Opportunity-based crime theories suggest that people engage in deviant behavior if the situation they are in offers an opportunity to commit crime. In an attempt to understand the offender decision-making process during situation crime, Gul (2009) emphasizes the significance of rational choice theory in modeling the offender decision-making process. The rational choice theory makes use of a utilitarian perspective, which considers man as a reasoning and rational being who assesses the benefits, costs, ends and means, and then makes a rational decision. Clarke and Cornish (1985) modeled the rational choice theory with the main objective of understanding situational crime and how it can be prevented. In this model, Clarke and Cornish (1985) perceived crime as a purposive behavior that is designed to meet the commonplace needs of the offender (such as excitement, money and sex among others), and that satisfying these needs entails making choices and decisions, which are influenced by the situational factors. Gul (2009) highlights the preconditions for the occurrence of crime, which include: an appropriate and accessible target; a motivated delinquent; and lack of authority figure to deter the crime from taking place. In this regard, it is evident that crime is influenced by the availability of opportunity, which can be linked to cost benefits, situational variables, risk of detection, and the type of offence among others. The goal of this paper is to describe how rational choices are made on the part of offenders according to the theory provided by Clarke and Cornish. The writing provides an overview of the various types of decisions made throughout an offender’s life course including initial involvement, continuation, desistance and event decisions.
The decision-making framework discussed by Clarke and Cornish (1985) comprises of four models: one is concerned with the criminal event and the remaining three are belonged to the stages of criminal involvement. The authors of the anaylyzed theory assert that decision process for each of the stages is fairly different (Clarke & Cornish, 1985). With regard to initial involvement, there are two vital decision points, which include the offender’s acknowledgment of his/her readiness to commit a crime, and the resolution to commit the crime, which is influenced by some chance event. The offender’s readiness entails more than receptiveness, and implies the offender has, in the past, tried crime to meet his/her needs and has made up his mind that, under the appropriate circumstances, he/she would commit it. Before reaching this decision, the offender would have weighed other alternatives that he/she can use to satisfy his needs. Clarke and Cornish (1985) indicate that this evaluation is significantly determined by the offender’s past learning and experience, his own perception regarding the kind of person he is, his experiences with crime, the level to which he can plan and foresee, and his moral code. There is a correlation between these factors and historical and background factors such as socio-demographic, familial and psychological factors. According to the above-mentioned researchers, the traditional criminology posits that these background variables influence the personality traits, attitudes and values that marshal an individual towards delinquency (Clarke & Cornish, 1985). However, Clarke & Cornish (1985) maintain these background factors are less directly criminogenic; rather, they play an orienting role in the sense that they expose individuals to specific problems and opportunities, making individuals to view and weigh the problems and opportunities in criminal ways. The second decision factor during the initial involvement is influenced by a chance event (Gul, 2009). For instance, an individual can be in the urgent need of cash; his peers are able to suggest a crime activity; or that an opportunity to commit crime may present itself during his routine activities.
The criminal event is the second phase in the offender decision-making model and involves evaluation of the various alternative choices about the commitment of crime. For example, in the burglary case, after the decision to commit a burglary has been reached during the initial involvement model, the offender can opt to commit his burglary on a middle-class area and reject a low-income neighborhood because of a number of factors such as accessibility, frequency of police patrols and security among other factors that would favor his commitment of crime (Clarke & Cornish, 1985). On the criminal event, only inaccurate and patchy information are available for the offender. Under these circumstances, the perceptions of the offender, his prior experiences, and the characteristic features of the offender’s information processing are vital in reaching the decision. In addition, the external situation is likely to change during the course of the decision sequence; as a result, the decision process is probably to be telescoped, the planning is expected to be elementary, and instances of the last-minute changes of mind may be observed.
With regard to continuance decisions, Clarke and Cornish (1985) assume that frequency of offending increases to an optimum level since of the positive reinforcement. However, there is the possibility of conceiving varying patterns of the involvement in crime among individuals and depending on the type of crime. For instance, the frequency of committing crime is high for crimes that have common ready opportunities. It is improbable that each time a delinquent decides to commit a crime, he/she will evaluate other options; nevertheless, this may be sometimes necessary when circumstances or the conditions for committing the crime change. In the continuing involvement model, the personal circumstances and the gradually changing conditions are vital in affirming the readiness of the offender to commit an offense. Some of the relevant variables that can be used to measure the offender’s readiness include: an increase in professionalism; successive lessening of the risk for committing the offense; and improvement in skills and knowledge. Additionally, if the benefits from committing the crime are sustainable, the offender is likely to continue committing the offense (Clarke & Cornish, 1985).
The desistance model attempts to explain why offenders decide to stop their delinquent behavior. Gul (2009) perceives desistance as the offender’s rehabilitation after a successful criminal career. According to Clarke and Cornish (1985), desistance often follows aversive experiences in the course of offending and adjustments in the offender’s personal circumstances such as ageing, financial needs and marital status. Other factors that can foster desistance involve changes in the community and neighborhood context like the exhaustion of prospective targets and changes in policing. The outcome of these changes is the offender abandoning his/her delinquent behavior in favor of a number of alternative solutions that can be either criminal or legitimate. The creators of the theory under consideration stress, whereas desistance may be perceived in terms of stopping all criminal activities, there are cases where desistance may mean a change of the type of crime or changing the target (Clarke & Cornish, 1985). Furthermore, Clarke and Cornish (1985) emphasize that desistance is not essentially permanent.
In conclusion, this paper has discussed the various types of decisions made throughout the offender’s life course including initial involvement, continuation, desistance and event decisions. During the initial involvement, there are two vital decision points, which include the offender’s acknowledgment of his/her readiness to commit a crime and the resolution to commit the crime, which is influenced by some chance event. The criminal event includes evaluation of the various alternative choices concerning the commitment of the crime. With regard to the continuance decisions the frequency of offending increases to an optimum level, mainly because of the positive reinforcement. In the continuing involvement model, the personal circumstances and the gradually changing conditions are vital in affirming the readiness of the offender to commit an offense. The desistance model attempts to explain why offenders decide to stop their delinquent behavior. Desistance often follows aversive experiences in the course of offending and adjustments in the offender’s personal circumstances such as ageing, financial needs and marital status.