Chapter 5: Choice Theory

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University of Toronto St. George
Woodsworth College Courses
Scot Wortley

1 Chapter 5: Choice Theory - Some criminologists: persistence is a function of personal choice - Central issue: illegal act is a matter of the individual decision making - People choose crime because it is rewarding, satisfying and fun - Desistence is a growing and intense fear of punishment The Development of Classical Theory Pg. 140 - Classical school of criminology: crime based on the rational decision making of motivated criminals - Beccaria, Bentham core concepts: - 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 shouldnt try to legislate morality - People should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, with no torture - Laws should be written out with punishment prescribed in advance - Individuals give up some of their liberty in exchange for social protection - People are motivated by pain + 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 - Peoples choices can be controlled by the fear of punishment - Severity, certainty and swiftness of punishment are more effective in controlling criminal behaviour - Beccaria: punishment must be proportional to crimes - Inspired: criminals choose to commit crime and that crime can be controlled by the judicious application of criminal punishments - Powerful influence on events in the criminal justice system - Utilitarianism: actions are evaluated by their tendency to produce advantage, pleasure and happiness and to avoid or to prevent mischief, pain evil or unhappiness - Punishment has 4 main objectives (1) to prevent all criminal offences (2) to convince the offender to commit a less serious crime when it cannot prevent a crime (3) to ensure that criminal uses no more force than is necessary (4) to prevent crime as cheaply as possible th - use of torture was largely abandoned in the 19 century - positivist criminologists focused on the internal and external factors (poverty, low IQ, poor education, inadequate home life) Choice Theory Emerges Pg. 141 - positivist criminology: crime caused by social or psychological opportunities, crime rates reduced by providing good jobs and economic opportunities - Wilson argued: efforts should be made to reduce criminal opportunity by deterring would-be offenders and incarcerating known criminals - Incapacitating criminals should not be the sole goal of the justice system - Wilson said that unless we react forcefully to crime, those sitting on the fence will get a clear message Crime pays - Political decision makers focused blame on the individual rather than social conditions Does Crime Pay Pg.142 - Rational offenders are induced to commit crime if they perceive that crime pays more than they could earn from a legit job - Crime pays if the benefits of employment are lower than the expected benefits of theft 2 - Wilson and Abrahams: sample of incarcerated inmates to determine their perceived and actual take from crime - Found that mid-rate burglars on average earn about 32 percent of what they could have earned in a legit job - High-rate burglars earn roughly what they would have earned from a job - Research shows that criminals are more prone to crime if they know someone whos committed a crime that has a big pay off - Crime profits are reduced by the costs of a criminal career: legal fees, bail bonds, the loss of family income and the psychological cost of a prison (most criminal actually earn little from crime) - Why are people committing crime with low payoff? - Criminals tend to overestimate the money they can earn - Some criminal believe they have no choice but to commit crime because legitimate work is unavailable - Criminals are most likely to be underemployed than to be unemployed - Criminals take the short term view rather than the long term The Concept of Rational Choice Pg.143 - Rational choice: law violating behavior occurs when an offender decides to commit crime after considering both personal factors and situation factors - Personal factors: need for money, revenge, thrills and entertainment - Situational factors: how well a target is protected and the efficiency of the local police force) - Decision to commit a crime is a matter of personal decision making based on weighing the available information - Another reason: Economic benefits are no longer there or that the risk of apprehension is too great Offence and Offender Specifications Pg. 144 - Offence specific crime: refers to how offenders react selectively to the characteristics of particular offences - Offender specific crimes: refers to how criminals do not usually engage in random acts of antisocial behavior - Crime is an event; criminality is a personal trait Structuring Criminality - Offenders are more likely to desist from crime if they believe that - (1) their future criminal earnings will be relatively low - (2) attractive and legal income generating opportunities are available - Fluctuations in the perceptions of risk in a persons lifetime also influence choice - Learning and experiences are important elements in the choice of crime - Agnew: people who choose crime over conformity share similar personal traits - (1) they feel as if they can do what they want to and perceive a lack of social constraints - (2) they have less self-control then other people and seem unaffected by fear of punishment - (3) they are typically under stress of facing some serious personal problems or condition that force them to choose risky behavior Structuring Crime - Decision to commit crime: (1) location, (2) target characteristics (3) techniques available for its completion Choosing the Place of Crime - Middle of long block considered to be best choice; could see everything coming toward them from both directions - Dealers often scope area before setting up shop Choosing Targets - Rational choice is also used in locating targets 3 - Some burglars avoid freestanding building, which are more easily surrounded by police - Prime time: Sunday at church, weekdays 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Learning Criminal Techniques - Criminals learn techniques that avoid detection - Personality, age, status, risk an opportunity influence the decision to become a criminal - Place, target and techniques help to structure crime Rational Choice and RoutineActivities Pg. 145 - Rational choice theory: micro perspective, maintains that a supply of motivated offenders, the absence of capable guardians and the presence of suitable targets determine crime trends - Routine activities theory: macro perspective; predicting how change in social and economic conditions influences the overall crime and victimization rates - Overlap; crime rates are a product of criminal opportunity; increase the number of guardians, decrease suitability of targets - Reduce offender population and crime rate should likewise decline - Increase opportunity and reduce guardianship and crime rates should increase Suitable Targets - Criminal choice is influenced by perception of target vulnerability - Thieves choose sites that are convenient, familiar and located in easily accessible and open areas - Criminals are unlikely to travel long distances to commit crimes and are more lily to drift toward the centre of the city - Familiarity with the area gives thieves ready knowledge of escape routes (awareness space) - The more suitable and accessible the target, the more likely that crime will occur Capable Guardians Pg. 146 - Capable guardians: deters crime because criminals tend to shy away from victims who are perceived to be arms and potentially dangerous - Predatory criminals are aware of law enforcement capability: communities that enjoy the reputation of employing aggressive crime fighting police are less likely to attract offenders - Guardianship can also involve passive or mechanical devices (security fences) - Research shown that living in a cohesive community reduces the likelihood of victimization Motivated Criminals - Motivated criminals: the potential offenders are less likely to commit crimes if they can achieve personal goals through legitimate means, so job availability reduces crime - Criminal motivation increases when the cost of living rises - Criminal motivation can be reduced if offenders perceive alternatives to crime - Tunnels career criminals said they committed crimes because they considered legitimate opportunities unavailable to people with their limited education and background - Crime became a choice when legitimate alternatives were absent Interactive Effects - Motivation, opportunity and targets are interactive - Motivated criminals will not commit crime unless they have suitable targets and the opportunity to exploit them - Presence of guardians will deter most offenders, rendering even attractive target off-limits - Environmental factors (physical layout and cultural style) may facilitate or restrict criminal opportunity - Warr: found that kids who are attached to their parents and spend their weeke
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