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Updating the Deterrence Doctrine

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Volume: 77 Issue: 2 Dated: (Summer 1986) Pages: 418-438
Date Published
21 pages
This paper casts research findings on how the threat of punishment regulates perceptions of crime opportunities in theoretical terms, making them relevant to legal and social policymaking.
Deterrence-related research has focused on the salience of punishment certainty, severity, and celerity; the appropriate unit of analysis in deterrence research, and the role of financial gain in the deterrence calculus. While the research findings in this area represent judgments about hypothetical criminal situations or perceived probability of criminal decisionmaking, the data show how survey respondents subjectively value and disvalue the financial gain and potential punishments associated with criminal opportunities. The research suggests that threat of punishment is a central and multidimensional factor in decisionmaking. Data suggest that predatory crime control policies ought to focus on the certainty of punishment as the primary means of discouraging illicit behavior. Thus, increasing the likelihood of a criminal conviction and criminal sanction is likely to be more effective than increasing prison sentences under a deterrence-based punishment scheme. Moreover, policies must neutralize or discount the value of financial gain from crime. Blocking opportunities for crime and providing legal opportunities for financial gain should be incorporated into social programs. 61 footnotes.

Date Published: January 1, 1986