions: - People are rational, self-interested actors (hedonistic) - People have free will (capacity to make decisions, going to pursue the most pleasure for the least pain) - Society is based on a social contract (we agree on a set of rules because we recog- nize that they benefit us even if they restrict us to some degree) - Nature of crime: acts that are harmful, acts that violate the social contract (assume that there is a general consensus in society about what behaviours are harmful) - Nature of offenders: offenders are rational decision-makers (regular people who de- cide that crime is rewarding and worth the cost, we all have the capacity to commit crime and should do so if the benefits outweigh the costs), punishment transforms be- haviour - increases costs - what do criminals look like? Are criminals compelled to crime? no - are they evil? no Classical Paradigm (late 18th c.) Rational, hedonistic actor with free will ----> Perceptions of opportunity ----> Assessment of probably risk ----> Decision to conform or offend - rapid shift to Positivism (early 19th c.) - Positivists focused much more on biological, psychological and sociological sources of crime - Classical theorists were much more focused on the crime - Positivists focused were more on the offender Re-emergence of Rational Choice Theory (1970s): Neo-Classical - Crime is a decision - utility maximization - economic theory - Cost-benefit analysis - free will choice - Crime occurs when it is more rewarding than costly - Controlled by threat of punishment (can be deterred) - Causal logic: Benefits > Costs -> Crime - all crimes are not carefully planned out - limited/bounded rationality - there is some consideration of cost and benefit but the consideration is hurried and may be based on incomplete information - rational doesn’t mean everybody is smart or well-informed, it just means they are act- ing on the basis of cost-benefit analysis - are all crimes rational? yes crimes are all rational Deterrence Theory - Hypothesis: increasing the costs of crime will reduce the likelihood that people will choose it - Elements: - certainty of punishment - severity of punishment - celerity of punishment (swiftness) - severity is the easiest one to deal with because you only have to change legislation - certainty requires a lot of resources - it is very daunting to try to get things moving faster through the criminal justice system (celerity) Types of Deterrence General Deterrence: - depends on fear of penalties - the goal is to convince potential offenders that the potential costs outweigh the poten- tial benefits - people will refrain from crime if they are afraid of being caught and punished - focused on reducing the probability of deviance among the public - when we see somebody else punished we may be deterred to avoid
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