Crime is one of the greatest challenges the world is experiencing today. Crime rates have continually shot up at the same time taking new dimensions. People faced by the challenges of accomplishing their responsibilities under various economies, environmental situations and mental psychology often end up in committing crime. The society in response to this has stipulated several lawful mechanisms to arrest the situation, punishment being the utmost resolved means. Punishing the criminals without identifying the root cause of the crime does not necessary solve the vice, more approach is directed towards establishment of the ‘why’ question the individual ended in committing crime. Societies have therefore formulated various criminological theories intended to gauge crime and criminals in passing out sound judgments. Each theory is applied in accordance to its relevance to a particular case since different criminological theories base their arguments on a different societal set up and varied environmental/social conditions. This paper examines the application of classical choice theories in crime prevention.
Classical choice theory dates back the 18th century and probably forms the bases of other theories too. This school of thought find it context by basing an argument that people are at liberty in decision making and therefore will behave in a manner that best suits their desires (Ambroise, 2006). The theory attributes that crime can be curbed to greater extent if there is a mobilization in societies to avert from getting influenced by their desires and pleasures in taking an action course. Crime can be contained by ensuring that punishment outweighs the pleasures derived from the crime committed (Siegel, 2008). This concept therefore, is a framework that tries to understand the behavior of people, the reasons that drives them in committing crime and various approaches to prevent a person in making choices that leads to crime.
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This theory was first developed in the 18th century by European philosophers who were criticizing the corrupt and authoritative arbitrary nature of their legal system. The ideas about people and the criminal behavior in determining crime came up when these philosophers were changing the legal system thus referring it as choice theory. On the other hand classical theory is based on arguments that the law should not be discriminative and should be applied equally amongst all (Cullen & Agnew, 2006).
The other aspect of the classical and choices theory is ground to the fact that human beings have the capacity to control these choices. The fear to the confrontation of the consequences resulting from their behaviors governs their mode of conduct and therefore refrains from criminal activities. “Human beings have the ability to analyze situations with regard to their positive outcomes and their potential negatives. If the risks involved in engaging in certain behavior are much less than the benefits, then an individual is likely to commit that crime”(Siegel, 2004).
According to the philosophers, people act in a rational manner and choose towards their actions that gives them the greatest pleasure and least pain. The concept is equally applicable to the individuals who are involved in criminal activity. The classical theory holds that “Delinquent behavior is a rational choice made by a motivated offender who perceives the chances of gain outweighs any perceived punishment or loss” (Siegel & Senna, 2004, p. 61). It is therefore an individual’s choice to commit a crime after considerations of the benefits and possible consequences outcome. The characteristics traits of the offender, nature of the offence, specific factors and situation may affect his/her decision to a point. Psychological state of an individual in relation to emotions, strain and other external pressures is thus considered a contributory factor towards an individual committing a crime (Verma, 2007, p. 2020).
The theory advocates that an individual is encouraged to commit a crime on opportunity availability. The classical theory helps to understand demographics, victimization and lifestyle of a process whereby the offender and the victim come into contact with one another. Researchers have identified aspects like being unmarried, male, leading an active lifestyle and frequenting bars can raise the risk of crime committing (Verma, 2007, p. 2020).
People can opt to use illegal means in acquiring what they want to achieve if the consequences are not severe compared to the benefits associated with the crime. The society has to ensure that punishments accorded to criminals are severe if it is to achieve tangible results in trying to discourage criminal activities (Adler, Mueller, & Laufer, 2004, p. 59). In relation to this, penalties for committing criminal acts must be known to the public, the punishment handed down must be swift and certain (Cullen & Agnew, 2006).
In the early 1700s, the Europe legal system was in disarray. The laws were open to interpretation and vague where the judges were accorded with a lot of power which they misused in interpreting laws to suit their interests. A penalty for a particular crime varied depending on who was at the receiving end. Equality in law application did not apply: Some criminals could go unpunished for a crime committed while others received a life sentence for the same (Cullen & Agnew 2006). It had become the order of the day for the societies in the upper class bribing the judges to go free for offences committed while the poor with no resources to bribe their way out received unconditional harsh punishments. Petty offences like theft resulted to stiff punishments amounting to torture, life imprisonment or murder (Cullen & Agnew, 2006).
These legal shortcomings fueled a new wave targeting radical reforms in the mid 18th century. In the year the year 1740, Fredric II of Prussia terminated torture to inmates and death sentence for burglary offences in the year 1743 (Ambroise, 2006), a move that was welcomed by many European philosophers. Hobbes, a philosopher believed that people naturally pursue their own interest and in the course harm one another. Further, he asserted that rational individuals give up some freedom to the state willingly so that laws could be established which placed limits in order to prevent this harm from occurring (Cullen & Agnew, 2006): A philosophical thought that led changes to criminal justice.
Many criminology experts have contributed towards development of the classical and choice theories to make stand relevant to the ever-growing challenges surrounding the field. Much debate has rested on the measure of punishment a particular offence should hold. “The purpose of punishment is crime deterrence, not social revenge. Certainty and swiftness rather than severity in punishment best secures this goal (Clear & Cole, 2003, p. 33). The level scale of punishment should correspond to the nature of crime, in a proportionate system. This is because criminals are rational in the sense that they calculate the benefits and costs a behavior before action before deciding the action. The notion of Beccaria’s proportionate punishment is based upon this assumption and indeed this forms the basis of our current criminal justice system (Verma, 2007, p. 202).
Classical choice theory emphasizes on the utilization of the resources available to reduce possible crime occurrence by advocating direct solutions to the problem arising from crimes. The verdict applied to the offender is meant to discourage further engagement in similar or associated crimes. By upsetting the balance between the benefits vs. costs, crime occurrence is found to reduce (Campie, 2003).
Classical and choice theory application to crime
This theory finds application up to date. The current approach is more focused on crime prevention. Policy makers still develop more approaches particularly those that have grounds with evidence and are results based which includes: policing initiatives, gun control tactics, increased incarceration and youth substance abuse and violence reduction strategies (Schuck, 2005, pp. 448-49).The following are some examples where this theory finds application.
In an article entitled “Giving students what they need,” internal and external motivation approaches in the classroom are examined. Student motivation is one of the input most needed for success. Educators wish for their students to be motivated since motivated students perform better. Failure to this, students will possibly do poor work or no work at all, learn little, and frequently show reckless or unruly behaviors. There are two types of motivation-external and internal. “External motivation, the proverbial carrot, and stick approach predominates not only in most classrooms but also in the world” (Erwin, 2003, p. 20). Nonetheless, this approach is not as successful as internal motivation since it encourages students to work hard only for rewards. The promised reward has to increase once a behavior is achieved. Students do not fight to excel for the right reasons.
Internal motivation is a wiser choice for educators to use with students since it helps to fulfill some of the students’ basic needs. Choice theory by William Glasser explores internal motivation and its impact on relationships. “According to Choice Theory, five basic needs constitute the source of internal motivation and guide all behavior” (Erwin, 2003, p. 21).
Survival is one of the basic needs that our students need to have met. The importance of having the survival need fulfilled is that it allows individuals to feel a sense of order and security. Educators can help fulfill this need in the classroom by developing structured and consistent classroom procedures, allowing students to have snacks and drinks, and creating rules that allow a safe and respected environment (Erwin, 2003, p. 21).
Choice theories are among the fastest growing theories in social science today. Many sociologists and political scientists defend the claim that rational choice theory can provide the basis for a unified and comprehensive theory of social behavior. Rational choice theory is distinguished from other theories because it emphasise on the fact all actions are calculative and rational. All social action can be seen as rationally motivated, as instrumental action, however much of it may appear to be irrational or non-rational. Choice Theory would be most beneficial in the reduction or control of crime.
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According to the Choice Theory, law-violating behavior should be viewed as an event that occurs when an offender decides to risk violating the law after considering his or her own personal situation (need for money, personal values, learning experiences) and the subsequent consequences. Other factors a potential criminal would consider includes: how well a target is protected, how affluent the neighborhood is and how efficient the local police happen to be. Before choosing to commit a crime, the reasoning criminal evaluates the risk of apprehension, the seriousness of the expected punishment, the value of the criminal enterprise, and his or her immediate need for criminal gain (Erwin, 2003).
The Choice Theory shift attention to deviant activity or the act of engaging in criminal. The issue becomes, what can be done to make the act of crime or deviance less attractive to an individual, and how can crime or deviant behavior be prevented? The theory claims that crime prevention or at least crime reduction may be achieved through policies that convince criminals to disengage from criminal activities, delay their actions, or avoid a particular target. Strategies that are relevant to this perspective includes: target hardening, deadbolts, self-defense skills, neighborhood and watching programs that are illegal (Siegel, 2008).
The theory is among the least complicated explanations for any action and involves a simple cost-benefit analysis. A violent individual gains some benefit from either threatening violence or acting out violently. If he or she does not receive, or fear receiving, some significant punishment, then he or she is more likely to act on his or her drive to act out in a violent manner (Ferguson, 2009).
Crime is seductive and opens the door of opportunity. People may rationally choose crime because it provides them with psychological and social benefits and can help them solve problems. Choice Theory roots are based on the classical school of criminology, by Ceasare Beccaria, who viewed that crime is rational and can be prevented by punishment that is swift, certain and severe enough to deter crime. This has lead to a more contemporary version of classical theory, based on intelligent thought processes and criminal decision-making; today this is referred to as the rational choice approach to crime causation (Siegel, 2007).
This theoretical perspective suggests that: people have free will to choose criminal or conventional behaviors; people choose to commit crime for reasons of greed or personal need; and crime can be controlled only by the fear of criminal sanctions (Siegel, 2007).
Offenders choose crime after considering both personal-money, revenge, thrills, entertainment-and situational factors, such as target availability, security measures and police presence (Siegel, 2007).
The choice theorists view crime as offense- and offender-specific; and that a number of personal factors condition people to choose crime; and the decision to commit crime regardless of its substance, is structured by where it occurs and the circumstances revolving the offender and the environment (Siegel, 2007).
New and tougher laws are now being put in place to bring the crime rate down. With this reflection, the U.S public policy of 1980 created a mandatory prison sentences for drug offenders. Surprisingly, the prisons’ population swelled up with minors constituting a considerable figure (Schmallager, 2006). Despite liberal anguish, conservative view of crime control shaped criminal justice for a lengthy period. Most Americans that were passionate opponents of abortion on the ground that it takes human life, became ironically ardent supporters of the death penalty (Siegel, 2008) The tough attitude measures was overwhelmingly supported owing the fact that while the prisons were getting overcrowded, crime was on the other hand was noted to be on the decline. These developments saw the classical theories take another advanced dimension. The newer approach is based on intelligent thought processes and criminal decision making. Experts in criminology ascertain that the choice theory is in a way different from the original classical theory which posed criminals as individuals who maximized their pleasure and minimized pain. These experts suggest that if individuals are caught while committing crime, it is because they are slow thinkers and are not perfect in their decision making. The causative factors influencing a crime are therefore extended to thought and emotion processes. Social relationship, environmental characteristics, individual traits and capabilities have also been found to impact criminals in decision making. Human behavior in making their choices is therefore willful and determined (Schmallager, 2006).
The latest developments have described criminals as people who share profile and ambitions just as the normal citizens but have opted to use shortcuts in achieving their goals. They possess conventional citizens’ values strive for success, material attainment and work hard. Phillipe Bourgois in his study towards crack dealers in Harlem found that criminal lead a life where they were mobile, and struggling to make their ends meet: They only commit crime as a choice to use an illegal path in obtaining their goals that were deemed elusive using the legal way (Siegel, 2008).
Crime has become attractive when an individual believes that its results is more beneficial compared to the cost. Their is a tendency for individuals engaging in a crime when they have a prior information that other who committed a similar crime made considerable achievements and are successful owing a crime previous committed. It is common that crime does not pay. Small but significant subsets of criminals earn as much as $50,000 yearly on crime. Such success is an encouraging factor to potential criminals. Offenders are however less likely to be inclined to committing crime if they perceive that their future earnings from criminal acts will be low and legal opportunities that can generate income are available. In this sense, rational choice is a function of a person’s perceptions of conventional alternatives and opportunities (Siegel, 2008). The various authorities therefore have to keep tracking the employment level demands and creating more opportunities with considerable remunerations. The job offers should be attractive so that it captures many individuals who would possibly engage in crime if there were no such offers.
Criminals tend to adapt the rational choice of time and place of their crimes. Burglars for example prefer working between 9A.M and 11A.M and in the mid afternoon, when parents are either working or dropping off or picking their kids from school. They avoid Saturdays when most families are at home, and the morning hours of Sunday. Church hours are considered the best for weekend burglaries. Criminals are known to identify their targets hobbies so as to strike when the families are out for such outdoor hobbies. These activities are meant to create the least possible chances of being caught (Siegel, 2008). Family living in close neighborhoods can limits the access to their homes by disconnecting the subdivision from the adjacent ones and install walkways to locations safe to pedestrians, and to create bounds for them.
Evidence of rational choice may also be found in the way criminals choose their targets locations. It has been noted that thieves avoid free standing buildings as there is likelihood of police surrounding them. They select targets that often do cash business like bars, supermarkets and restaurants. Burglars appear to monitor car and pedestrian traffic and avoid busy streets. Instead, they choose corner homes mostly those located near traffic lights, or those surrounded by wooded areas. Most burglars choose their neighborhood where they are conversant with the terrain and access roads. New location is only chosen when the target is worth and the law enforcers are not perceived to be very vigilant (Siegel, 2008). It is recommended that residents adopt the method of natural surveillance that advocates that: door is fully illuminated from outside and windows to be laced strategically for good visibility. If proper lighting system is placed along sidewalks and the entire yard in generals, thieves and burglars would lack the opportunity of striking in unnoticed. Commercial areas can be designed such a way that, check-out counters are located in front of the stores visible from the outside enabling the employees to view outside activities. Public entrances can be marked with a landscape, architecture and graphic to designate sidewalks, parking areas and design loading zones separately with designated delivery hours.
Classical choice theories concludes that the choice to engage in a criminal behavior is based on the offenders own interests. It is therefore in position to assert that most offenders act rationally and in their personal best interests. With this understanding of the decision making mechanism behind committing crime and in relation to criminal justice, professionals may be able to reduce crime level to a grater extent. This can only be achieved by making crime less attractive and the punishment more severe, swift to justice so that potential criminals get discouraged in engaging with the acts. Crime prevention can be used to propel the agencies responsible in enforcing city and county codes to help identify problem areas and properties that are crime risks or could become future crime risks. Factors that attract crime and violence like improper zoning, trash accumulation should be eliminated to reduce future victimization.
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