Deterrence Theory

1) Deterrence theory refers to the idea of using the threat of punishment to prevent people from engaging in criminal activities. As such, deterrence theory is a crime control model. Severe punishments may be established as a way of rendering fear among the offenders. This way, it is proposed that those who want to commit crimes in the future will be afraid and restrain themselves, thus making society safer (Quackenbush, 2019). Also, individuals within a society would feel free knowing that offenders will be afraid to do anything that will hurt the society or that is a direct breaking of the law. The justice system is being positioned as the prosecutor, with an assembly line being involved in the whole process of delivering justice (Quackenbush, 2019). Such an assembly line would consist of the law enforcement officers being involved in apprehending the offender, the trying and delivering of a verdict by the Court, appropriate punishment being determined, and lastly, there would be the correctional facilities being involved in delivering the actual punishments.

Deterrence theory necessitates offenders to balance the benefits and costs of crime because the criminal punishment institutions are regarded as morally justified through their means of deterring crime. For instance, under the crime control model, the law enforcement officers, particularly the police, would not have to worry much about evidence collection processes, although there might be involvement of investigators who will search for a criminal and even make an arrest (Zagare, 2019). The slightest indication or proof that a certain person is the one responsible for a crime, as long as they can be identified, even though such means as a surveillance camera, will render such suspects at the hands of the law enforcement officers (Quackenbush, 2019). The crime control model proposes that in such an instance, there shouldn’t be a reason to waste time trying to expand on the evidence because there is already slight proof that this individual in question is the one who committed a certain crime. Therefore, justice would be delivered immediately without a need to involve due process rights, and the whole incidence would be considered as a slam dank (Zagare, 2019). Here, time is effectively used in that justice is immediately delivered. It would also be held that such legal technicalities as the need to give the police warrant to search the suspect’s home are only a mere way of delaying the justice and, as such, a way of encouraging more crimes to be committed.

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2) Deterrence theory argues that criminal penalties and the severity, certainty, and celerity of said penalties will deter crime and keep individuals from re-offending. “According to classical theory, people are rational and concerned with minimizing their pain and maximizing their pleasure. Their ef-forts to do so often lead them to engage in crime, unless they are deterred by the threat of punishment” (CAW 26). According to the 18th century philosophers Becarria and Bentham, criminal penalties must be based off of the proportionality of the crime, the severity, and the celerity (ASJ 15).

Modern Deterrence Theory arises from Classical Theory with several of the same concepts from Classical Theory being used: “The principles of certainty, severity, and celerity of punishment; proportionality; and specific and general deterrence remain at the heart of modern deterrence theory” (ASJ 16). Modern Deterrence Theory focuses on Specific Deterrence (the direct experiences of experiencing criminal penalties by an individual) and General Deterrence (the indirect experiences of suffering criminal penalties by the general public). According to Stafford and Warr, a reconceptualization could also throw in the concepts of direct and indirect punishment avoidance into the equation in determining deterrence (CAW 370).

Does Deterrence Theory work? Many could argue that we have based our entire Criminal Justice System on this theory, as “The most common policy reaction to crime problems is to call for increased penalties, more severe sentences, additions to the police force so more arrests can be made, and the increased certainty of conviction and sentencing.” (ASJ 17).

According to a recent study of deterrence theory in the United Kingdom, researchers studied 41 police districts in England and Wales from 1994-2008. The authors, Abramovaite, Bandyopadhyay, Bhattacharya, and Cowen (2022) studied the effects of celerity, certainty and severity of punishments on the various criminal offenses of theft, burglary and a general category of violence. The authors measured severity by the length of the sentence, certainty by the arrest and detection rates, and celerity by the average time passed between the offense being committed and conviction. The authors found that “the three factors affect crime in different ways. Increased detection by the police (certainty) is associated with reduced theft and burglary but not violence. We find that variation in the celerity of sanction has a significant impact on theft offences but not on burglary or violence offences. Increased average prison sentences (severity) reduce burglary only. We account for these results in terms of data challenges and the likely different motivations underlying violent and acquisitive crime.” (Abramovaite, Bandyopadhyay, Bhattacharya, and Cowen 2022).

Interestingly, the authors noted that none of the measures used (severity, celerity or certainty) had any significant impact on violent offenses.

Accordingly, from this research and study, one could argue that the Deterrence Theory does have some value in regards to reducing and deterring certain types of crime with various facets of Deterrence theory affecting different crimes in different manners.

 

3) Deterrence theory makes a lot of sense when you think about the premise; threat of punishment deters crime. To me this is as close a theory as you can get. I do not want to be imprisoned, or pay fines, or anything that involves punishment. I do not want people to think I am a criminal either, but that sounds more like labeling theory and we have not got there yet. Plus, I do not want to commit crimes, but if I did, I probably would not because I do not want to go to jail. So, what I am saying is that deterrence theory sounds pretty solid, this is probably why we talk about it early and with classical criminology. However, in the reading from our text, deterrence (specific and general) talks about the general public (people who are not committing crimes) and criminals. I have not seen much on deterrence as applied to law enforcement personnel.

I was thinking about what to write about in this discussion board (wanting to do deterrence theory) and I could hear my wife transcribing a deposition from her office; my wife is a stenographer. The case is about a woman who is accusing a police officer of harassment. She claims that he has pulled her over several times when she has done nothing wrong and then he verbally abuses her. She sounds unstable and he sounds very professional. I ask my wife if he wears a camera, if he does, then this is easy to prove or disprove. Body cameras are somewhat new and are worn to protect citizens and police. The department this officer works from is small and poorly funded and therefore does not issue body cameras.

Searching the database, I found an article about a study that was done in Denver in 2016. There was evidence that arrest rates drop about 18% when officers have Body Worn Cameras (BWCs). In the article, the author, Ariel (2016) tells us “With the introduction of BWCs, officers became “cautious” about arresting suspects, as their decision can more easily be criticized”. I am not staying that BWCs are going to stop all police misconduct. However, there may be a deterrence factor to stop an officer from possibly abusing their authority if they know that they are being recorded. There are several videos online of police behaving badly that have been recorded on dash cameras. This is directly related to certainty of punishment as proposed in deterrence theory.

In our text, we are told by Akers (2021) that “Certainty of punishment refers to the probability of apprehension and punishment for a crime” (pg. 16), it is hard to argue with a video of you doing something wrong. I am sure that even the most professional of police officers are more mindful of what they do when they are wearing BWCs. On the other side of this, I would not want a police officer to not do their job or hesitate and get hurt because they are wearing a camera and are worried about a complaint.

The deterrence factor of BWCs could also change a person’s behavior when the police arrive. What I mean is, arrest rates when BWCs are present could decrease because people know that they are being recorded and could cooperate with police instead of escalating the situation causing the officers to use discretion and not make an arrest. Ariel (2016) is cautious to make a determination when she writes “While there seems to be great promise that BWCs can have a “cooling off effect” on police-public engagements–owed specifically to deterrence theory–more research is needed” This article seemed relevant to the discussion because BWCs are a new factor that may lend support to deterrence theory.

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