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The Deterrence Doctrine and the Perceived Certainty of Legal Punishments

Maynard L. Erickson, Jack P. Gibbs and Gary F. Jensen
American Sociological Review
Vol. 42, No. 2 (Apr., 1977), pp. 305-317
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2094607
Page Count: 13
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The Deterrence Doctrine and the Perceived Certainty of Legal Punishments
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Abstract

This research on the deterrence doctrine differs from previous investigations by focusing on perceived properties of legal punishments rather than objective properties. Data from a survey of 1,700 high school students in Arizona show a close inverse relation among 15 types of crimes or delinquencies between the median or mean perceived certainty of punishment (arrest or reformatory) and rates of self-reported acts. However, the same relation holds between the rates and the perceived seriousness of acts, which is taken as indicative of the social (extralegal) condemnation of crime. Furthermore, the perceived certainty of punishment and perceived seriousness are so highly collinear that their effects on the rates cannot be differentiated. Although the findings cannot be viewed as conclusive evidence against the deterrence doctrine, they raise doubts about previous interpretations of the inverse relation among states between the objective certainty of imprisonment and crime rates. The relation has no bearing on the perceptual assumptions that enter into the deterrence doctrine, and the present findings indicate that the relation could reflect differential social condemnation of crime.

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