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The first forays into Western criminological theory came in the language of deterrence (Beccaria, 1963 [1764]). The paradigm itself is simple and straightforward, offering an explanation for crime that doubles as a solution (Pratt et al., 2006). Crime occurs when the expected rewards outweigh the anticipated risks, so increasing the risks, at least theoretically, will prevent most crimes in most circumstances. If deterrence describes the perceptual process by which would-be offenders calculate risks and rewards prior to offending, then deterrability refers to the offender's capacity and/or willingness to perform this calculation. The distinction between deterrence and deterrability is critical to understanding criminality from a utilitarian perspective. However, by attempting to answer “big picture” questions about the likelihood of offending relative to sanction threats, precious little scholarship has attended to the situated meaning of deterrability. This article draws attention to this lacuna in hopes of sensitizing criminology to an area of inquiry that, at present, remains only loosely developed.

Keywords: deterrability; deterrence; offender decision making

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas

Publication date: May 1, 2010

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