Gambling on Crime: Can Punishment Actually Encourage Offending?

Greg Pogarsky, University at Albany

Under deterrence theory, an individual punished for a crime should be less likely to offend in the future. One reason for such specific deterrence is that punishment makes the potential costs from offending more salient, causing the individual to update, and indeed increase, their perception of the punishment risk. Yet several recent studies have found precisely the opposite--namely, individuals who have been punished for drunk driving perceive the probaility of being apprehended for drunk driving in the future to be lower than do individuals who have not been punished (Piquero and Paternoster, 1998; Piquero and Pogarsky, 2001). Using the survey responses of several hundred University undergraduates, this study tests two competing explanations for the finding above. Under the first, having been punished serves simply to identify the most committed offenders who, not surprisingly, view the probability of apprehension to be low. The second is based on research from judgment and decision-making studies documenting a "gambler's fallacy" in the way individuals perceive chance processes. Under this explanation, once an individual is punished, they reset (reduce) their assessment of the probability of future apprehension, apparently believing they would have to be exceedingly unlikely to be apprehended again.

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Updated 05/20/2006