Deterrence/Rational Choice Theory

Deterrence or rational choice theory is a theory that tries to explain how criminal behaviors are pursued by intelligent thinking before a crime is chosen. It implies that crimes are planned for they are not spontaneous. Deterrence can be defined as prevention of certain acts, for example, crime. Basic assumptions in this theory are: most law breakers are rational thinkers; crime amount in society must be equal to the opportunities that criminals perceive; and the higher the losses and costs, the fewer criminals will engage in crime (Shover, 1996). In deterrence theory, the probability of getting caught must be related to the severity of getting punishments, and the punishment must be immediate.

However, harshness and quickness have no effect, but certainty of a punishment has an impact on crimes. This increases persistence in thieves since the theory is based on harshness and quickness of punishment which in actual sense do not work. Marginal deterrence occurs when petty offenses are subject to punishments similar to serious crimes. In these cases, criminals choose to engage in worse crimes since the punishment is the same. Actual risks are less significant in comparison to individual perception at the objective level. For example, youths are aware that lenient sanctions are imposed in juvenile courts inclusive of serious juvenile offender. 

Laws based on deterrence theory fail to turn offenders away from crime especially youth. Young people commit crimes that are not exceptionally rational. Juveniles commit crimes because of expressive reasons such as anger, thrills, and revenge. Potential consequences of crime to youths do not matter since crime to them is just a risk-taking activity, and the risks are indistinctly calculated and appreciated (Shover, 1996).

Immaturity in youth implies that they have diminished responsibilities. Their cognitive and decision making abilities are not fully developed. In addition, resistance to peer pressure in youths is extremely low. Actions taken by them represent an expression of where they fit in and their identity. Young people assess themselves against others doing a similar thing. Social comparison and social conformity to them is tremendously valuable. They need to identify themselves in a certain class or social status. Juveniles and youth most of the time do not make reasonable decisions. They are inconsistent in problem solving situations, since their ability to process information is low. They tend to be self-absorbed; and that their experiences are exceptional. Youth, on the other hand, think that things which happen to others cannot happen to them; and their impulsiveness contributes to criminal activities (Shover, 1996). 

Youths are not informed, intelligent, and calculators of the costs in crime matters, due to various reasons discussed above.  Therefore, law based on deterrence theory is not effective on them.

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