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Rational Choice Theory

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There are three main points that are reinforced in rational choice theory (Cornish and Clarke, 1986). First, it may work better or worse for different types of crime, yet it is thought that there are rational choices in every type of crime even impulsive and pathologic crimes. Second, the theory should be applied on a crime-specific basis. Hence, burglaries can’t be grouped together in among residential and commercial categories. Rather, they must be broken into smaller facets such as public housing burglaries or wealthy residential neighborhoods. Finally, a distinction is made between criminal involvement and criminal events. Criminal involvement describes how individuals get involved in crime and further continue or abstain from this lifestyle. Criminal events have unique underpinnings, which are often shorter processes than criminal involvement structures.

Among the goals of rational choice theory is to explain all types of crime (Cornish and Clarke, 1986). However, it does not propose that there is an underlying unity between different types of crime like other theories. Instead, these diverse elements are important in explaining why such events occur. Also, it incorporates factors that lead to crime, emphasizes the pattern of decisions throughout a criminal career, and accounts for situational variables of crime.

In comparison, the deterrence theory proposes that the fear of legal punishment diverts people away from crime, while rational choice theory advances that in the act of choosing whether or not to commit a crime the benefits are weighed (Stafford and Warr, 1993; Cornish and Clarke, 1986). Hence, in both theories pain is a cause for not committing crimes. Furthermore, the deterrence theory has two chil...

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...um, these three points show that development is a constant interaction between the self and the environment coupled with chance or luck. Recognizing that luck plays a role, or more appropriately called “random development noise”, is important to show the significance of the randomness of the process.

Thornberry (1987) acknowledges the weight of the social control theory, social learning theory, and integrated models that combine the two. However, there are three limitations. First, causal structures are unidirectional instead of reciprocal. One example, social psychological research points to the reciprocal relationship between delinquent values and behaviors. Second, these theories use models that are usually non-developmental in nature – only focusing on one age range. Lastly, they surmise causal effects in a social structure to be similar throughout.
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