ABSTRACT

As discussed in Chapter 1 , both rational choice theory and the reasoned choice perspective assert that criminal decision making is governed by the perceived costs and benefi ts of the offence. As individuals contemplate these costs and benefi ts, they presumably take into account various qualities of the consequences, such as their certainty, swiftness and severity (Becker, 1968 ; Nagin and Pogarsky, 2001 ; Paternoster, 2010 ; Piliavin et al ., 1986 ). Using these subjective estimates of risk and reward, individuals engage in a mental calculation in which the costs and benefi ts of the crime are weighed against one another as if on a cognitive balance scale. Jeremy Bentham ( 1789/1970 ) described this calculative process:

Sum up all the values of all the pleasures on the one side, and those of all the pains on the other. The balance, if it be on the side of pleasure, will give the good tendency of the act upon the whole, with respect to the interest of that individual person; if on the side of pain, the bad tendency of it upon the whole. (p.40, emphasis in the original)

Thus, the decision to engage in (or abstain from) crime is determined by which way the scales tip: either in favor of the benefi ts, or in favor of the costs.