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Unformatted text preview: Rational Choice, Deterrence, Incapacitation and Just Desert In seeking to answer the question, "Why do people engage in deviant and/or criminal acts?", many researchers, as well as the general public, have begun to focus on the element of personal choice . An understanding of personal choice is commonly based in a conception of rationality or rational choice. These conceptions are rooted in the analysis of human behavior developed by the early classical theorists , Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham. The central points of this theory are: (1) The human being is a rational actor, (2) Rationality involves an end/means calculation, (3) People (freely) choose all behavior, both conforming and deviant, based on their rational calculations, (4) The central element of calculation involves a cost benefit analysis: Pleasure versus Pain , (5) Choice, with all other conditions equal, will be directed towards the maximization of individual pleasure, (6) Choice can be controlled through the perception and understanding of the potential pain or punishment that will follow an act judged to be in violation of the social good, the social contract , (7) The state is responsible for maintaining order and preserving the common good through a system of laws (this system is the embodiment of the social contract), (8) The Swiftness, Severity, and Certainty of punishment are the key elements in understanding a law's ability to control human behavior. Classical theory, however, dominated thinking about deviance for only a short time. Positivist research on the external (social, psychological, and biological) "causes" of crime focused attention on the factors that impose upon and constrain the rational choice of individual actors. Owing to the perceived failure of rehabilitative technologies and the increase in the officially recorded crime rates during the 1970's and 1980's attention returned to an analysis of the criminal decision making process. Rational Choice Theory emerged. "According to this view, law-violating behavior should be viewed as an event that occurs when an offender decides to risk violating the law after considering his or her own personal situation (need for money, personal values, learning experiences) and situational factors (how well a target is protected, how affluent the neighborhood is, how efficient the local police happen to be). Before choosing to commit a crime, the reasoning criminal evaluates the risk of apprehension, the seriousness of the expected punishment, the value of the criminal enterprise, and his or her immediate need for criminal gain." (Siegel, p.131, 1992) This perspective shifts attention to the...
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