Sanctions, Perceptions, and Crime
Posted: 14 Jan 2022
Date Written: January 2022
The interplay of sanctions, perceptions, and crime has special significance in criminology and is central to a long tradition of perceptual deterrence research as well as to more recent scholarship on crime decision-making. This article seeks to review this body of research as it pertains to three basic questions. First, are people's perceptions of punishment accurate? The evidence indicates that people are generally but imperfectly aware of punishments allowed under the law but are nevertheless sensitive to changes in enforcement, especially of behaviors that are personally relevant. Second, does potential apprehension affect people's perceived risk and behavior when faced with a criminal opportunity? A highly varied body of literature supports the conclusion that perceptions are sensitive to situational cues and that behavior is sensitive to perceived risk, but these links can be weakened when individuals are in emotionally or socially charged situations. Third, do people revise their risk perceptions in response to crime and punishment experiences? Studies of perceptual change support the contention that people systematically update their perceptions based on their own and others’ experiences with crime and punishment.
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