revisions of deterrence theory, Stafford and Warr's reconceptualization of general and specific deterrence, extralegal considerations of offender decision-making


Stafford and Warr (1993) reconceptualized general and specific deterrence into a single theory in which individuals' propensities to engage in criminal behavior are based on some combination of personal experiences with being punished and avoiding punishment and vicarious (or indirect) experiences with being punished and avoiding punishment. The researchers make a substantial contribution to the deterrence literature by accounting for the effect of punishment avoidance when assessing deterrence theory. Despite the theoretical appeal of this restatement, few studies have tested its empirical merit. The current study tests the applicability of Stafford and Warr's model but also addresses several key limitations that still exist in the deterrence literature. The present study was the first of its kind to directly test Stafford and Warr's (1993) model, blending specific and general deterrence, on an offending population. The majority of perceptual deterrence research examines largely pro-social groups. Evidence suggests that offenders may have unique decision-making processes and may be very different from those typically studied in deterrence research. Identifying the relevant deterrents among non-conventional or offending populations has significant policy implications. Additionally, in order to understand the decision-making process of criminals, this study incorporated alternative sanction forms from a rational choice perspective into the deterrence framework. This is a particularly salient point because non-legal costs may be more influential in criminal decision-making than formal sanctions. By examining the deterrent effects of several other factors (besides the traditional variables studied in deterrence models) among a non-conventional population, findings may suggest methods for designing more effective punishments. Therefore, the present study conducted survey research of high-criminality among an adult sample. This dissertation recruited 326 work release inmates from Orange County, Florida, and asked them to complete a written questionnaire. Results from the bivariate analyses revealed some support for the deterrence doctrine and the rational choice perspective. However, more rigorous tests of these predictions revealed no support for deterrence theory. Even though this study concluded that deterrence alone does not adequately predict future offending, the idea of choice was upheld. The results from this dissertation and from several other studies suggest the need for further analysis of the effect of extralegal sanctions on future criminal activity, especially among non-conventional populations. The current study offers suggestions for effective crime control policies and directions on how future research can clarify the inconsistencies between the theoretical predictions of deterrence theory and empirical reality.


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Graduation Date





Applegate, Brandon


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Health and Public Affairs

Degree Program

Public Affairs








Release Date

April 2008

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)