Perceptual Deterrence Theory

Ray Paternoster and Ronet Bachman

in The Oxford Handbook of Criminological Theory

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199747238
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Perceptual Deterrence Theory

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  • Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Theories of Crime
  • Penology and Punishment


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According to deterrence theory in criminology, we are affected by both the costs and rewards that are consequent to our behavior. In other words, we tend to behave based on the expectation that we will receive some type of reward for doing it while hoping to avoid some type of punishment for not doing it or doing something else. We also provide disincentives, such as the criminal justice system, in order to discourage crime. The criminal justice system can reduce crime by apprehending and punishing offenders based on two mechanisms: specific deterrence and general deterrence. Deterrence theory posits that the actual practices of the criminal justice system, or what is known as the objective properties of punishment, affect would-be offenders' decisions by way of the perceptual properties of punishment. The idea behind perceptual deterrence theory is that the perceived certainty, severity, and celerity of punishment are inversely related to the decisions by would-be offenders to commit crime.

Keywords: deterrence theory; crime; criminology; criminal justice system; punishment; perceptual deterrence theory; general deterrence; specific deterrence; objective properties; perceptual properties

Article.  11399 words. 

Subjects: Criminology and Criminal Justice ; Theories of Crime ; Penology and Punishment

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