Deterrence, Opportunity, and Choice


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to David A. Ward, Department of Sociology, Clemson University, 132 Brackett Hall, Box 341513, Clemson, SC 29634–1513.


Traditional studies of deterrence have focused on punishment with less regard for the rewards of both crime and noncrime. Influenced by work in economics and behavioral psychology, more recent studies have departed from tradition by incorporating rewards for crime. To this extent, they should be regarded as advances over the more traditional approaches. Notwithstanding these advances, variations in both the probability and magnitude of reward for noncrime have not been systematically included in these more recent theories of choice. In an attempt to determine whether opportunities for noncrime are either central or trivial to the criminal decision-making process, the present study fitted two alternative models to experimental data involving risk-taking: (a) the economic utility model employed by Piliavin, Gartner, Thornton, and Matsueda (1986) in their study of criminal choice; and (b) the satisfaction balance model developed by Gray and Tallman (1984). Results showed that while both models explained significant amounts of variation in the dependent variable, the Gray-Tallman model provided a substantially better fit of the data. Despite limitations inherent in experimental studies as, for example, limitations surrounding the issue of external validity, the findings strongly suggest that opportunities for noncrime are as important as rewards and costs for crime in the process by which criminal decisions are made.