specific deterrence | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction / Corrections

Specific deterrence is a type of deterrence based on the idea that the individual offender will be dissuaded from future criminality by experiencing punishment.

Specific deterrence is a key concept in the field of criminology and refers to the effect of punishment on an individual offender. The idea behind specific deterrence is that the experience of punishment will dissuade the offender from committing future crimes. This is in contrast to general deterrence, which focuses on deterring others from committing crimes by making an example of the punished offender.

Specific deterrence is often used as a justification for harsher criminal sentences. The theory behind this is that harsher punishment will have a greater impact on the individual offender, making them less likely to commit crimes in the future. However, the effectiveness of specific deterrence as a crime prevention strategy is a matter of debate.

Some critics argue that harsh punishments do not deter offenders and that the threat of punishment may even encourage some individuals to commit more crimes. They argue that factors such as poverty, lack of education, and mental illness play a greater role in criminal behavior than the fear of punishment.

Others argue that the effectiveness of specific deterrence depends on the individual offender and the nature of the crime committed. For example, a person who commits a crime due to a lack of opportunity or resources may be deterred by the threat of punishment, while a person who commits a crime due to addiction or mental illness may not be deterred in the same way.

Despite the debate surrounding specific deterrence, it remains an important concept in the criminal justice system. Criminal sentences are often based, at least in part, on the goal of specific deterrence. Judges may consider factors such as the severity of the crime, the offender’s criminal history, and the potential for rehabilitation when determining an appropriate sentence.

However, the goal of specific deterrence must be balanced with other goals of the criminal justice system, such as rehabilitation and protecting public safety. A sentence that is too harsh may not only fail to deter the offender but may also lead to further criminal behavior or harm to society.

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Last Modified: 04/09/2023


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