The Theory and Testing of the Reconceptualization of General and Speci

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The Theory and Testing of the Reconceptualization of General and Specific Deterrence

In the May 1993 issue of the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, the introduction of the reconceptualized deterrence theory was presented, explaining that general and specific deterrence are both functions of crime. Mark C. Stafford, an Associate Professor of Sociology and Associate Rural Sociologist at Washington State University, and Mark Warr, an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas in Austin, introduced this theory. They argued that there is no reason to have multiple theories for general and specific deterrence. Rather, a single theory is possible that centers on indirect experience with legal punishment and punishment avoidance and direct experience with legal punishment and avoidance.1 General deterrence includes the knowledge of criminal acts performed by others and the consequences or absence of consequences from the activity. Specific deterrence relies upon personal experience of punishment and the avoidance of punishment for a criminal activity previously committed. Both Stafford and Warr theorized that people are exposed to both types of deterrents, with some people exposed to more of one type than the other. In addition both general and specific deterrence effects may coincide with each other and act as reinforcement.

In the May 1995 issue of the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency a preliminary test was conducted on Stafford and Warr's deterrence theory. Raymond Paternoster and Alex Piquero, both professors in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland, attempted to elaborate on Stafford and Warr's original findings. They, Paternoster and Piquero, argued that although they could find some support for the basic features of the deterrence theory, there was still a significant component that Paternoster and Piquero could not address. Without being able to measure the consequences of the illegal behavior of their respondents' peers, they could not separate the effects of indirect punishment avoidance from indirect punishment.2 Furthermore, they claimed that the personal experience of punishment had a definite role in substance abuse, as well as leading to additional criminal activities because of formal sanctions.

Stafford and War's deterrence theory provides a valuable insight into the mind of criminal or would-be criminal for the sake of determining deterrence from criminal activities. Strong arguments and logical reasoning are the foundations that their theory is built on, bolstered with their own personal knowledge of the subject matter, making it a sound argument. Paternoster and Piquero provide data from a well though out experiment that supports the deterrence theory. However, their insufficiency of much needed data to examine a major part of the theory, and the fact that they have only conducted a preliminary test of the theory, leave them open to the possibility of errors.

Stafford and Warr's reconceptualization of general and specific deterrence evaluates the premise that the rate of crime in any population is a function of both general and specific deterrence. Using empirical data deprived from their own practical experience, as well as from the observations and experiments of their other colleagues in their field, they attempt to establish their theory of the reconceptualization of general and specific deterrence. First, it is important to understand the background of their work and the foundation of deterrence. There are two types of deterrence, general and specific. In analyzing the deterrent effects it is highly important to distinguish between general and specific deterrence, because they are very different. General deterrence refers to the effects of legal punishment on the general public (i.e., potential offenders), specific deterrence pertains to the effects of legal punishment on those who have suffered...
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