Rational choice theory (criminology)

Rational choice theory (criminology)

In criminology, the Rational Choice Theory adopts a Utilitarian belief that man is a reasoning actor who weighs means and ends, costs and benefits, and makes a rational choice.

In democratic countries, like that of the United States or United Kingdom, the broad appeal of both liberal and rationalist philosophies has steadily lead to the strengthening in importance of the Western Hemisphere's overall ideological premise from the point of view of defending the ideas of John Stuart Mill, the founder of Utilitarianism.

Rational Choice Theory has sprung from older and more experimental collections of hypothesis surrounding what have been essentially, the empirical findings from many scientific investigations into the workings of human nature. The conceiving and semblance of these social models which are hugely applicable to the methodology expressed through the function of microeconomics within society are also similarly placed to demonstrate that a sizable amount of data is collated using behavioural techniques which are tweaked and made adjustable in order to ensure compatibly with the spontaneous motivational drives displayed by the consumer.


The theory is related to earlier Drift Theory (Matza: 1964) where people use the techniques of neutralisation to drift in and out of delinquent behaviour, and the Systematic Crime Theory (an aspect of Social Disorganisation Theory developed by the Chicago School), where Edwin Sutherland proposed that the failure of families and extended kin groups expands the realm of relationships no longer controlled by the community, and undermines governmental controls. This leads to persistent "systematic" crime and delinquency. He also believed that such disorganisation causes and reinforces the cultural traditions and cultural conflicts that support antisocial activity. The systematic quality of the behaviour was a reference to repetitive, patterned or organised offending as opposed to random events. He depicted the law-abiding culture as dominant and more extensive than alternative criminogenic cultural views and capable of overcoming systematic crime if organised for that purpose (1939: 8). In a similar vein, Cohen and Felson (1979) developed Routine Activities Theory which focuses on the characteristics of crime rather than the characteristics of the offender. This is one of the main theories of environmental criminology as an aspect of Crime Prevention Theory. It states that for a crime to occur, three elements must be present, i.e. there must be:
*an available and suitable target;
*a motivated offender; and
*no authority figure to prevent the crime from happening.Routine Activities Theory relates the pattern of offending to the everyday patterns of social interaction. Between 1960 and 1980, women left the home to work which led to social disorganisation, i.e. the routine of leaving the home unattended and without an authority figure increased probability of criminal activity. The theory is supplemented by the crime triangle or the problem analysis triangle [http://www.popcenter.org/learning/pam/help/theory.cfm] which is used in the analysis both of a crime problem by reference to the three parameters of victim, location, and offender, and of an intervention strategy by reference to the parameters of target/victim, location and absence of a capable guardian with the latter helping to think more constructively about responses as well as analysis.

ituational crime prevention

Crime Prevention Theory, as proposed by Clarke (1995, 1997), focuses on reducing crime opportunities rather than on the characteristics of criminals or potential criminals. The strategy is to increase the associated risks and difficulties, and reduce the rewards. It asserts that crime is often committed through the accident of a practical or attractive opportunity, e.g. that a car is found unlocked or a window left open. Patterns in criminal activity are not simply based on where criminals live, but also reflect a concentration of opportunities for crime constituting "hot spots". For example, theft may concentrate on particular "hot products" and some repeat victims are more likely to experience crime than other people. Shoplifting and mugging may be endemic to identifiable locations. Hence, by using statistical data, enforcement resources can target areas, and education can reduce the number of opportunities. See crime mapping, Chainey & Ratcliffe (2005).

Rational Choice Theory

Through Rational Choice Theory, Cornish and Clarke (1986) describe crime as an event that occurs when an offender decides to risk breaking the law after considering his or her own need for money, personal values or learning experiences and how well a target is protected, how affluent the neighborhood is or how efficient the local police are. Before committing a crime, the reasoning criminal weighs the chances of getting caught, the severity of the expected penalty, the value to be gained by committing the act, and his or her immediate need for that value. Sutton describes how Clark links Crime Prevention Theory to Rational Choice Theory by his proposed set of opportunity reduction techniques. The intention is to increase the perceived effort necessary to commit a crime, or increase the perceived risks of apprehension, or reduce the anticipated rewards of a crime, or remove the excuses to compliance with the law. (Clarke, 1997: 15-25). The intention would be to design out crime, i.e. to make the disincentives to the commission of crime consistently outweigh the potential benefits. This would involve concerted efforts by the manufacturers of standard equipment prone to theft, to design in better security systems so that stolen goods cannot be used without a PIN or can be tracked. It also involves the adoption of surveillance technology to tag goods in stores electronically, install camera systems to monitor behavior, improve street lighting, have more police officers on patrol, assist householders to improve their home security, etc. A co-ordinated strategy would potentially prevent more crime and so be more cost-effective than imprisoning the few offenders that are currently apprehended. This theory is predicated on the assumption that humans have sets of hierarchically ordered preferences, or utilities. By reducing the opportunities for the commission of crimes and "target hardening", i.e. making it more difficult to break into houses or to steal from shops, and encouraging more authority figures to assume responsibility, potential offenders will be deterred. There is some criticism that better protecting one area will simply displace crime into a less well protected area but the evidence is as yet equivocal on whether displacement does occur. However, the main problem is in re-ordering political priorities away from a penal-orientated strategy towards a crime prevention strategy. At present, many states have invested heavily in the former and see no immediate need to change their policies.

Routine activity theory

See Routine activity theory

Routine activity theory is a sub-field of rational choice criminology, developed by Marcus Felson.

Routine activity theory says that crime is normal and depends on the opportunities available. If a target is not protected enough, and if the reward is worth it, crime will happen. Crime does not need hardened offenders, super-predators, convicted felons or wicked people. Crime just needs an opportunity.

The basic premise of routine activity theory is that most crimes are petty theft and unreported to the police. Crime is not spectacular nor dramatic. It is mundane and happens all the time.

Another premise is that crime is relatively unaffected by social causes such as poverty, inequality, unemployment. For instance, after World War II, the economy of Western countries was booming and the Welfare states were expanding. During that time, crime rose significantly. According to Felson and Cohen, this is because the prosperity of contemporary society offers so much opportunities of crime: there is much more to steal.

Routine activity theory is controversial among sociologists who believe in the social causes of crime. But several types of crime are very well explained by routine activity theory :
- copyright infringement related to peer-to-peer file sharing
- employee theft
- corporate crime


*Becker, Gary. (1968). "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach". "The Journal of Political Economy" 76: 169-217.
*Brantingham, Paul J. & Brantingham, Patricia L. (eds.). (1981). "Environmental Criminology". Waveland Press. ISBN 0-88133-539-8
*Chainey, Spencer & Ratcliffe, Jerry. (2005). "GIS and Crime Mapping". John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-470-86099-5
*Clarke, Ronald R. (ed.) (1997). "Situational Crime Prevention: Successful Case Studies". Second Edition. New York: Harrow and Heston. ISBN 0-911577-39-4
*Clarke, R. V. (1995), "Situational crime prevention" in "Building a Safer Society: Strategic Approaches to Crime Prevention", Michael Tonry & Farrington, David (eds.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-80824-6
*Clarke, R. V. and M. Felson (Eds.) (1993). "Routine Activity and Rational Choice. Advances in Criminological Theory, Vol 5". New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books.
*Clarke, R.V. & Eck, J (2003) Becoming a Problem-Solving Crime Analyst. Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science. London: University College London. [http://www.jdi.ucl.ac.uk/publications/manual/crime_manual_content.php]
*Cornish, Derek & Clarke, Ronald V. (1986). "Introduction" in "The Reasoning Criminal". Cornish, Derek and Ronald Clarke (eds.). New York: Springer-Verlag. pp 1-16. ISBN 3-540-96272-7
*Cohen, L. E. & Felson, M. (1979). "Social change and crime rate trends: a routine activity approach". "American Sociological Review", Vol 44, pp588-608.
*Felson, M. (1997). "Technology, business, and crime". in "Business and Crime Prevention". Felson, M. & Clarke, R. V. (eds.). Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press.
*Felson, M. (1998). "Crime and Everyday Life", Second Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
*Felson, M. & Clarke, R. V. (1998). "Opportunity Makes the Thief. Police Research Series, Paper 98". Policing and Reducing Crime Unit, Research, Development and Statistics Directorate.. London: Home Office. [www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/prgpdfs/fprs98.pdf]
*Keel, R. O. (1997). "Rational Choice and Deterrence Theory". [http://www.umsl.edu/~rkeel/200/ratchoc.html]
*Sutton, David. "Ronald V. Clark". [http://www.criminology.fsu.edu/crimtheory/clarke.htm]

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