The Socially Bounded Decision Making of Persistent Property Offenders



Abstract: The rapid ascendance of deterrence theory and other rational-choice interpretations of criminal behaviour in the 1970s was matched until recently by a failure to examine empirically the criminal decision making of serious offenders. This paper reports the results of an ethnographic investigation of criminal decision making by a sample of persistent property offenders. Following brief introductory comments, we describe our research objectives and methodology. Then we describe salient features of the decision-making processes employed by members of the sample. We argue that improved understanding of criminal decision making by persistent property offenders is gained by exploring how their utilities are shaped and sustained by the lifestyle characteristic of many of them. We suggest that offenders' efforts to acquire the financial and social capital needed to enhance, sustain, or restore enjoyment of this lifestyle may generate a bounded rationality in which they discount or ignore the formal risks of crime.