One of the crime prevention tactics is deterrence – the idea that the threat of punishment can stop one from breaking the law. According to Bates and Swan (2021), the concept of deterrence arises from utilitarianism. People try to maximize their happiness, and the role of the government is to support this process. There are two main types of deterrence – specific and general, each exploring a different side of people’s risk perception. For juveniles, the criminal justice system considers several strategies for deterring crime. This paper compares general and specific deterrence and examines which type is more effective for juvenile offenders.
The first type of deterrence is specific, otherwise called individual. As the name implies, it is based on the notion that if people who commit crimes get caught and punished, they are less likely to break the law again (Bates & Swan, 2021). These individuals will start thinking about their behavior and perceive the risk of future punishment as a real threat, which will influence their decision of repeated offenses. In contrast, the idea behind general deterrence lies in public perception of crime. People seeing an offender being punished for a crime will think about their own actions – the punished person becomes an example of what behavior to avoid (Bates & Swan, 2021). As a result, a person will not commit a crime out of the fear that they will face the same consequences as someone who was caught.
The main difference between these types is the focus on the punishment and its message. In specific deterrence, the punishment’s severity and risk target the individual who committed the crime. General deterrence is interested in creating an example that is likely to impact the community. As a result, law enforcement may adjust the punishment based on these types, leading to the choice of more or less severe punishments.
The effects of both deterrence types on juvenile delinquents are challenging to examine as most studies focus on adult offenders. According to Walker and Herting (2020), there exists a weak association between the effectiveness of these tactics and juvenile crime rates. Thus, deterrence may be ineffective as a tool in general. In comparison to adults, teenagers are less likely to consider the consequences of committing crimes due to the lack of experience or the importance of social connections with their peers (Bates & Swan, 2021). As a result, they may value the opinion of other youth more than the perception of crime built by the justice system and adults as a whole.
However, deterrence may prove useful in cases where a person realizes the certainty of punishment. Heilbrun et al. (2018) find that the risk of being punished for a crime is more related to one’s views on breaking the law. Therefore, specific deterrence may prove more effective than general, as one’s experience of prior punishment supports the belief that one can get into trouble again. On the other hand, an individual may see another person get punished for a crime without connecting it to the thought that they will be caught as well.
Overall, the concept of deterrence is based on instilling fear in people to prevent them from breaking the law. Specific and general deterrence relies on such factors as risk perception and the severity of punishment. The youth have unique experiences and emotional connections that compel them to follow their group, resulting in no fear of being caught. Here, specific deterrence may prove more effective as it leads to the person encountering punishment directly.
Bates, K. A., & Swan, R. S. (2021). Juvenile delinquency in a diverse society (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Sage Publications.
Heilbrun, K., Durham, K., Thornewill, A., Schiedel, R., Pietruszka, V., Phillips, S.,… & Thomas, J. (2018). Life‐sentenced juveniles: Public perceptions of risk and need for incarceration. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 36(5), 587-596. Web.
Walker, S. C., & Herting, J. R. (2020). The impact of pretrial juvenile detention on 12-month recidivism: A matched comparison study. Crime & Delinquency, 66(13-14), 1865-1887. Web.