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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: May 2021

20 - Deterrability and Moral Judgment

from Part II - Deterrence and Incapacitation


Abstract: Crime control policies of the latter half of the twentieth century were largely grounded in the notion that punishment effectively deters crime and increases compliance. The inherent assumption is that offenders rationally weigh the costs and benefits of their actions before acting, and then act if and only if the benefits outweigh the costs. In retrospect, the policies informed by this “deterrence” perspective have done little to answer the age-old question of what deters crime and increases compliance, and instead have left us in an era of mass incarceration in which the US prison population has inflated by over 500 percent since the 1970s. However, rather than halt deterrence research wholesale, researchers have shifted to identifying for whom deterrence threats actually work. While the literature is in its nascent stages, studies indicate that individual differences may underlie who may be more or less susceptible to deterrence threats, and support a number of different mechanisms. For instance, emerging research suggests that individuals high in the obligation to obey the law and low in moral disengagement may be more responsive to deterrence threats. This chapter reports the findings of a developing body of research that focuses on identifying key individual differences that may underlie susceptibility to deterrence threats.

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