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Why Crime Occurs in Society
Crime occurs every day in our society, leaving criminologists with the task to find the reasons for it. Over the years, they have come up with numerous theories to explain the phenomenon of crime, all shooting at different directions. Some of those theories hold environmental, psychological, biological, or family factors responsible for turning random people into criminals. Although many of those theories have something true and convincing about them, this paper analyzes rational choice theory as the most important factor and its explanation of crime. It explains why criminals decide by themselves whether it pays off to break the law or not.
According to rational choice theory, “crime is a function of a decision-making process in which the potential offender weighs the potential costs and benefits of an illegal act” (Siegel 84). This means that the criminal is not committing a crime as an emotional outburst, but rather evaluates the risks of failing and the ability to succeed before taking action. Therefore, a person stays out of crime if the potential risks of getting caught or the punishment is too high, while a criminal believes that the rewards outweigh the danger. Furthermore, criminals choose their target carefully, evaluating the possibility of success. A weak victim, such as an old lady on the street by night, is rather chosen by reasons of convenience than a highly supervised bank. The criminal rationally chooses his target to limit the possibility of getting caught.
Rational choice theory also helps to explain why corporate crimes—in this example committed by managers—occur in today’s society. Managers are not the type of people we consider desperate, always trying to make ends meet, and exposed to violence during childhood and thereafter. However, they become criminal, not by hurting others physically, but by stealing money and betraying clients and business partners. According to Smith, a manager’s decision to commit a corporate crime is influenced by “the perceived benefits of legal noncompliance for oneself and the company, the perceived formal and informal sanctions directed against oneself and the company, moral inhibitions against the act, the organizational context, and firm characteristics” (636). If the manager feels that his crime is benefitting the company more than it would do harm to it and if he or she lacks certain moral inhibitions against it, he or she is willing to break the law. It is the manager’s rational choice, because the crime is not committed out of necessity to survive or hate against another individual.
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