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Danger and the Decision to Offend

Bill McCarthy and John Hagan
Social Forces
Vol. 83, No. 3 (Mar., 2005), pp. 1065-1096
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3598269
Page Count: 32
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Danger and the Decision to Offend
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Abstract

Humiliation; incarceration; stigma; loss of income, freedom, and respect: most research on offending emphasizes these sanctions. Yet classical theorists recognized other costs including physical harm. We revive this abandoned insight, arguing that danger-the possibility of pain-figures largely in people's decisions to offend. Although modern states typically eschew violence, many victims, vigilantes, and others assault offenders. This violence is typically more certain, swift, and severe than other sanctions, and fear of injury likely deters many potential offenders. Yet the possibility of pain may be irrelevant to individuals who boldly believe in their unassailability. Consistent with our hypotheses, we find that perceptions about danger are significantly associated with involvement in theft, drug selling, and prostitution among homeless youth, and that these effects are independent of perceptions about a crime's excitement, profit, or other returns. Our results suggest that dangers play a key but typically neglected role in the genesis of these crimes.

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