Building on classical theory, crime is seen as a choice that is influenced by its costs and benefits—that is, by its “rationality.” Crime will be more likely to be deterred if its costs are raised (e.g., more effort required, more punishment applied), especially if the costs are certain and immediate. Information about the costs and benefits of crime can be obtained by direct experiences with punishment and punishment avoidance, and indirectly by observing whether others who offend are punished or avoid punishment. Rational choice theory is the customary name for the idea that criminals engage in some intelligent thought before choosing to commit a crime.
Crime occurs when there is an intersection in time and space of a motivated offender, an attractive target, and a lack of capable guardianship. People’s daily routine activities affect the likelihood they will be an attractive target who encounters an offender in a situation where no effective guardianship is present. Changes in routine activities in society (e.g., women working) can affect crime rates. Routine activities theory argues that there must be three (3) elements of the situation present for any crime to occur: (1) potential offenders; (2) suitable targets; and (3) incapable, unwilling, or absent guardians. Theoretically, motivation is seen as a function of opportunity, and in practice, the theory is used more to explain victimization than the causes of criminal behavior.