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Rational Choice Theories Oct 9 2013.docx Lecture Note

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CRIM 1650
James Williams

Rational Choice Theories – Free will and free choice Historical Context 1) Rational Choice Theories Preceded Biological and Psychological approaches a. Chronologically rational theories came first and are much closer to criminology than bio and psych theories which are ‘kind of out there on their own’ b. Developed in late 1700’s and early 1800’s c. The classical school of criminology d. More sociological than biological/psychological theories. Rational Choice Theories vivid in work of criminologists  Cesare Baccarea and Jeremy Benham  Baccarea wrote a pamphlet (1754) that really came to shape the views of punishment that we still have today  1789 Principles of 2) Reaction against unjust, arbitrary and severe forms of punishment associated with absolute monarchies and religious rule. a. Death penalty for small offences such as theft b. Punishments by dunking, thumb screws - painful, capital punishment as well from petty theft c. These were forms of punishment that were related to monarchies and diff types of religious rule (there was political organization that went along with these extreme in their nature punishments) d. Cesare Baccarea and Jeremy Benham 3) Foundation in two core Enlightenment philosophies: a. Rights and Freedoms. Fairness, equality and predictability in responses to crime i. Innocent until proven guilty ii. Equality and the law iii. Due process (In arresting and court) iv. belief in individual rights and freedoms and importance of fairness and importance of fairness, equality, and predictability in responses to crime v. principles of proportionality are also taken for granted today. The principle of being innocent until proven guilty emerged fr. these philosophies. Punishment should fit the crime. b. Human behaviour is a product of rational choice and calculation, rather than biological, psychological or spiritual predispositions. Humans are rational and reasoning beings who strive to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. i. Utilitarianism* - Jeremy Benham – what drives people, maximize pleasure and minimize pain 4) Philosophy of Punishment – Deterrence theory – philosophy of punishment, how punishment influenced behaviour Deterrence Theory: Underlying Principles 1) Criminal behaviour is a product of a rational decision-making process through which offenders evaluate the risks and rewards of committing a criminal offence. 2) Laws and punishments must be responsive to this decision-making process 3) The effect of punishment on criminal behaviour depends on three variables: (1) Severity, (2) certainty, and (3) swiftness (Beyond Scared Straight) for public and youth offenders – increases offending a. Severity: Punishment (Ie life imprisonment); increasing severity and sentence time, more severe – greater deterrent effect b. Certainty: Chances of being caught convicted and punished for the crime; you can have the most severe punishment (death penalty) highly severe, highly certain punishments will have higher deterrent effect c. Swiftness: Reinforcing the wrongfulness of the act; how fast until they are punished; to have greatest effect you must come after crime quickly 4) There are two forms of deterrence: a. Specific: Geared towards the individual with the intention of preventing the form of reoffending (emphasis on individual, stop from doing something in future) b. General: Punishments designed to prevent crimes within the general population (emphasis on general at large, people will be deterred from engaging in crimes) Policy Implications: 1. Increase the severity, certainty and swiftness of punishment a. Summer of the gun: City-TV Poll – Are tougher sentences the answer to stopping gun crimes? RESULTS: Yes- 82%. No- 18% Limitations: 1) Failure of offenders to consider or care about future punishments a. If offenders aren’t aware of punishments or don’t care the deterrence theory falls apart. (Don't mind go back to prison) 2) Weak empirical support a. No credible evidence that focussing on the death penalty deters homicide i. States or countries with the death penalty do not necessarily have lower homicide rates ii. Very low recidivism rates of murderers iii. When Canada abolished death penalty in 1976, homicide rates steadily went down until today Rational Choice Theory: Underlying Principles 1) Crimes are purposive and deliberate acts committed with the intention of benefiting the offender
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