A Reconceptualization of General and Specific Deterrence

  1. Crime Prevention
  2. Criminal Justice Reform
  3. Incarceration

Key Findings

  • Reconceptualization recognizes both general deterrence (the effects of legal punishment on the public/potential committers of crime) and specific deterrence (the effects of legal punishments based on experience of punishment).
  • Reconceptualization treats punishment avoidance (the act of avoiding punishment by those who have committed crimes) as its own form of punishment.
  • Reconceptualization is compatible with the observational and experiential learning theories and both types of deterrence.


In the article, “A Reconceptualization of General and Specific Deterrence,” Stafford proposes the concept of reconceptualization to cover gaps in previous deterrence research and thinking. Reconceptualization can be used when trying to understand people who commit more than one type of crime and are not punished for both types of crime. In this situation, the individual is not being generally or specifically deterred from certain types of crime. For this reason, Stafford included punishment avoidance to the concept of reconceptualization. Stafford argues that this idea of reconceptualization will help create deterrence theories and frameworks for researchers and explore the aspect of punishment avoidance.

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