Crime Prevention, Robinson states “Rational choice deterrence theories related theories understand criminal justice — including crime control crime prevention activities police, courts, corrections — reduce crime society” (2012).

Rational choice and deterrence theories

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The rational choice theory of crime is intimately related to the concept of the deterrence theory of crime. Rational choice models suggest that all human beings are inherently rational creatures, capable of making reasonable, utilitarian decisions based upon a weighing of pros and cons. A rational actor, in other words, will decide not to commit a crime if the potential costs outweigh the potential benefits. Swiftness and certainty of the punishment for the crime will deter persons from offending. The theory also presumes that “people will engage in criminal and deviant activities if they do not fear apprehension and punishment. Norms, laws, and enforcement are to be designed and implemented to produce and maintain the image that ‘negative’ and disruptive behaviors will receive attention and punishment” (Keel 2005). For example, rational choice theory would suggest that people are unlikely to shoplift if they know they are being watched and will be caught and prosecuted. People will not hurt others if they know that the criminal justice system will imprison or execute them, given the potential benefits they can accrue from such actions are minimal.

However, if punishments are not uniformly or regularly applied, people are more likely to take chances. Someone might refuse to pay to have a taxi take them home if they know there is never a drunk driving ‘stop’ on the roads they take on their journey. Also if punishments are not severe, a proverbial ‘slap on the wrist’ (like merely giving warnings rather than violations for speeding), then people are more likely to offend. The rational choice theory does not take into consideration other factors, such as emotions, human psychology, and sociological conditions like the hopelessness of poverty into its calculus which might cause persons to make irrational decisions that do not objectively seem to be in their best interests.

Q2. The problem analysis triangle

The problem analysis triangle is particularly effective in analyzing crime because it takes into consideration multiple factors that can give rise to crime. The triangle suggests that crimes take place because of an alignment between offender, target, and place. All of these must align either for crimes to occur or crimes to be prevented. “This idea assumes that crime or disorder results when (1) likely offenders and (2) suitable targets come together in (3) time and space, in the absence of capable guardians for that target” (The problem analysis triangle, 2013, Center for Problem-Oriented Policing). A good example of this is the selling of fake merchandise to gullible tourists on the streets of New York City. Sellers of obviously fake products have a strong motivation to sell because of the potential to make a profit. Out-of-town tourists lack the savvy to be able to tell a copy from something that is real and the police do not have the resources to actively police street vendors to ensure they are appropriately representing their merchandise. The streets of New York have a great deal of foot traffic and provide ample opportunities for people to sell things.

Crime prevention, according to the triangle, requires disrupting the target through breaking down the coalescing of all of these various elements. One way to do so is making targets less suitable. For example, educating the public about how to spot a fake designer good and to be wary of offers that seem too good to be true is one way to make targets less vulnerable. Reducing the ability to sell merchandise can also help by prohibiting selling items on the street in areas known to sell a great deal of ‘knock off’ merchandise. A final, long-term solution to reducing the motivation of the seller might be to make more good jobs available in the neighborhoods where poor people resort to such behaviors to stay afloat economically. Merely trying to arrest people for selling fakes is not enough to eradicate the behavior, according to the problem analysis triangle.


Keel, R. (2005). Rational choice and deterrence theory. Sociology 200. Retrieved:

The problem analysis triangle. (2013). Center for Problem-Oriented Policing. Retrieved: