Does Criminal Law Deter? A Behavioural Science Investigation
Source: Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Volume 24, Number 2, Summer 2004 , pp. 173-205(33)
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Abstract:Having a criminal justice system that imposes sanctions no doubt does deter criminal conduct. But available social science research suggests that manipulating criminal law rules within that system to achieve heightened deterrence effects generally will be ineffective. Potential offenders often do not know of the legal rules. Even if they do, they frequently are unable to bring this knowledge to bear in guiding their conduct, due to a variety of situational, social, or chemical factors. Even if they can, a rational analysis commonly puts the perceived benefits of crime greater than its perceived costs, due to a variety of criminal justice realities such as low punishment rates. These conclusions are reinforced by studies of crime rates following rule changes. Many show no change in deterrent effect. Those that purport to show a deterrent effect commonly have persuasive non-deterrence explanations, such as a change in incapacitative effect. The few studies that segregate deterrent and incapacitative effects tend to reinforce the conclusion that rule formulation has a deterrent effect only in those unusual situations in which the preconditions to deterrence exist. Even there, the deterrent effects are quite minor and unpredictable, hence inadequate grounds to influence criminal law rule making.
Document Type: Research article
Publication date: 2004-06-01
- The Oxford Journal of Legal Studies is published on behalf of the Faculty of Law in the University of Oxford. It is designed to encourage interest in all matters relating to law, with an emphasis on matters of theory and on broad issues arising from the relationship of law to other disciplines. No topic of legal interest is excluded from consideration. In addition to traditional questions of legal interest, the following are all within the purview of the journal: comparative and international law, the law of the European Community, legal history and philosophy, and interdisciplinary material in areas of relevance.