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Week 3: Social Control as Deterrence
Horney Risk Perception Among Serious Offenders - the Role of Crime and
-Previous research on the perceived certainty of punishment indicates that individuals with
experience in committing crimes perceive arrest as less certain than do those without such
-Most studies however, have not considered the experience of sanctions in conjunction with the
frequency of criminal behavior. With a sample of 1,046 incarcerated felons, we examined
relationships among perceived risk of arrest, arrest history, and frequency of committing crimes.
-Numerous studies have found that individuals with experience in commit- ting an offense have lower
estimates of the risk of punishment than those with no such experience (Claster, 1967; Jensen,
1969; Jensen et al., 1978; Teevan,1976; Tittle, 1977; Waldo and Chiricos, 1972).
-This negative correlation has been viewed traditionally as evidence for a deterrent effect; that is,
people who have higher estimates of risk are less likely to commit crimes.
-The risk estimates were thus seen as a reflection of the delinquents’ distorted self-perception a
“delusion of arrest immunity.”
-Since most deviance actually goes unpunished, many rule-breakers find that their initial fear of
sanctions was unrealistic.
-These more recent interpretations suggest that the development of risk perceptions reflects a rational
process rather than a delusional or irrational one. Viewing offenders as reasoning decision makers
is a basic tenet of rational choice theory (Cornish and Clarke, 1986:13). (theory: implies that
individuals have a realistic perception of both the probability of being sanctioned and of the
severity of the sanction)
-If the formation of risk perception is indeed a rational process, it is reasonable to argue that a major
determinant of risk perception would be an individual’s experience with crime and punishment.
-important to consider not only whether individuals have engaged in criminal behavior, but also
whether they have experienced formal sanctions as a result of that behavior.
THE ROLE OF FORMAL SANCTIONS
-Cohen (1978) predicted that speeding violators who avoided detection would perceive punishment
as less certain than would those who had received citations. Cohen suggested that since so many
people violate speeding laws without being cited, violators who are cited may assume that their
citation was the result of a random process and that they are no more likely than anyone else to be
detected in the future.
-Richards and Tittle (1981, 1982), in a survey of the population aged 15 and over in three states,
found no significant relationship between arrest experience and estimates of chances of arrest for
minor theft, major theft, marijuana use, illegal gambling, assault, and tax fraud.
-Piliavin et al. (1986) tested a rational choice model of crime using longitudinal data collected from
three different samples of individuals with high risk of being sanctioned.
- Several problems with the previous research may have produced misleading results on the impact of
sanctions on perceptions of arrest probability and prevented an effective test of rational choice theory.
1. The experience of formal sanctions is extremely limited.
2. Some studies have used very general measures of formal sanctions.