General deterrence comes merely from the general perception that the guilty are likely to be caught and punished. This perception doesn't come from the actual sentences that get handed down, because nobody ever hears about them. This perception comes more from TV, movies, and urban legend than from any actual data. Meanwhile, the specific deterrence of a given sentence is also negligible. Those who are deterred are not affected by the length of the sentence, but rather the desire to avoid ANY sentence in the future. But recidivists choose to re-offend regardless of the sentence they received, often ratcheting up longer and longer sentences without any deterrent effect.


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Join the conversation! There are now 4 comments on this chapter's page 19. Who Knows?. What are your thoughts?
  1. Prisoner's Dillema says

    However, actual outcomes can and do affect the perception created by popular culture and the media.

  2. Legion says

    But only in people who weren’t going to offend to begin with.
    I suspect later he’ll get into the death penalty, but here’s a hard truth: the death penalty doesn’t work as a deterrent.
    It doesn’t work in nations that have _Televised_ Executions_.

    • I presume that by “works” you mean “prevents 100% of crime”? Because it works as a deterrent at least as well as a prison sentence, perhaps better (not that that’s hard). That’s not really the point though. Capital punishment is the state’s way of saying “What you have done is unforgivable” or “There’s no chance you’ll be rehabilitated”, and removing the person in question from society permanently. Some people refuse to understand this however, and focus on times it’s been applied too liberally. When it comes to addressing the concept in general, they make lame arguments like “it doesn’t work as a deterrent”.

    • There are actual empirical studies that concluded that capital punishment does deter murders. Which makes sense from an economic perspective. Economics invariably assumes that people respond to incentives and the severity of the punishment is just as much part of the incentive to not commit crime as the likelihood of punishment.

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