THE MISSING LINK IN GENERAL DETERRENCE RESEARCH*

Authors

  • GARY KLECK,

    1. Professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida State University. His research has focused on the topics of the impact of firearms and gun control on violence, deterrence, crime control and violence. He is the author of Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, which won the 1993 Michael J. Hindelang Award of the American Society of Criminology. More recently, he is the author of Targeting Guns (1997) and, with Don B. Kates, Jr., The Great American Gun Debate (1997) and Armed (2001).
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  • BRION SEVER,

    1. Received his Ph.D. in criminology in 1999 from Florida State University. He currently is an associate professor of criminal justice at Monmouth University, where he has taught more than twenty different courses. His areas of research include social control, policing and corrections, and his most recent publications are found in The Journal of Criminal Justice Education, Police Quarterly, Criminal Justice Studies: A Critical Journal of Crime, Law and Society, and The Justice System Journal.
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  • SPENCER LI,

    1. Until recently was an assistant professor in the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University, and now works for Westat in Rockville, Maryland. His research focuses on the prevention of juvenile delinquency and crime through informal social control. He has published a number of articles examining the relationship between religion and crime and exploring the gender-specific and race-specific effects of social bonds on antisocial behavior. His current research efforts concentrate on theoretical understanding of the impact of religion on deviance and crime.
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  • MARC GERTZ

    1. Professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida State University. His current research interests include comparative criminal justice systems, courts and social policy and the consequences of the fear of crime. His recent publications include the ninth edition of The Criminal Justice System: Politics and Policies (edited with George F. Cole and Amy Bunger).
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  • *

    This research was supported by a grant from the Charles E. Culpeper Foundation, Stamford, CT (later merged with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund).

Abstract

Research on the deterrent effects of punishment falls into two categories: macro-level studies of the impact of aggregate punishment levels on crime rates, and individual-level studies of the impact of perceived punishment levels on self-reported criminal behavior. For policy purposes, however, the missing link—ignored in previous research—is that between aggregate punishment levels and individual perceptions of punishment. This paper addresses whether higher actual punishment levels increase the perceived certainty, severity, or swiftness of punishment.

Telephone interviews with 1,500 residents of fifty-four large urban counties were used to measure perceptions of punishment levels, which were then linked to actual punishment levels as measured in official statistics. Hierarchical linear model estimates of multivariate models generally found no detectable impact of actual punishment levels on perceptions of punishment. The findings raise serious questions about deterrence-based rationales for more punitive crime control policies.

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