Professor of Criminology, Florida State University
- There were no strong correlations connecting higher punishment rates in a county to higher perceptions of risk to residents of that county.
- There were no significant differences in criminal and non-criminal responses to perceptions of risk.
In the article, “The Missing Link in General Deterrence Research,” Kleck and his co-authors examine the deterrent effects of punishment. Deterrence is the belief that people avoid committing crime because they perceive the risk of punishment. The researchers wanted to determine if higher levels of punishment increased deterrence levels in individuals. To collect their data, the researchers conducted phone interviews with 1,500 residents from 54 large urban counties. To compare the perceived risk of punishment from the interviews to the actual crime rates, researchers used data from the National Justice Reporting Program, which includes 300 counties (nationally) but focuses more on larger urban counties. The results did not show any strong relations to whether areas with higher punishment rates also had higher perceptions of risk. They also did not find a difference between criminals and non-criminals in perceptions of risk. Based on these results, the researchers conclude that the general efforts to increase deterrent effects is not promising and that policymakers should consider more productive means of deterrence instead of increasing punishment rates.