Chapter 5: Theories of Crime Causation
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. (based
on the works of Beccaria and Bentham and other utilitarian philosophers)
Utilitarianism: a view that believes punishment of crime should be balanced and fair, and that
even criminal behaviour must be seen as purposeful and reasonable.
- According to this theory, actions are evaluated by their tendency to produce advantage,
pleasure, and happiness and to avoid or prevent mischief, pain, evil or unhappiness.
- By the end of the 19 century, the classic approach began to fade away and choice
theory began to emerge.
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.
Rational Choice Approach
- Law violating behaviours when an offender decides to commit a crime after having
considered two factors:
o Personal Factors (need for money, revenge, thrills, entertainment, etc.)
o Situational Factors (how well a target is protected, the efficiency of local police.)
- The decision to commit a crime is a matter of personal decision making, which is based
on weighing the information available.
- Sometimes, when police begin to heavily patrol one area, the adjacent area will see an
increase in crime. (crime displacement)
An effect of crime prevention efforts, in which efforts to control crime in
one area shift illegal activities to another area.
Offence and Offender Specifications (Crime is both offence and offender- specific.)
Offence-specific crime: looking at the characteristics of particular offences (for example;
burglary might involve evaluating the target’s cash yield, the availability of a getaway car, etc.)
- An illegal act committed by offenders reacting selectively to characteristics of particular
offences, assessing opportunity and guardianship; relevant to routine activities theory.
- An illegal act committed by offenders who do not usually engage in random acts of
antisocial behaviour, but who evaluates their skills at accomplishing the crime.
*** Crime is an event. Criminality is a trait ***
- Perception of economic activity can condition people to commit crime
- The decision to commit crime is structured by the choice of
2. Target characteristics
3. The techniques available for its completion
- Rational choice involves shaping criminality and structuring crime.
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. Provides a micro perspective (small-scale view of events, looking at interaction to
explain how and why things happen)
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.
Provides a macro perspective (predicting how change in social and economic
conditions influences the overall crime and victimization rate)
o Suitable Targets: criminal choice is influenced by the perception of target
o Capable Guardians: the presence of police, homeowners, neighbours, and other,
which can have a deterrent effect on crime (in routine activities theory)
o Motivated Criminals: the potential offenders in a population. According to rational
choice theory , crime rates will vary according to the number of motivated
- These are all 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 areas off-limits.
Seductions of Crime: according to Kantz, 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:
- The aim is to deny the access of motivated offenders to suitable targets
- Home security system signals guardianship; reward not worth risk apprehension
- Problems are the extinction of the effect and displacement of crime
- Defensible Space: The principles that crime prevention can be achieved through
modifying the physical environment