Fundamentals of Criminology
Adam J. McKee, Ph.D.
Scott D. Bransford, Ph.D.
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Criminal Decision Making
Every individual seeks to gain pleasure and avoid pain. According to Felson, Bentham’s utilitarian model is only a step in understanding how criminal decisions are made.
Herbert Simon taught us that the average citizen can only keep in mind about three to five specific goals when making a decision—usually fewer! Duke Ellington taught us that “improvisation” is not spontaneous—we plan actions just before we do them.
Criminals follow the same decision-making strategies as economic decision makers and musicians—Offenders are generally not too careful nor are they without reason.
Cornish and Clarke’s Modernization of Utility
It is an important addendum to the utilitarian philosophy that offenders seek QUICK pleasure and avoid IMMINENT pain. Offenders usually make quick choices, leaving little time for complex analysis.
Most Crime is Casual
Most crime is quick and easy, the offender unskilled. The idea of crime is to get a lot of pleasure for as little effort as possible. Most offenders are not even very daring—unless the pleasure is very high.
The vast majority of robbers do not make plans. In a study of bank robbers, most said they never even entered the bank before trying to rob it. Many times the decision to commit a robbery happens so fast it surprises the robbers themselves.
A survey of burglars reveals that they target low-risk homes and homes that are easy to enter. Three empty houses in a row put the middle house at risk—burglars don’t want to be seen.
Even when a criminal event is almost spontaneous, there is some rational thought process, mostly based on environmental cues.
The Cue-decision Sequence
How temptations and controls shift quickly: 1. A person enters a setting. 2. The cues in that setting communicate temptations and controls. 3. These cues are noted and interpreted. 4. The person decides whether to commit a crime.
Temptation and Place
Some places offer no temptation—there is nothing there pleasing to the criminal some places offer lots of temptation—cash lying around. This is the basis for an extremely important crime prevention tip: the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” holds for most property offenders.
Research shows—overwhelmingly—that those with low self-control are much more likely to be criminal. Ever notice how screw-ups are screwed up across the board? That is because they have low self-control.
Modification History File Created: 08/04/2018 Last Modified: 08/13/2018
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