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The Theory and Testing of the Reconceptualization of General and Speci

Nov 18, 2000 3954 Words
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 it.3 Both kinds of experience rely upon individuals to have some degree of knowledge or experience with the justice system's punishment to dissuade them from committing criminal acts. For members of the general public (general deterrence) it is indirect experience with punishment (observing or otherwise having knowledge of the punishment of others) that deters, whereas for punished offenders (specific deterrence) it is direct (personal) experience.4

Within general deterrence, two types of people can be found that must be taken into consideration. Stafford and Warr used the findings of J.P. Gibbs, author of "Crime, Punishment, and Deterrence" for the Social Science Quarterly, to examine these two types of people. The first are those who have never committed or have taken part in any criminal activity, excluding those wrongfully punished for crimes they did not commit. The second type of person is one who has attempted or successfully completed a crime and has avoided legal consequences. In relation to cause and effect, while the first type of person has had no direct experience with legal punishment, the effect on the second type of person is that he or she has gained valuable insight on avoiding sanctions by the justice system. It is a factor that may lead to the possibility of committing future crimes, making it a crucial factor of the deterrence theory. Individuals who avoid punishment or have little experience with it may begin to assume that they are not susceptible to punishment. Perhaps the greatest value of the concept is that it underscores the fundamental principle that no criminal act is without consequences.5

Most specific deterrence studies rely upon examining the punished offender and post-punishment offending to determine a level of deterrence from crime. A major argument, again, is that this procedure ignores the probability of someone being punished while having knowledge of punishment from the experiences of others.6 An individual punished for one crime may know others who have: (a) committed the same crime and avoided punishment, (b) committed the same crime and received a smaller punishment, or (c) committed the same crime and received a harsher sanction. Stafford and Warr's argument is that deterrence from crime will rely solely upon the individual's knowledge.

The general public and punished offenders have a combination of both general and specific experience with punishment and punishment avoidance. Take, for example, an offender who is caught and punished for crime type A, but has avoided punishment for crime types B, C, and D. The effects of punishment avoidance and indirect experience with punishment must be taken into consideration when determining the offender's future behavior. Put quite simply, the direct experience from crime type A cannot be the only factor used to predict the offender's future behavior. Crime types B, C, and D must also be included along with crime type A.

Stafford and Warr's reconceptualization of general and specific deterrence states that the rate of crime in virtually any population will be a function of both general and specific deterrence.7 It provides many advantages over the system currently in use. First, both general and specific deterrence can be used on any given population of people. Secondly, a clear distinction is made between those being punished and those avoiding punishment. Thirdly, it is compatible with the contemporary learning theory with the difference between observational/vicarious learning and experiential learning.8

It should be noted, however, that most of their conclusions are drawn from supported opinions instead of fact. While supported opinions have more credibility than unsupported opinions; it cannot turn an opinion into fact. Most of their work is based on empirical data from their own practical experience along with the experience of their colleagues.

Most of their reasoning was based on deductive reasoning, where they began with their general proposition and established a chain of reasoning that lead to their conclusion. In the tradition of deductive reasoning, they began with the major premise that the rate of crime in virtually any population would be a function of both general and specific deterrence. Next, the minor premise, presents a specific example of the belief that is stated in the major premise, which is that people have a mixture of general and specific deterrence with punishment and punishment avoidance. Though they used supported opinion, their reasoning is sound, so the conclusion naturally follows from the two premises. Both general and specific deterrence can operate for any given person in any given population, providing one theory of deterrence, eliminating the possibility of overlooking critical issues.

The tone of the overall argument suggests a rational appeal to the reader, due to the lack of such fallacies as an argument to the people and the bandwagon effect. One fallacy that might be applicable is a hasty generalization of their theory. Stafford and Warr's conclusions appear to be based on too little evidence; in addition, they have not substantially tested their theory. Other than the detection of this one fallacy, their overall argument is a sound and relatively rational one.

Stafford and Warr commented on a very strong variable, which is associated with crime, peer involvement. People who have friends who committed criminal acts displays a behavior that mirrors indirect experience with punishment and punishment avoidance. It may affect the certainty of sanctions, because the person will have access to the knowledge of their friends who have direct experience. In addition, peers provide a larger wealth of knowledge on punishment and punishment avoidance to an individual than that individual would have from his or her own experiences. It is this which will determine whether or not an individual will be deterred from a criminal act or not, by allowing the individual to asses the efficiency of law enforcement.

Stafford and Warr are quick to point out that their theory has shown that a complex experimental examination is needed to test the effects of indirect and direct experience with punishment and punishment avoidance. This maybe a more important issue as far at the deterrence theory is concerned.9

Paternoster and Piquero conducted preliminary testing on the main components of Stafford and Warr's reconceptualization of general and specific deterrence. Through their testing, they have confirmed many of Stafford and Warr's speculations, on both general and specific deterrent effects on a person's view of sanctions, and the inhibiting effect caused by them. In addition, they discovered that substance abuse was directly related to those previously sanctioned as a result of their delinquency.

Unlike Stafford and Warr, Paternoster and Piquero used inductive reasoning instead of deductive reasoning to reach their conclusions. They drew their conclusions based on specific facts and observations made from their experiments, unlike Stafford and Warr's use of supported opinions. It should be noted that an inductive conclusion is never certain, only probable, and it relies on an inference—a conclusion about the unknown based on the known. Their data came from an experiment in the form of a questionnaire, administered to all 10th grade students in nine high schools in and around an anonymous southeastern city in the United States during the fall of 1981, consisting of 2,700 students. Approximately one year later an identical questionnaire was administered to the same students, now juniors. It measured the student's direct and indirect experiences with punishment and punishment avoidance as well as the risk or certainty of the threat of sanctions for oneself and for others.

Students were tested on their perceived threat of sanctions, asking the likely hood of them being caught for underage drinking and marijuana use. The two delinquent offenses were combined into one scale, measuring the perceived risk to oneself. Within the same category of perceived threats of sanctions, students were to estimate out of 100 people, the number who would be arrested in their town for the same two offenses. Again, the responses for both crimes were combined into one composite scale. The students' experience with punishment and punishment avoidance was measured on a point system. A student started with zero points and added one point for each of the following: being apprehended by police, taken to a police station, arrested, or taken to juvenile court. A score of zero means the student had no experience with punishment from the criminal justice system; a score of four meant the student had been apprehended by police, taken to a police station, arrested, and has been juvenile court. Punishment avoidance measured the number of times the student committed the two delinquent offenses, minus the number of times they reported being caught for such crimes. Therefore, it reflects the number of times that drugs and alcohol were used without apprehension or sanction.10

The indirect experience with punishment and punishment avoidance variable tested the knowledge of the students' peers in criminal activity and the punishment experiences. A major shortcoming was that the separation of indirect experience of punishment and punishment avoidance was impossible to obtain with their data. Therefore, the level of experience with a student's peer in terms of punishment and punishment avoidance could not be calculated. Instead, Paternoster and Piquero were forced to measure only the extent to which respondent's peers were involved in drinking and marijuana use. It must be noted that this may cause errors in their empirical data. Peer involvement was measured by asking respondents to report the proportion of their friends who drink liquor and use marijuana.11 As before, liquor and marijuana use was combined into one composite scale to publicize the majority of friends who use alcohol and drugs.

Paternoster and Piquero attempted to expand Stafford and Warr's theory by suggesting that three other personal experiences influence perceptions of the risk of punishment for one's self and others. These three experiences would be (a) the amount of informal surveillance one experiences, (b) one's moral evaluation of each act, and (c) the closeness of emotional bonds with conventional others.12

Informal surveillance is provided by the parents, who may or may not develop a higher perception of risk, depending upon the level of surveillance provided by the parents. The system used to test the students' level of informal surveillance consisted of a two-item question. First, they were asked if their parents knew where they were and whom they were with outside of their home. High scores meant there was strict supervision while low scores reflected low supervision.

Moral evaluation of a criminal act asked the students to state whether they saw underage drinking and marijuana use as morally wrong. The question was based on a five point system, with answers ranging from never wrong to always wrong. Answers containing a high score reflected those students who expressed a higher level of morality.

The closeness of emotional bonds to others, argues Paternoster and Piquero, will also determine the likely hood of committing criminal acts. They hypothesized that the moral beliefs of one's friends might constitute a kind of indirect moral barometer that would affect both the perceived risk to others and self.13 Measuring the friends' beliefs was based on a five point system, asking if their friends would approve or disapprove of their use of alcohol and marijuana. A high score meant there was a high degree of peer support for substance abuse, while a low score meant peer support for substance abuse was low.

Approximately one year later a second questionnaire was administered to the same students, nearly identical to the first. The students were asked the number of times they had consumed alcohol or smoked marijuana within the last twelve months. These two behaviors correspond to those referenced in the scales of measuring moral beliefs, friends' beliefs about substance abuse, friends' behavior, perceived risk to self, and perceived risk to others. Because the measure of self-reported substance at Time 2 was positively skewed, with a small percentage of youths reporting very high frequencies, higher frequencies were truncated to the frequency corresponding to the 90th percentile.14

The results of Paternoster and Piquero's testing have been divided into three segments, each discussing the various findings of the reconceptualization of general and specific deterrence. These three segments explain the findings on the operation of general and specific deterrence, the differential impact of direct and indirect experience, and the interaction of direct and indirect experience.

An unexpected result was that substance abuse was directly related to those who had been previously apprehended by law enforcement and sanctioned as a result of their delinquency. Lawrence Sherman, author of the "Defiance, Deterrence, and Irrelevance: A Theory of the Criminal Sanction" for the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, explains what she calls the defiance effect of sanctions. This is where the offender feels that the punishment administered is unfair, either due to a procedural or substantive element. In accordance with the cause and effect relationship, the result is an offender who feels anger and shame and responds with further defiance. However, Paternoster and Piquero note, most of the juveniles in their sample who were punished did not respond with further defiance.

Other results have confirmed that punishment avoidance has a positive effect on substance abuse, which induces (a) a self-perceived reduced risk of sanctions on oneself, (b) a weakening of moral beliefs, (c) parental surveillance, (d) and emotional bonds, (e) while strengthening delinquent bonds, (f) and encouraging future use if not caught. Consistent with the general deterrent effect, a person's indirect experience with a peer's behavior has a reverse effect on both perceptions of risk and beliefs. A person's friend who uses illegal substances is more likely to start using than if his or her friend did not use drugs.

It is quite conclusive that the test results confirm that deterrence involves both general and specific deterrence. Stafford and Warr are correct in suggesting that the inhibiting effect of perceived sanction threats involves both general and specific deterrence mechanisms.15 Direct and indirect experience makes the individual's compulsion to commit crimes strong or weak, depending upon their experiences, and how they perceive the risks to themselves and others.

The differential impact of direct and indirect experience determined the likeliness that indirect experiences will influence individuals who lack direct experience. By analyzing the data received from the questionnaires, there is enough evidence to support the idea that those who have little direct experience will have stronger amounts of indirect experience, and vice versa. Therefore, general deterrence tends to be more associated with those who have less experience, while specific deterrence is more closely associated with those who have more experience. Stafford and Warr's hypothesis about the differential impact of direct and indirect experiences seems to hold true.

The interaction of direct and indirect experience contemplates whether or not Stafford and Warr's theory that direct and indirect experience affect an individual's perception of risk above their respective separate effects is correct or not.16 The result is that if a person receives a continuos message that the risk of a crime is minimal, that person will have lower estimates of the certainty of punishment for themselves than those who receive either mixed messages, or consistent messages that substance use is risky.17

Paternoster and Piquero's overall testing of Stafford and Warr's reconceptualization of general and specific deterrence has proved that their theory holds true to some degree. People are indeed affected by a mixture of both general and specific deterrence, with either one being used more so than the other depending upon the experience level of each individual. However, without being able to calculate the level of experience with a student's peer in terms of punishment and punishment avoidance allows errors to develop that might prejudice their conclusions. Those who have less experience tend to be affected by general deterrence, while those having a high level of experience are more so affected by specific deterrence. Unexpectedly they found a direct link to the substance abuse by those previously sanctioned, and concluded that they are likely to commit future acts of delinquency. These insights will shed more light into disentangling deterrence from defiance, making it a new and important area of research.

Stafford and Warr used deductive reasoning for their deterrence theory, supporting their findings with supported opinions from themselves and other colleagues in their field. While the opinions come from credible people with vast knowledge in their area of study, it does not displace the reality that an opinion can never be fact. By using a rational tone instead of an emotional one, Stafford and Warr did create sound arguments about the reconceptualization of general and specific deterrence, despite having a logical fallacy in their overall work. By only including empirical data from personal experiences and observations from others, they lack the sufficient evidence to support their claim. This is known as a hasty generalization; when little evidence is used to defend an argument. At no point in Stafford and Warr's conclusion did they ever use faulty analogies, stereotypes, or oversimplified the issues at hand. To do so would invalidate their work. In spite of some shortcomings, Stafford and Warr have made a convincing statement of their theory.

Paternoster and Piquero tested Stafford and Warr's theory by using inductive reasoning, basing their conclusions on observed facts and hard evidence obtained from their experiment, unlike Stafford and Warr. The experiment was well though out, covering many diverse areas pertaining to general and specific deterrence. While examining the obtained data, Paternoster and Piquero were able to find evidence to support Stafford and Warr's theory while discovering that people previously sanctioned are more likely to commit further acts of delinquency. The shortcoming of the experiment was that it could not separate the indirect experience of punishment and punishment avoidance. Instead, Paternoster and Piquero measured the extent to which the students' peers used alcohol and marijuana. This could cause the possibility of errors within their findings, making their conclusion inaccurate. In defending their finding that people previously sanctioned will tend to commit further delinquent acts, Paternoster and Piquero used an effective cause and effect scheme as well as using the works of Sherman to prove their point. As with Stafford and Warr, Paternoster and Piquero did not prejudice their research with any faulty analogies or stereotypes. Though these are preliminary tests, their use of a rational tone supported by clear and accurate evidence suggest they are correct in their findings.

Stafford and Warr presented their theory of reconceptualization of general and specific deterrence, and Paternoster and Piquero attempted to confirm it by an experiment. The conclusions of both groups were faulty in some areas, but strong in others. However, both groups did an excellent job in determining if the crime rate of a population is a combination of both general and specific deterrence. Where one group was lacking, the other group was able to confirm this theory. Though further testing needs to establish if this theory is correct, it will provide a single theory for deterrence, eliminating the possibility of accidentally excluding essential issues, and provide more resources to those trying to distinguish between deterrence and defiance.

1 Mark Stafford and Mark Warr, "A Reconceptualization of General and Specific Deterrence," Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 30 (1993): 133. 2 Raymond Paternoster and Alex Piquero, "Reconceptualizing Deterrence: An Empirical Test of Personal and Vicarious Experiences," Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 32 (1995): 281. 3 Stafford and Warr 123.

4 R.F. Meier and W.T. Johnson, "Deterrence as a Social Control: The Legal and Extra Legal Production of Conformity," American Sociological Review 42 (1977): 294-95. 5 Stafford and Warr 125.

6 Stafford and Warr 126.
7 Stafford and Warr 128.
8 Stafford and Warr 128.
9 Stafford and Warr 133.
10 Paternoster and Piquero 261.
11 Paternoster and Piquero 263.
12 Paternoster and Piquero 263.
13 Paternoster and Piquero 264.
14 Paternoster and Piquero 284.
15 Paternoster and Piquero 272.
16 Paternoster and Piquero 278.
17 Paternoster and Piquero 276.

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