You are on page 1of 5

Deterrence Theory233

American Friends Service Committee. (1971). Struggle for

justice. New York: Hill and Wang.
Ashworth, A. (1992). Sentencing reform structures. In
Proponents of deterrence believe that people choose
M. Tonry (Ed.), Crime and justice: A review of research
(Vol. 16). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. to obey or violate the law after calculating the
Braithwaite, J. (1999). Restorative justice: Assessing opti- gains and consequences of their actions. Overall,
mistic and pessimistic accounts. In M. Tonry (Ed.), Crime however, it is difficult to prove the effectiveness of
and justice: A review of research (Vol. 25). Chicago: deterrence since only those offenders not deterred
University of Chicago Press. come to the notice of law enforcement. Thus, we
Engen, R., Gainey, R., Crutchfield, R., & Weis, J. (2003).
may never know why others do not offend.
Discretion and disparity under sentencing guidelines: The
role of departures and structured sentencing alternatives.
Criminology, 41, 99130.
Goodstein, L., & Hepburn, J. (1985). Determinate sentencing
and imprisonment: A failure of reform. Cincinnati, OH: SPECIFIC DETERRENCE
There are two basic types of deterrencegeneral
Griset, P. (1991). Determinate sentencing: The promise and
the reality of retributive justice. Albany: State University and specific. General deterrence is designed to
of New York Press. prevent crime in the general population. Thus, the
Harris, M. K. (1991). Moving into the new millennium: states punishment of offenders serves as an
Toward a feminist vision of justice. In H. Pepinsky & example for others in the general population who
R. Quinney (Eds.), Criminology as peacemaking have not yet participated in criminal events. It is
(pp. 8397). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
meant to make them aware of the horrors of official
Morris, R. (1995). Penal abolition, the practical choice: A
practical manual on penal abolition. Toronto: Canadian sanctions in order to put them off committing
Scholars Press. crimes. Examples include the application of the
Shane-DuBow, S., Brown, A., & Olsen, E. (1985). Sentencing death penalty and the use of corporal punishment.
reform in the United States: History, content, and effect. Since general deterrence is designed to deter
Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. those who witness the infliction of pains upon the
Sullivan, D., & Tifft, L. (2001). Restorative justice: Healing
convicted from committing crimes themselves,
the foundations of our everyday lives. Monsey, NY:
Willow Tree. corporal punishment was traditionally, and in some
Taylor, I. (1999). Crime in context: A critical criminology of places is still, carried out in public so that others
market societies. Boulder, CO: Westview. can witness the pain. Although outlawed in the
Thomson, D. (1987). Probation in the USA. In J. Harding United States, public punishment is still used in
(Ed.), Probation and the community. London: Tavistock. other countries. For instance, in August 2001,
Tonry, M. ([1988]1996). Sentencing matters. New York:
Nigeria introduced sharia, or Islamic law, that
Oxford University Press.
Tonry, M. (1999). Reconsidering indeterminate and structured allows the application of corporal punishment.
sentencing. In Sentencing & corrections issues for the That same month, Iran sentenced 20 people to be
21st century (Papers from the Executive Sessions on caned for consuming alcohol. In November 2001,
Sentencing and Corrections, No. 2). Washington, DC: Saudi Arabia lashed 55 youths for harassing
U.S. Department of Justice. women. Likewise, Human Rights Watch reports
Tonry, M., & Hatlestad, K. (Eds.). (1997). Sentencing reform
that under Saddam Husseins regime in Iraq, those
in overcrowded times: A comparative perspective.
New York: Oxford University Press. who violated military orders or committed other
Wright, R. (2002). Counting the cost of sentencing in North crimes could be punished by amputation of arms,
Carolina, 19802000. In M. Tonry (Ed.), Crime and legs, and ears. Finally, in England and the United
justice: A review of research (Vol. 29). Chicago: University States, hangings were once carried out in public.
of Chicago. The public and family members were allowed to
attend so that they could see what happened to
Legal Cases those who broke the law. Today, some advocates
In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967). call for televised executions as a way of deterring
Kent v. United States, 383 U.S. 541 (1966). murder.
234Deterrence Theory

Specific deterrence is designedby the nature of due to the alienation and exclusion of some
the proscribed sanctionsto deter only the individ- members of society. To avoid this, people agree to
ual offender from committing that crime in the give up their own egocentricity as long as everyone
future. Proponents of specific deterrence also does the same thing approximately. This is what
believe that punishing offenders severely will make Hobbes termed the social contract. To avoid war,
them unwilling to reoffend in the future. A drunk conflict, and crime, people enter into a social con-
driver, for example, would be deterred from drink- tract with the government so that it will protect
ing and driving because of the unpleasant experi- them from human predicaments. The role of the
ence he or she suffered from being arrested, or state is to enforce the social contract. Hobbes
having his or her license taken away or his or her car indicated that if one agrees to the social contract,
impounded. The state must apply enough pain to that individual authorizes the sovereign to use force
offset the amount of pleasure derived from drinking. to uphold the social contract. But crimes may still
occur even if after governments perform their
duties. In this case, Hobbes argued that the punish-
ment for crime must be greater than the benefit that
comes from committing the crime. Deterrence is
The deterrence theory of punishment can be traced the reason individuals are punished for violating the
to the early works of classical philosophers such social contract, and it serves to maintain the agree-
as Thomas Hobbes (15881678), Cesare Beccaria ment between the state and the people in the form
(17381794), and Jeremy Bentham (17481832). of a workable social contract.
Together, these theorists protested against the legal
policies that had dominated European thought for Cesare Beccaria
more than a thousand years, and against the spiritu-
Building on the ideals of the social contract
alistic explanations of crime on which they were
philosophers, in 1764, Cesare Bonesana, Marchese
founded. In addition, these social contract thinkers
Beccaria, published his treatise, Dei Delitti e delle
provided the foundation for modern deterrence
Pene (On Crimes and Punishments), in which he
theory in criminology.
challenged the rights of the state to punish crimes.
He followed Hobbes and other 18th-century
Thomas Hobbes
Enlightenment writers that laws should be judged
In Leviathan, published in 1651, Hobbes by their propensity to afford the greatest happiness
described men as neither good nor bad. Unlike shared by the greatest number (Beccaria, 1963,
religious philosopher Thomas Aquinas, who insisted p. 8). Since people are rationally self-interested,
that people naturally do good rather than evil, they will not commit crimes if the costs of commit-
Hobbes assumed that men are creatures of their ting crimes prevail over the benefits of engaging
own volition who want certain things and who fight in undesirable acts. If the sole purpose of punish-
when their desires are in conflict. In the Hobbesian ment is to prevent crime in society, Beccaria (1963)
view, people generally pursue their self-interests, argued, punishments are unjust when their severity
such as material gain, personal safety, and social exceeds what is necessary to achieve deterrence
reputation, and make enemies without caring if they (p. 14). Excessive severity will not reduce crime,
harm others in the process. Since people are deter- in other words, it will only increase crime. In
mined to achieve their self-interests, the result Beccarias view, swift and certain punishment are
is often conflict and resistance without a fitting the best means of preventing and controlling crime;
government to maintain safety. punishment for any other reason is capricious,
Hobbes also pointed out that humans are rational superfluous, and repressive.
enough to realize that the self-interested nature of Beccaria and the classical theorists believed that
people would lead to crime and inevitable conflict humans are rational beings with free will to govern
Deterrence Theory235

their own decisions. Indeed, he emphasized that barbarities found in the criminal codes of his time
laws should be published so that people may know in England. Noting that all punishment is mischief,
what they representtheir intent, as well as their he maintained, also, that all penalties, per se, are
purpose. Basing the legitimacy of criminal sanc- evil unless punishment is used to avert greater evil,
tions on the social contract, Beccaria (1963) called or to control the action of offenders. In short, the
laws the conditions under which men, naturally object of the law is to widen the happiness of the
independent, united themselves in society (p. 11). people by increasing the pleasure and lessening
He was against torture and secret accusations, and the pain of the community. Punishment, in excess
demanded they be abolished. Furthermore, he of what is essential to deter people from violating
rejected the use of capital punishment and sug- the law, is unjustified.
gested that it be replaced by imprisonment.
According to Beccaria, jails should be more SEVERITY, CERTAINTY,
humane and the law should not distinguish between AND CELERITY OF PUNISHMENT
the rich and the poor. Judges should determine guilt
and the application of the law, rather than the spirit The theory of deterrence that has developed from
of the law. Legislators should pass laws that define the work of Hobbes, Beccaria, and Bentham relies
crimes and they must provide specific punishments on three individual components: severity, certainty,
for each crime. To have a deterrent value, punish- and celerity. The more severe a punishment, it is
ment must be proportionate to the crime committed. thought, the more likely that a rationally calculating
Finally, Beccaria argued that the seriousness of human being will desist from criminal acts. To pre-
crimes should be based on the extent of harm done vent crime, therefore, criminal law must emphasize
to society. As an advocate of the pleasure-pain prin- penalties to encourage citizens to obey the law.
ciple or hedonistic calculus, Beccaria maintained Punishment that is too severe is unjust, and punish-
that pleasure and pain are the motives of rational ment that is not severe enough will not deter crimi-
people and that to prevent crime, the pain of pun- nals from committing crimes.
ishment must outweigh the pleasure received from Certainty of punishment simply means making
committing crime. sure that punishment takes place whenever a crimi-
nal act is committed. Classical theorists such as
Beccaria believe that if individuals know that their
Jeremy Bentham
undesirable acts will be punished, they will refrain
Jeremy Bentham, a contemporary of Beccaria, from offending in the future. Moreover, their pun-
was one of the most prominent 18th-century intel- ishment must be swift in order to deter crime. The
lectuals on crime. In 1780, he published An Intro- closer the application of punishment is to the com-
duction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, mission of the offense, the greater the likelihood that
whereby he proclaimed his famous principle of util- offenders will realize that crime does not pay.
ity. He argued that nature has placed mankind In short, deterrence theorists believe that if
under the governance of two sovereign masters, punishment is severe, certain, and swift, a rational
pain and pleasure (Bentham, 1948, p. 125). person will measure the gains and losses before
Bentham believed that morality is that which pro- engaging in crime and will be deterred from vio-
motes the greatest happiness of the greatest lating the law if the loss is greater than the gain.
number (Moyer, 2001, p. 26) a phrase that was Classical philosophers thought that certainty is
also common to Beccaria. The duty of the state in more effective in preventing crimes than the sever-
Benthams view was to promote the happiness of ity of punishment. They rejected torture as a means
the society, by punishing and rewarding (Bentham, of eliciting confessions, and the death penalty as
1948, p. 189). an effective method for punishing murderers and
Like Beccaria in Italy, Bentham was troubled perpetrators of other serious crimes. Capital punish-
by the arbitrary imposition of punishment and the ment is beyond the just powers of the state.
236Deterrence Theory


Because criminal justice policies are sometimes
The deterrence hypothesis remains a key intellec- based on the foundations of the deterrence doc-
tual foundation for Western criminal law and crim- trine, debates on the deterrence effect of punish-
inal justice systems. Today, the idea that sanctions ment continue to be waged in criminological
deter criminals has influenced penal sanctions in research. Programs such as boot camps for
death penalty cases and other areas of criminal sen- teenage offenders and scared straight programs
tencing. Adherents of the deterrence theory have continue to rely on the deterrence theory. Across
consistently favored policies such as three strikes the nation, get tough policies are based as well
laws, establishment of more prisons, increased on the actual and threatened incarceration of
penalties, longer sentencing severity, certainty of offenders. In their efforts to have more empirical
conviction and sentencing, and the hiring of support, criminologists today are working in the
more police officers. Together, these policies would direction of expanding the deterrence concepts
control and reduce the recidivism (a return to from certainty, severity, and celerity to include
the life of crime) of offenders who have been informal social processes of reward and moral
convicted, and curtail the participation in crime by beliefs.
future offenders. Since some aspects of deterrence and rational
Yet, despite the merits of the deterrence argu- choice theories are part of the routine activities
ment, and until 1968 when criminologists started theory, deterrence theory has been modified and
again to test the deterrence hypothesis, empirical expanded to include the rational choice perspec-
measurement of the theory have been scant. Prior to tives. In summary, support for deterrence theory is
the 1960s, studies focused only on the philosophi- much greater than it has been during the past two
cal ideas of the deterrence doctrine, its humanitar- decades. However, research demonstrates that con-
ian orientation, and its implications for punishment. temporary criminal justice policies place more
One popular research endeavor that actually tested emphasis on the severity of punishment than it
the deterrence theory in 1968 concluded that homi- places on certainty. Death penalty, longer impris-
cide might be deterred by both certainty and sever- onments, three-strikes laws, mandatory sentencing,
ity of punishment. In research conducted in 1969, and a plethora of other get tough policies have
criminologist Charles Tittle found support for the not demonstrated greater deterrent effects of punish-
theory and concluded that that the certainty of ment than less severe penalties. Indeed, increases
imprisonment deters crime but that severity can in the severity of punishment, rather than reduce
only deter crime when certainty of punishment is crime, may actually increase it. On the other hand,
reasonably guaranteed. Other studies in the 1970s increases in the certainty of apprehension of
have also challenged the validity of the earlier offenders conviction and punishment have been
empirical findings, arguing instead that variations found to have possible effects on crime reduction.
in police record keeping could account for the The current trend toward the use of death penalty in
results on certainty. the United States contradicts Beccarias ideas on
When it comes to celerity of punishment, prior certainty and quick punishment.
and current studies have generally avoided its inclu-
Ihekwoaba D. Onwudiwe, Jonathan Odo,
sion in deterrence measurement. Most important, and Emmanuel C. Onyeozili
much of the empirical analysis of the deterrence
value has been focused on whether capital punish-
See also Cesare Beccaria; Jeremy Bentham; Boot
ment deters potential offenders from engaging in Camps; Capital Punishment; Corporal Punishment;
homicide acts. Collectively, the empirical results of Flogging; History of Prisons; Incapacitation Theory;
the death penalty studies have concluded that the Just Deserts Theory; Quakers; Rehabilitation Theory;
death penalty does not deter murder. Truth in Sentencing
DiIulio, John J., Jr. (1959 )237


Akers, R. L. (2000). Criminological theories. Los Angeles:
DiIulio completed undergraduate work at the
Andenaes, J. (1974). Punishment and deterrence. Ann Arbor:
University of Pennsylvania and graduate work at
University of Michigan Press. Harvard University. His first major piece of schol-
Beccaria, C. (1963). On crimes and punishments (introduction arship, Governing Prisons (1987), was based
by H. Paolucci, Trans.). New York: Macmillan. (Original partially on his dissertation work in political science
work published 1764) at Harvard, where he studied the Massachusetts
Bentham, J. (1948). An introduction to the principles of morals
prison system. After graduation, DiIulio was hired
and legislation (with an introduction by W. Harrison,
Ed.). New York: Macmillan.
at Princeton University, where he quickly developed
Chiricos, T. G., & Waldo, G. P. (1970). Punishment and crime: a national reputation, initially advising liberal groups,
An examination of some empirical evidence. Social such as the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, which
Problems, 18(2), 200217. at the time provided significant funding for jail and
Gibbs, J. P. (1968). Crime, punishment and deterrence. prison crowding reduction efforts in various states.
Southwestern Social Science Quarterly, 48, 515530.
Subsequently, DiIulio drifted away from liberal
Jacoby, J. E. (Ed.). (1994). Classics of criminology. Prospect
Heights, IL: Waveland.
groups, becoming more conservative in his politics
Moyer, I. L. (2001). Criminological theory: Traditional and and publications.
nontraditional voices and themes. Thousand Oaks, CA: Currently, DiIulio is the Frederic Fox Leadership
Sage. Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, a
Nagin, D. S. (1998). Criminal deterrence research at the outset Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, working
of the twenty-first century. In M. Tonry (Ed.), Crime and
with the Jeremiah Project, and a Senior Fellow at
justice: A review of research (pp. 142). Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.
the Brookings Institute, where he cofounded the
Rennie, Y. (1978). The search for criminal man: A conceptual Center for Public Management. In addition, he is
history of the dangerous offender. Lexington, MA: Senior Counsel with Public/Private Ventures, an
Lexington Books. employment and training research and practice
Tittle, C. R. (1969). Crime rates and legal sanctions. Social agency located in Philadelphia.
Problems, 16, 409423.
Vold, G. B., Bernard, T. J., & Snipes, J. B. (2002). Theoretical
criminology (5th ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Governing Prisons
Williams, F. P., & McShane, M. D. (1999). Criminological DiIulios major study, Governing Prisons, explored
theory. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. the administration and management of high-custody
Wilson, J. Q., & Herrnstein, R. J. (1985). Crime and human prisons in California, Michigan, and Texas. In this
nature. New York: Simon & Schuster. book, where he argued that little can be achieved
within prison walls without order, DiIulio advocated
studying prison not as a mini-society but as a mini-
DIIULIO, JOHN J., JR. (1959 ) government. As with other governments, he pointed
out, prisons are subject to a vigorous system of
For at least two decades, from the mid-1980s internal and external controls including judicial and
through the early years of the 21st century, political legislative oversight, media scrutiny, occupational
scientist John J. DiIulio, Jr., put forth a contentious norms and standards, rigorous internal supervision
body of academic research, proposals, and policy and inspections, ongoing intradepartmental evalua-
on prisons and offenders that agitated or assuaged tions, and openness to outside researchers (DiIulio,
both conservative and liberal critics of his work. 1987, pp. 235236) Thus, criminologists should pay
At the beginning of the 21st century, DiIulio turned particular attention to issues of management in order
to writing about faith-based initiatives and became to understand the meaning and effect of punishment.
a national adviser on faith-based programming for DiIulio followed Governing Prisons in the 1990s
President George W. Bush. with two further books about corrections. In 1990, he