The deterrence theory can be dated back to the early 1600’s, with combined research from Thomas Hobbes, Cesare Beccaria, and Jeremy Bentham. The information obtained by these theorists did not coincide with the current European legal practices, which stated other reasons for crime control. Deterrence is when a person fears punishment therefore they do not commit crime. Hobbes argued that punishment for a crime must be greater than the benefits of committing the crime in order for an individual to be deterred. Both Beccaria and Bentham did most of their research on pleasure and pain.

For deterrence to work, the pleasure of not committing the crime must outweigh the pain that the crime may cause. “If there was one clear principle of the classical school of criminology it was that criminal punishment should be certain, swift, and proportionately severe” (Paternoster &Bachman, 2001, p. 13-14). Of the three, certainty is the most important. The two types of deterrence are general deterrence and specific deterrence, which represents different ways people can be deterred. Deterrence is not very hard to measure but it is difficult to find reasons for deterrence.

Socio-economic status, prior convictions, and age are just a few reasons why an individual may avoid crime. Deterrence will continue to be the focus of much criminological research for years to come because deterrence has such a big impact on arrest, conviction, and death penalty rates. Research of the deterrence theory is vital to the criminal justice system and legislation for various reasons. Crime is always happening and millions of people are employed because there is crime. In every society, there is a set of rules or regulations that the population must abide by or, there will be consequences.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

Deterrence is the only way to keep people from committing crime. There will never be a zero crime rate, but it can always be reduced. Any reduction in crime is good, for any community. The deterrence theory can help law enforcement and legislators control crime. Administrators should know what deterrence is and who exactly can be deterred. From there, programs and laws should be put in place to keep those people from committing crime. Everyone is not a criminal, but those who are should be the focus of the deterrence theory. General Deterrence is defined as an objective that prevents the entire population from committing a crime.

The main focus of general deterrence is that punishment is a necessary consequence because the risk of getting punished is enough to deter someone from committing a crime. This threat of punishment is directed towards the population at large. Also just the fear of being caught can lead to a person being deterred. “Deterrence and Deterrability”, Bruce Jacobs (2010) takes a deep look into what can keep criminals from committing crime. He addresses the risk sensitivity that many potential criminals may think about before they choose to commit an illegal act (Jacobs, 2010).

Some criminals may weight out their options or think about the consequence beforehand but there is no sure way to know that every criminal has this thought process. Jacobs defines deterrence as “process by which would-be offenders calculate risks and rewards prior to offending” and deterrability is “the offender’s capacity and/or willingness to perform this calculation”(Jacobs, 2010, p. 417). Specific deterrence is defined “as the impact of the actual legal punishment on those who are apprehended”(General Deterrence vs. Specific Deterrence, 2007). Specific deterrence is focused on the experiences of actual offenders.

This type of deterrence should keep current offenders from reoffending. The criminal now understands what the future consequences may be if they decide to commit more crime. The difference between general deterrence and specific deterrence is found in the groups that are being targeted. General deterrence targets the entire population while specific deterrence targets individuals. Current criminals already know what the potential consequences of crime are, so that could deter them according to this theory. An examples of general deterrence is adding more police to the department

Deterrence may seem like a plausible theory because it begins within the individual. The choices that people make are often reactionary, which is why the deterrence theory can be so accurate but there are some flaws with this theory. Three of the biggest issues are how can it be applied, can additional law enforcement deter crime, and who is deterrable? These three issues have been researched in numerous studies and the results critical to the criminal justice system. Goldkamp (2011) hypothesized that the problem with deterrence starts with the police and court process.

Offenders are not afraid of reoffending because the court process has uncertain consequences. At any point in the process, the offender can walk free. Even though Goldkamp sees the police as one of the main problems, he does not agree with adding more police to patrol and arrest more because there is no room for more offenders in jail/prison. Goldkamp also hypothesized that severity and timeliness are vital to deterrence. The criminal justice is taken for granted by offenders; therefore they continue to reoffend with no fear of the possible consequences.

Timeliness, certainty, and even severity need to be improved. “Fugitives offer a counterweight to deterrent aims by providing negative examples to the would-be offender audience of deterrence theory because they flout judicial authority and law enforcement by ignoring court orders” (Goldkamp, 2011, p. 118-19). Goldkamp concludes that offenders are not heavily influenced by the legal system but other offenders, especially fugitives, influence them.

Programs like sex offender registries can specifically deter convicted sex offenders from committing more crime. Letourneau et al. 2010) wanted to know whether the sex offender registration and notification (SORN) in South Carolina worked to deter first time juvenile sex crime offenders. In 2006, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act enforced a law that made all juvenile sex offenders register with adult sex offenders on web-based registries for at least 25 years (Letourneau et al. , 2010, p. 554). The results clearly stated that these types of registries are deterring sex offenders from crime but it is also keeping them from living a productive life after conviction/release. Deterrence measures have been taken to see if crime rates and recidivism decreases.

Some people believe that putting more police in the streets would lower crimes rates and generate deterrence. From their research, Kleck and Barnes (2010) discovered that police presence and general deterrence were not positively correlated (2010, p. 11). Just because there are more police in the area, it does not necessarily mean that crime rates will be lower. Adding more police will increase arrest rates but not incarceration rates because there is no room for more people in majority of the jails/prisons across the country. Therefore, criminals do not see any risk when more police are present.

The risk is actually much lower because of the mentality re-offenders have. Once offenders have been released, they have the “gamblers fallacy—the notion that because they have been caught by the police, they have used up their bad luck and are bound to have lower arrest risks in the future” (Kleck and Barnes, 2010, p. 14). The certainty of punishment should lead to an increase in deterrence and adding police leads to more arrests. Jeffery and Geller have a new perspective on deterrence that focuses on perceptions of both “risks and rewards of crime” (Jeffery & Geller, 2012, p. 581).

This study disagrees with the study above because it states that deterrence is in the individual’s hands, not the police. The people make the decision to commit crime or not, regardless of police presence. Overall, the question of deterrence remains a “muddle”. The criminals are not sensitive to the fact that they may be executed. Pogarsky (2002) hypothesizes that there are three different types of offenders: conformists, deterrable, and incorrigible. All of these offenders have different perceptions on severity and certainty when it comes to punishment received from breaking the law.

Personal traits are taken into account when classifying offenders as one of the three types. Punishment severity is more of a deterrent than punishment. In the study the students were more likely to be deterred because they feared the consequences after being apprehended. Body type may not have anything to do with deterrence rates but not everyone can be deterred. Another study, held eight years later, also sought to figure out what type of person is deterrable. The question that Piquero et al. (2010) seek to answer is, are short-term high-rate (STHR) offenders different from long-term low-rate (LTLR) offenders?

Judges face this question on a daily basis when faced with two different types of criminals. One who has been constantly committing crime for the last ten years and the other who just recently started committing crime? Which offender gets the harsher sentence and will this punishment deter them from committing more crime after release? “It may be that some offenders who are STHR exhibit certain characteristics and risk factors that are not observed among LTLR offenders and that these factors relate to their criminal activity” (Piquero et al. , 2010, p. 1313).

The criminal career should predict which sanctions are best and how deterrable the criminal is. The rational choice model of deterrence does not work because it only targets a particular criminal. Criminologists tend to look at deterrence in terms of rehabilitation and finding new ways to get criminals out of the system then keep them out. Economists are more concerned with the costs of these programs and how criminals affect the money market (Bushway & Reuter, 2011). The deterrence theory has a more positive impact on deterrence effectiveness, after the arrest is made (Morris & Piquero, 2011).

This suggests that specific deterrence is more effective than general deterrence. There are more factors that play into deterrence, like self-control other behavioral characteristics. “Self-control continues to have a main effect on deviance even when controlling the morality and is not necessarily influenced by levels of morality” (Gallupe & Baron, 2010, 17). Morality is very likely to influence deviance but self-control does not affect deterrence. The future of deterrence is uncertain because the different variations of the same studies are in progress.

Deterrence can be directed to the entire population or a specific person and each has different outcomes. A career criminal will not be as easily persuaded to stop committing crime as someone who has everything to lose. When it comes down to it, the cost-benefit analysis that every person goes through is most likely what will make him or her deterrable. It does not matter who is applying the numerous deterrence methods, the police or legislators, individuals will make their own decisions. Deterrence works only because people are self-interested and rational.

People make choices for themselves not others; therefore deterrence mechanisms must affect them personally in order for them to work properly. Most studies of deterrence are based on official statistics concerning criminal behavior and official control activities. This presents a problem just as any other type of study. Some studies are self-report and this lack accuracy and validity. Past, current, and future deterrence theory research is all the same because society and the criminal justice system have not changed much. Crime rates are still high and recidivism rates are too.

As long as people continue to commit crime and regulations are made to prevent them from doing so, the deterrence theory will continue to be relevant.


Bushway, S. , & Reuter, P. (2011). Deterrence, Economics, and the Context of Drug Markets. Criminology and Public Policy, 10(1), 183-194. Gallupe, O. , & Baron, S. (2010). Morality, Self-Control, Deterrence, and Drug Use: Street Youths and Situational Action Theory. Crime & Delinquency, 0(0), 1-22 General deterrence vs. specific deterrence. (n. d. ). Eurpoean Road Safety Obervatory.

Retrieved December 1, 2012, from ec. europa. eu/transport/wcm/road_safety/erso/knowledge/Content/21_speed_enforcement/general_deterrence_vs_specific_deterrence. htm Goldkamp, J. (2011). Optimistic deterrence theorizing. Criminology and Public Policy, 10(1), 115-122. Greg Pogarsky (2002): Identifying “deterrable” offenders: Implications for research on deterrence, Justice Quarterly, 19:3, 431-452 Jacobs, B. (2010). Deterrence And Deterrability. Criminology, 48(2), 417-441. Jeffery, F. , & Amanda, G. (2012). The Texas Deterrence Muddle.

Criminology and Public Policy, 11(3), 579-591. Kleck, G. , & Barnes, J. (2010). Do More Police Lead to More Crime Deterrence?. Crime & Delinquency, 1, 1-24. Letourneau, E. , Bandyopadhyay, D. , & Armstrong, K. (2010). Do Sex Offender Registration And Notification Requirements Deter Juvenile Sex Crimes?. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 37(5), 553-569. Morris, R. , & Piquero, A. (2011). For Whom Do Sanctions Deter and Label?. Justice Quarterly, 0(0), 1-32. Paternoster, R. , & Bachman, R. (2001). Explaining criminals and crime: essays in contemporary


I'm Niki!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out