Criminal Deterrence Theory Essay

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The search for improved methods of crime control has been unending. What are the assumptions upon which criminal deterrence theory is based? Are these assumptions valid? What are the hidden implications of the criminal deterrence theory? Is it wise to continue to expend society's energies in the battle against crime with deterrence as a guide?
Criminal deterrence has been divided broadly into two categories, prevention and deterrence, each of these categories has been divided further into two subcategories, special and general. In the broad usage, a deterrent is anything which exerts a preventive force against crime. Usually, but not necessarily, we are interested in the preventive effects of crime control measures which are introduced by law enforcement agencies .
In this case, an interest in the broad deterrent effectiveness of these measures is an interest in their crime preventive effectiveness by whatever means prevention is achieved. Accordingly, a person contemplating the commission of a crime would undertake a cost-benefit analysis and would execute the criminal plan only if potential benefits sufficiently outweighed expected costs. In addition to theorists, courts have adopted the rational actor model as a justification for the imposition of certain penalties, specifically the death penalty for the crime of murder.
Under general deterrence theory persons are punished for violating the criminal law to serve as object lessons for the rest of society. Society, according to the theory, thus transmits the following message. It is wrong to behave in certain ways, and if a person behaves in one of those ways and fails to obey the law, society will punish him or her accordingly. The expression of society's disapprobation is pu...

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...ty. Deterrence theory condones human sacrifice, and, thus, victimization acquires a degree of social utility.

As a conclusion, for too long criminal deterrence theory has been a small tail wagging a very large dog. A more appropriate focus is on the perceived legitimacy of the social order and how this perception can be engendered and strengthened. Maintenance of societal order cannot be attributed to the efficacy of threats of punishment alone. One useful lesson may be drawn from the habituating effects of the criminal law: experience suggests that perhaps most members of society are law abiding because they recognize the benefits of social order and not because they fear apprehension and punishment for violations of the criminal law. Legitimacy of the social order and its impact on crime therefore deserve more extensive research, examination and emphasis.
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