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8.3: Deterrence

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    recidivism) through some type of change, while the backward-looking approach is solely for the punishment of the offender’s past actions. This change in how we view punishment is a large shift that has ripples in culture, the politic of the times, and even religion. Moving many eras forward from Hammurabi, deterrence is the next major punishment ideology. Rooted in the concepts of classical criminology, deterrence is designed to punish current behavior(s), but also ward off future behaviors through sanctions or threats of sanctions. Moreover, it can be focused on a group or on one individual. Thus, the basic concept of deterrence is “the reduction of offending (and future offending) through the sanction or threat of sanction.”

    Specific deterrence is geared towards trying to teach the individual offender a lesson. It is meant to better that individual so they will not recidivate. By punishing the offender (or threatening a sanction), it is assumed they will not commit a crime again. It is this point that makes deterrence a forward-looking theory of punishment. General deterrence runs along the same track as specific deterrence. However, general deterrence differs by when one person offends, the punishment received is going to be the same for all. In this way, the group doing the punishing attempts to relay the message of future events to the masses. If someone commits this act, they will be punished. This is part of the core design for deterrence.

    certainty, celerity, and severity, in incremental steps. First, by making certain, or at least making the public think that their offenses are not going to go unpunished, then there will be a deterrent factor. As Beccaria relates, this is the most important of these three elements within deterrence theory. The celerity, or swiftness of punishment, is a secondary factor in rationalizing for the offender. If they know how swift the punishment will be, they will not offend. These concepts were cornerstones to the works of Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794), an Italian philosopher in the latter half of the 18th century. Beccaria’s works were profound, and many of his concepts helped to shape the U.S. Bill of Rights. He is also considered the Father of the Classical School of Criminology, and a prominent figure in penology. According to Beccaria, “For punishment to attain its end, the evil which it inflicts has only to exceed the advantage derivable from the crime… All beyond this is superfluous and for that reason tyrannical.” [1]


    1. Beccaria, 1764/1963, 43.

    This page titled 8.3: Deterrence is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Alison S. Burke, David Carter, Brian Fedorek, Tiffany Morey, Lore Rutz-Burri, & Shanell Sanchez (OpenOregon) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.