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Lecture 6


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CRIM 1650
James Williams

Criminology, lecture 6 Rational Choice Theories Historical Context 1 . Rational choice theories preceded biological and psychological approaches 2. Reaction against unjust, arbitrary and severe forms of punishment associated with absolute monarchies and religious rule. - in monarchies, there were sever forms of punishment, death penalty for petty crimes, the rack ? (hands and feet pulled apart) Thumb screws. 3. Foundation in two core enlightenment philosophy a) individual rights and freedoms, and importance of fairness, equality and predictability in responses to crime. - needs to be a connection between the severity of the crime and the severity of the punishment - innocent until proven guilty - more emphasis on the fairness of the process of safeguarding individual rights b) human behaviour is a product of rational choice ad calculation, rather than biological, psychological or spiritual predispositions, humans are rational and reasoning beings who strive to maximize pleasures and minimize pain. 4. Philosophy of punishment- deterrence - appropriate sentences Deterrence Theory Underlying principals 1. Criminal behaviour is a product of rational decision making process through which offenders evaluate the risks and rewards of committing a crime 2. Laws and punishments must be responsive to this decision-making process 3. The effect of punishment on criminal behaviour depends on 3 variables 1. Severity criminals do not want pain, they do not want their freedom taken away 2. Certainty more punishments put into change 3. Swiftness  the swifter the punishment is, the greater deterrence it will have, it will send a clear message that the conduct is wrong, it will help make a strong deterrent effect. You will be caught quickly. 4. There are 2 forms of deterrence 1. Specific prevent reoffending of the individual, don’t want them to commit a crime again 2. General  prevent re-offenses of the general public. People will be deterred from committing a crime due to the 3 listed above, due to their knowledge and awareness. Sending a message to society as a whole Policy Implications 1. Increase the severity, certainty and swiftness of punishment - general public supports deterrence based punishments, and severity punishments, in response to crime waves, when a particular type of crimes gets worse,( media attention, politicians and public). Limitations 1. Failure of offenders to consider or care about future punishments - punishments and jail time is something that increases criminals “status” how they look - most robbers, do little planning and rarely ever think of getting caught (limited rationality) 2. Weak empirical supports - weak correlation between the severity of punishments and the reduction rates of crimes - no credible evidence that death penalty * states or countries with death penalty do not have lower homicide rates than those who do not (Canada and us) - those who are released from death row, their likeliness of reoffending is very low (low rates) - Canada- not a significant increase in homicide after the removal of the death penalty  connection is relatively weak. Rational choice theory - not focused on punishment, making changed to the immediate context of crime, to reduce attractiveness of crime or opportunities of crime Underlying principals 1. Crimes are purposive and deliberate acts committed with the intention of benefiting the offender - many reasons 2. Key variable is opportunity - weather or not there are cameras or lighting in a certain area, features of environment will make committing crime less attractive, greater chance of getting caught, high risk, low opportunity. - objects that can be easily stole, light, available, small, valuable, size, enjoyable, easily be disposed of characteristics that would be more appealing to a thief - activities of victims can have an impact on crimes, more attractive to criminals - spending lots of time at home, less chance of sexual assault, rape 3. Offender decision making varies with the nature of the crime - motivations for a robbery differ from robbery than sexual assault, robbery- monetary gain, sexual assault- domination power - stealing a car joy ride, stripping it for parts 4. Rational choice applies to both the decision to be involved in crime ( involvement) and the decision to commit specific offences (event). - rational decision in continuing crime, quitting crime, starting a life of crime- involvement - when were to commit crime- event Benefits 1. Choice vs. determinism 2. Dynamic nature of crime - one can get into crime and chose to get out, cancels out biological and psychological theories( not predestined ) 3. Crime as normal Policy Implications 1. Situational crime prevention - techniques can vary, that are designed to reduce opportunities of crimes and the rewards of offenders. - interventions involve very specific places and points in time - more police officers - people who are out of uniform that watch in stores - neighbourhood watch programs -environmental designed - beware of dog signs Limitations 1. Presumption of rationality - individuals are thinking about crime, they are unlikely to do so in a rational way. Emotion and excitement play a larger role. - influence of arguments and fights, friends, and for fun - people are impulsive, spur of the moment, no planning what so ever - before crime committed, no
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