Theories Explaining Burglary
Rational Choice Theory and Routine Activity Theory
By: Tracy Eberts, November 11, 2010
Any family can fall victim to home invasion or burglary-not by criminals who rob us of our possessions, but by our routines that allow them into our lives in order to rob us of our souls. Rational choice theory focuses on how to deter burglary. By examining the Rational Choice theory and Routine Activity theory we can see why criminals offend after weighing the rewards against the punishments. The Petit family found this out the hard way when two burglars invaded their home because they were not happy with the bounty that they received from the last two homes they invaded. Unfortunately for them this invasion resulted in the death of a mother and her two daughters. Burglary occurs every 15 seconds in the United States and this tragedy could and can happen to anyone.
How and why do people make decisions to commit burglaries? What runs through the heads of criminals that ultimately makes them choose to be deviant? By looking at Rational Choice Theory and Routine Activity Theory we can analyze the who, what, when, where and how of these crimes. After discovering this information we can determine ways to prevent or deter further victimization from burglars. American families move to cul-de-sacs envisioning a safe and happy environment for their children. We assume that in this environment we are all safe from the traffic and harm at the end of the circle. This neighborhood is surrounded by houses that are occupied by other happy families, whose children join your children in play. Families move here to feel safe and secure and believe that in these neighborhoods everyone will look out for each other and that since the houses are so intertwined that no one would possible think about breaking into any homes in this area. While these neighborhoods may provide protection from vehicular traffic the sad reality is that even these neighborhoods have fallen victim to theft. Any family can fall victim to home invasion or burglary-not by criminals who rob us of our possessions, but by our routines that allow them into our lives in order to rob us of our souls. Rational choice theory focuses on how to deter burglary. By examining the Rational Choice theory and Routine Activity theory we can see why criminals offend after weighing the rewards against the punishments. It is important to look at the definition of Burglary and Home Invasion. Burglary is the “breaking and entering of the dwelling of another at night with intent to commit a felony therein. It is an offense against possession and habitation” (Farlex). Of course they are varying degrees of the offense depending on the circumstances. “A burglary in the third degree is committed by a person knowingly entering or remaining unlawfully in a building with intent to commit a crime therein. When the same offense is committed with deadly weapons, or when it results in physical injury to a person, it is burglary in the first degree” (Farlex). Home Invasion has a very similar definition without the statement of “at night.” Both crimes are punishable by imprisonment up to 20 years and fines up to $5000 depending on the degree of the crime (USLegal). So when a criminal makes the decision to burglarize a home they must weigh the rewards of what they are going to receive against these possible costs. The criminal opportunity for burglary became more prevalent when both adults in the household were working. Somewhere around the 1960’s more women began to work which means that both heads of the household were now out of the home during the day. There were now homes “unattended, absent a guardian, during the workday [and this] is one of three factors that lead to the increased probability of criminal activity” (Clarke). The other two factors are a motivated offender and a suitable target. So while everyone is at work they are leaving their homes...
References: Clarke, Ronald V. and Hope, Tim. (1984). In Clarke, Ronald V. and Tim Hope (Eds.). Coping With Burglary. (pp.1-13). Boston: Kluwer-Nijhoff Publishing.
Lilly, J. Robert, Cullen, Frances T, and Bell, Richard A. (2007). Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences (4th Ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc.
Siegel, L., J. (2006). Criminology, 10th Edition. University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Thompson.
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