Chapter Five: Choice Theory
choice theory: the view that delinquent behaviour is a rational choice made by a
motivated offender who perceives the chances of gain as outweighing any perceived
punishment or loss.
classical criminology: the theory that people have free will, choose to commit crime for
reasons of greed or need, and can be controlled only by the fear of criminal sanctions.
Basic Concepts for Classical Criminology:
People choose all behaviour, including crime.
A violation of another person is a violation of the social contract.
Society must provide the greatest good for the greatest number.
The law shouldn’t try to legislate morality.
People should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, with no torture.
Laws should be written out with punishments prescribed in advance.
Individuals give up some of their liberty in exchange for social protection.
People are motivated by pain and pleasure.
Punishment should be limited to what is necessary to deter people from crime.
Punishment should be severe, certain, and swift.
The law must be rational, transparent, and just, or is itself a crime.
People’s choices can be controlled by the fear of punishment.
Beccaria believed that punishment should be proportional to the crimes, otherwise
people would not be deterred. He also saw people as self centered and needing to be
guided by the fear of punishment.
utalitarianism: a view that believes punishment of crime should be balanced and fair,
and that even criminal behaviour should be seen as purposeful and reasonable.
Punishment has four main objectives:
To prevent all criminal offences
To convince the offender to commit the least serious crime possible
To ensure that a criminal uses no more force than is necessary
To prevent crime as cheaply as possible
James Q. Wilson – debunked the idea that crime is caused by poverty and can be altered
by government programs. According to him, those people that are likely to commit crime
lack inhibition against misconduct, value the excitement of breaking the law, have a low
stake in conformity, and are willing to take greater chances than the average person.
Rational offenders are induced to commit crime if they perceive that crime pays more
than they could earn from a legitimate job. Stats: Low rate burglars earn 32% of what
they would at a normal job. Highrate burglars earn about the same as a normal job, but
spend more time behind bars. The idea of a “big score” is an influence in committing
crime. Crime profits are reduced by the costs of a criminal career. Criminals recognize that eventually everyone gets caught, but only view the shortterm impulse and believe
they will get away with each individual crime.
Concepts of Rational Choice
Law violating behaviour occurs when an offender decides to commit crime after
considering both personal factors and situational factors. The reasoning criminal
evaluates the risk of apprehension, the seriousness of expected punishment, the potential
value of the criminal enterprise and the need for criminal gain.
Offence and Offender Specifications
crime displacement: an effect of crime prevention efforts, in which efforts to control
crime in one area shift illegal activities to another area.
offence specific crime: an illegal act committed by offenders reaction selectively to
characteristics of particular offences, assessing opportunity and guardianship, relevant to
routine activities theory
offender specific crime: an illegal act committed by offenders who do not usually
engage in random acts of antisocial behaviour, but who evaluate their skill at
accomplishing the crime. They analyze whether they have the appropriate skills, motives,
needs, and fears. Criminal acts may be ruled out if offenders think they can reach a
desired goal through legitimate means or if they are too afraid of getting caught.
crime vs. criminality: crime is an event, criminality is a personal trait. criminals do not
commit crime all the time, and even honest citizens can violate the law.
Offenders are more likely to desist from crime if they believe that (1) their future criminal
earnings will be relatively low and (2) attractive and legal incomegenerating
opportunities are available.
The decision to commit crime is structured by: (1) choice of location (2) target
characteristics (3) the techniques available for its completion.
Rational Choice and Routine Activities
rational choice theory: the view that crime is a function of a decision making process in
which the potential offender weighs the potential costs and benefits of an illegal act.
routine activities theory: the view that crime is a normal function of routine activities of
modern living, offences occur when a suitable target is not protected by capable
guardians. suitable targets: perception of target vulnerability. (unlocked bike) capable
guardians: victims who are perceived to be armed and potentially dangerous. (to a lesser
degree, security fences or burglary alarms)
macro perspective: a large scale value that takes into account social and economic
reasons to explain how and why things happen; relevant to Marxism and functionalism.
microperspective: a small scale view of events, looking at interaction to explain how
and why things happen; relevant to interactionist studies of deviance and development. motivated criminals: crime rates correspond to the number of motivated criminals in the
population. rational offenders are less likely to commit crimes if they can achieve goals
through legitimate means. job availability reduces crime, in essence. criminal motivation
rises when the cost of living rises. can be reduced if offenders perceive alternatives to
interactive effects: motivated criminals will not commit crime unless they have suitable
targets and the opportunity to exploit them. the presence of guardians will deter most
offenders, rendering attractive targets off limits. teenage boys have the highest crime
rates, they are most likely to engage in unsupervised socializing.
mapping: crime is predictable and can be mapped as it is a rational choice.
instrumental crime: illegal activity, such as the sale of narcotics, is committed for the
purpose of obtaining desired goods that are unable to be attained through conventional
seductions of crime: According to Katz, the visceral and emotional appeal that the
situation of crime has for those who engage in illegal acts.
Crime Control Strategies Based on Rational Choice
Situational Crime Prevention:
deny the access of motivated offenders to suitable targets
home security systems signals guardianship
problems are the extinction of the effect and displacem