The rational theory of crime advances the argument that first and foremost, man is a rational being. Consequently in making a decision, he will reason out the options available to him, examine the end and the means to be used to attain that end. Additionally, he also weighs the costs and benefits of the act he is going to undertake. It is only after one is through with process that he can be said to have made a rational decision or choice. In the context of criminology, the theory puts forward the position that a criminal will carefully weigh all the factors surrounding a criminal act he is about to undertake before undertaking such an act. In other words, this theory contends that criminals do not usually just act impulsively but that they rationalize the decisions they make even as they engage in criminal acts.
Any decision made will always have its attendant consequences. According to the theory, criminals are also cognizant of this fact when they engage in criminal activities. Consequently, a criminal will way the effect of whatever act or acts he undertakes in the commission of crime. One of the applicable tools for rationalizing their acts is a cost benefit analysis. As per this analysis, a criminal will weigh if the effect of his act or acts will be more beneficial or more costly to him. For instance, if while committing a crime one of the gang members gets injured and becomes a great risk to the group, the group may opt to kill him rather than risk him being arrested and thus give out information about the gang. In this case, the gang takes such an option because despite being costly, it is more beneficial to them. Ultimately, the “rational” choice here was to eliminate the injured member.
The issue of payoff falls in line with the argument that criminals do not necessarily act impulsively. Indeed, payoff is one of the factors that affect their decision making processes however rudimentary it may seem to be in some instances. The decisions that criminals will make when committing a crime is greatly influenced by the expected payoff to be realized from the crime. Consequently, if the crime is likely to lead to a big payoff, the criminals are likely to take bigger risks in executing it as compared to crimes which may yield a low payoff.
It is often the case that most criminals are not lone rangers but rather belong to criminal gangs or groups. These gangs or groups exert a certain influence on individual criminals within the group and how the undertake criminal activities. According to the theory, in making a decision, a criminal will most likely make such a decision that will be readily accepted by his peers in the gang. In other words, the criminal will be looking for some sort of validation or peer support in making such a decision. He or she will not make a decision that is likely to antagonize the other gang or group members.
The rational choice theory contends that criminals will take into account a number of factors before embarking on criminal acts. Punishment is a big factor influencing the decisions made by criminals. This is because some punishments may be so severe that that a criminal would risk a great deal if they happened to be caught committing acts that will attract such punishments. Additionally, the risk of punishment will greatly determine the methods the criminal uses in committing a crime as they will seek to ensure that they do not risk arrest and the consequent punishment which will follow.
Risk of Apprehension
The decisions made by criminals will greatly vary where they stand a great risk of apprehension as compared to there is a low risk of apprehension. Where there is a high risk of apprehension, the criminals are likely to use more force so as to ensure they escape without being arrested. They are also likely to spend very minimal time in committing the crime and will be more careful in covering up their tracks. The converse may be true where the criminals know they stand a low risk of apprehension.
Needs of the Offender
According to Maslow, every human being has certain needs which they seek to acquire through various means. Criminals are no exception to this rule. The needs of the offender are a great determinant of the decisions made by a criminal. For instance, some want wealth and will go great extents to acquire even it means killing others. Others may just need some money to sort some problem they have lack legitimate means of obtaining that money. Consequently, the methods employed by different offenders will greatly vary according to their needs. Perhaps the needs of the offender are actually the single most important determinant of the decisions that such an offender makes.
Muller, R. (2011). Why Crime Occurs in Society: Analyzing Rational Choice Theory. California: Grin Verlag.
Seipel, C. (2010, April). Opportunities, Rational Choice and Self Control: On The Interaction of Person an Situation in a General Theory of Crime. Crime and Delinquency, Vol 56(Issue 2), 167-197.