Rational Choice Theory

Rational choice theory (RCT) Chapter 3Rational choice theory (RCT), a product of the late 1980s, mirrors many of the principles found in classical criminology. The theory, as described by Ronald V. Clarke and Derek B. Cornish, 21 rests upon the belief that criminals make a conscious, rational, and at least partially informed choice to commit crime and employs cost–benefit analysis (as in the field of economics), viewing human behavior as the result of personal choices made after weighing both the costs and benefits of available alternatives. “[Rational choice] predicts that individuals choose to commit crime when the benefits outweigh the costs of disobeying the law. Crime will decrease when opportunities are limited, benefits are reduced, and costs are increased.”22 Figure 3–3 diagrams the steps that are likely to be involved in making a choice to commit a crime. Situational choice theory, an extension of RCT, provides an example of soft determinism, which views criminal behavior “as a function of choices and decisions made within a context of situational constraints and opportunities.”23 The theory holds that “crime is not simply a matter of motivation; it is also a matter of opportunity.”24 Situational choice theory suggests that the probability of criminal activity can be reduced by changing the features of the environment. Clarke and Cornish, collaborators in the development of the situational choice perspective, analyzed the choice-structuring properties of a potentially criminal situation, defining them as “the constellation of opportunities, costs, and benefits attaching to particular kinds of crime.”25 Clarke and Cornish suggested the use of situational strategies to lower the likelihood of criminal victimization in given instances. They also recognized that the rationality of criminal offenders is inevitably bounded or limited, as it is for all of us, by the amount and accuracy of information available to them at the time they are weighing the costs and consequences of future actions.26 In brief, rational choice theorists concentrate on “the decision-making process of offenders confronted with specific contexts,” and have shifted “the focus of the effort to prevent crime from broad social programs to target hardening, environmental design or any impediment that would [dissuade] a motivated offender from offending.”27 Twenty-five techniques of situational crime control can be identified, and each can be classified according to the five objectives of situational preventio

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