In September 2011 there will be a vote on a bill that will double the prison sentence of anyone committing armed robbery, in the state of Wisconsin. The hope of the bill sponsors is that the increased penalties will deter a person from committing armed robbery. Senator McKenzie is aware of popular support for the bill; however, he has asked for my recommendation of whether or not the measure will have any genuine deterrent effect on the rate of incidence. When State Senator McKenzie asked me for my recommendation, I looked for studies on the deterrent effect of lengthy sentences, for armed robbery.
The studies I read indicate that, whereas there may be a slight decrease in recidivism, the reduction was not significant enough to indicate that a longer sentence has a significant deterrent effect on those commit armed robbery. The reduction of crime is not directly contributable to the length of sentence. Rather than focus, too intently, on studies of the deterrent effect of stiffer penalties, I believe that it is more important to look at the other factors, which may lead a person to commit an armed robbery.
There are three criminology theories in particular, which may influence a criminal’s decision to commit a violent crime. The biological theory theorizes that some people are ‘born to be bad’; something in his or her biological makeup causes them to behave in a violent fashion. The rational choice theory theorizes that people have free will and, if they commit a violent act it is that they choose to do so. Finally, the psychological theory theorizes that there is a psychological deficiency that leads a person to commit criminal acts. What is Armed Robbery?
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To begin, it is important to understand why armed robbery should receive greater penalties than non-armed robbery. When a person commits armed robbery, he or she is using, or threatening to use, a weapon; the criminal is intimidating the victim into relinquishing his or her money or property (CriminalDefenseLawyer. com, 2011). When weapons are involved, the danger that someone will be seriously harmed or killed significantly increases. The purpose of the bill, on focusing on armed robbery, is to deter criminals from using violence in the commission of his or her crime.
The main question to be considered is; why does a criminal commit an armed robbery? Understanding this question may eventually lead to the genuine determination of how to reduce and eliminate crime; three theories of criminal behavior in particular may hold the key. Biological Theories The first theory to consider is the biological theory. Is there something in the fundamental makeup of an individual that may lead him or her to violence and criminal activities?
Cesare Lombraso, a 19th century Italian medical doctor, is one of the best known scientific biological theorists. One of his theories posited that, if a person had an underdeveloped brain (e. g. inferior brain) they would be incapable of conforming to the rules and laws of society; because they would be unable to understand why what they are doing is wrong. Lombroso performed autopsies on numerous criminals, including an Italian soldier who attacked and killed eight of his fellow soldiers, and found deformities of the criminals’ brains.
This led him to conclude that a reason for the criminal’s behavior was that the criminal had inferior reasoning capabilities, and therefore, the criminal could not understand the difference between what is right and wrong (Schmalleger, 2009). A biological theory, by evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin, theorized that because life favors the strongest and best individuals, those who are able to attain power and possessions are most likely to procreate, thus continuing his or her genes. Animals, including humans, are driven to ggression, and crime, to improve his or her economic and social positions; to facilitate his or her search for a mate (Schmalleger, 2009). Lombraso and Darwin determined that biology is the cause behind aggressive and criminal behavior. Rational Choice Theory A second theory is the classical school of criminology referred to as the rational choice theory, or free will. This theory posits that a person chooses to commit criminal acts; that circumstances such as social and economic hardships lead a person to commit crime.
The theory maintains that a person will consider the pros and cons of committing a criminal act; if the benefits outweigh the punishment, the person will commit the crime (Law Library: Free Legal Encyclopedia, 2011). According to this theory, a person with low social standing, and often impoverished would be more likely to commit armed robbery to improve his or her economic conditions, thus improving his or her social position.
Classical theorists Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham were two theorists who believed that if the punishment were greater than the benefits of the crime, individuals would be deterred from committing criminal (Schmalleger, 2009). However, this theory does not appear to take into account the desperation factor; if someone is impoverished, possible living on the streets, his or her desperation for basic requirements may be such that there is no deterrent strong enough to stop him or her. Psychological Theory The third theory is based on psychological factors.
Sigmund Freud and J. Dollard proposed theories that, when a person is significantly frustrated, over a long period, aggression is the natural outcome (Schmalleger, 2009). According to this belief, if a person lives in depravation long enough, the individual will eventually become frustrated enough that he or she may resort to armed robbery, to improve his or her economic status. Another psychological theory, which is popular in current times, is that violent video games, television, and movies, are the driving force behind violent criminal activity.
Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman, a former assistant professor of psychology at West Point, calls video game, “hypnotic murder simulators” (Schmalleger, 2009, p. 231). This theory posits that people become desensitized to violence and lose perspective; they no longer see right and wrong, therefore they may resort to criminal activity to obtain what they want. Whether any, or all, of these theories have merit, it is clear that there are factors other than simple greed that can lead to a person committing a violent crime such as armed robbery.
Without being able to narrow down the factors of why a person is likely to commit an armed robbery, it is difficult at best to determine what will deter him or her from committing the crime. It is my belief that too many factors contribute to a person’s decision to commit the crime, to believe that simply lengthening the sentence will be effective. Studies Two studies in particular, on the deterrent effect of longer sentences on criminals committing armed robbery, indicate that although there may be a slight deterrent effect, there is not a significant deterrent effect by increasing sentence length.
In 2006, Italy passed a bill that gave clemency to thousands of criminals with three or fewer years left on his or her sentences. If the criminals were to commit any further crimes within the next five years, not only would the individual have to serve the sentence for whatever crime was committed, the sentence would be extended by whatever time had not been previously served (University of Chicago Press Journals, 2009). This gave three scientists, Francesco Drego, Roberto Galbiati, and Pietro Vertova the opportunity to study the deterrent effect of longer sentences on recidivism rates.
In 2009, the scientists published their discoveries in the Journal of Political Economy; the results indicate that an increase of sentencing, by as little as one month, reduced the recidivism rate by 1. 3% in less serious crimes; however, for criminals committing more serious offenses, of which armed robbery is one, there was virtually no deterrent effect (University of Chicago Press Journals, 2009). Although this study is encouraging for less serious crimes, it does not indicate that there is a significant reduction of serious and/or violent crimes because of the longer sentencing.
Another study conducted by the economists David S. Lee of Columbia and Justin McCrary of Michigan, focused on Florida recidivism rates, discovered that even though imprisonment and sentences increase from three to 17% after the age of 18, depending on the seriousness of the crime, there was no significant drop in recidivism rates when juvenile criminals transitioned to adult courts. It was, in fact, because the individual was incarcerated and unable to commit more crimes that there was a drop in criminal activity between the ages of 17 and 19 (Waldfogel, 2007).
Conclusion There are too many factors, which may cause a person to commit an armed robbery, to believe that simply lengthening the prison term will be effective. If a person is biologically inclined toward criminal activity, longer sentences will not be sufficient to override his or her biological ‘programming’. If they have inferior cognitive abilities, because of underdeveloped brains, they will be unable to comprehend the significance of a longer sentence; a longer sentence would have no more significance to them than a shorter sentence.
If the person has endured frustration long enough that they feel his or her only choice it to take what they want by force, they are unlikely to consider the prison sentence before they commit the act. Or they may determine that even if they are caught, at least they will have a roof over their heads, food on their plate, and clothes on their back, if they are sent to prison. For some criminals this may, in fact, be an inducement to commit the crime.
If a person has become psychologically ‘warped’ by social media, they may have lost the capability to judge right and wrong, thereby losing the capability to consider the consequences of his or her actions; a longer sentence would not be sufficient deterrence. Finally, if the person has made the choice, of his or her own free will, to commit an armed robbery, even after weighing the pros and cons, doubling his or her sentence is going to have very little deterrent effect.
Many criminals believe that they will not be apprehended; or they believe they will be able to reduce their sentence through a plea bargain. When a criminal chooses to commit a crime, they are also choosing to accept the penalty should they be caught. Of the three theories, I believe that a criminal who falls under the rational choice theory has the best chance of being deterred. This criminal is the one who is most likely to understand the significance of a longer sentence.
However, as the Italian and Florida studies indicated, imposing longer sentences did little to deter violent criminals. As violent crime is not, in my opinion, a rational act, it is unlikely that armed robbers would fall under the rational choice theory; hence, they are unlikely to be deterred by doubling their prison sentence. My Recommendation While I do not believe that doubling the prison sentences of armed robbers will have a significant deterrent effect on armed robbers, I do believe that it will have an effect on the crime rate.
If the criminal is incarcerated for a long period, they are unable to commit further armed robberies. They will be segregated from society, and will be unable to further victimize society. Society will also receive psychological benefits from the new law; they will feel comforted by the fact that the individual is no longer able to victimize society. As the bill has popular support, from both the legislature and the public, I recommend that Senator McKenzie vote to pass the bill, when it comes up for a vote in September 2011.
CriminalDefenseLawyer. com. (2011). Armed Robbery. Retrieved 10 January 2011, from http://www. criminaldefenselawyer. com/crime-penalties/federal/Armed-Robbery. htm Law Library: Free Legal Encyclopedia. (2011). Classical School of Criminology. Retrieved 30 January 2011, from http://law. jrank. org/pages/14359/classical-school-criminology. html Schmalleger, F. (2009). Criminology Today: An Integrative Introduction, Fifth Edition.
Retrieved 30 January 2011, from CJA 314. University of Chicago Press Journals (2009). Potential Criminals Can Be Deterred By Longer Sentences, Study Suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved 30 January 2011, from http://www. sciencedaily. com /releases/2009/05/090518111726. htm Waldfogel, J. (2007). The Irrational 18-Year-Old Criminal. Slate. Retrieved 30 January 2011, from http://www. slate. com/id/2158317/
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