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Did you know that criminal offending reduces the perception sanction risks?

November, 2017

Can young people be discouraged from criminal offending by a general deterrent effect of punishment? Previous research suggests that this is the case for young people’s perceptions of sanction risks. Social scientists explain this by means of a decision process, which considers the perceived risk and intensity of punishment (as costs) and the assets of criminal offending (as benefits). When the cost outweigh the benefits, young people will decide against criminal offending. Thus, an increased perception of sanction risks has a deterrent effect on behavior. However, a reversed phenomenon implies that young people learn to make realistic assumption about sanction risks because of previous criminal behavior. Hence, personal experience leads to a decrease in the perception of sanction risks. However, which effect is dominant: a deterrence effect or an experiential effect?

ISS researcher Daniel Seddig and his colleagues Helmut Hirtenlehner (University of Linz) and Jost Reinecke (University of Bielefeld) examined this question in a study based on survey data from 1,950 adolescents in Duisburg. Results from statistical analyses indicate the dominance of an experiential effect. A systematic deterrent effect could not be verified.

Simple (criminal) behaviors are often carried out automatically and spontaneously. Therefore, expectations about the deterrent impact of threats of sanctions should not be exaggerated. However, the study could not exclude the possibility that small (sub-) groups of people respond to sanction risks.