Situational influences

The most popular theory of offending events is a rational choice theory suggesting that they occur in response to specific opportunities, when their expected benefits (e.g. stolen property, peer approval) outweigh their expected costs (e.g. legal punishment, parental disapproval). For example, Clarke and Cornish (32) outlined a theory of residential burglary which included such influencing factors as whether a house was occupied, whether it looked affluent, whether there were bushes to hide behind, whether there were nosy neighbours, whether the house had a burglar alarm, and whether it contained a dog. A related theory is the 'routine activities' idea of Cohen and Felson.(33 They argued that predatory crime rates were influenced by routine activities that satisfied basic needs such as food and shelter. Changes in routine activities led to changing opportunities for crime. For example, the increasing number of working women meant that more homes were left unattended during the day.

Rational choice theory may be more applicable to 'instrumental' property crimes than to 'expressive' crimes of violence or sex crimes. Most prior research in which offenders have been asked about their decision-making processes has concerned property crimes such as burglary. (34) More research is needed on decision-making in sex and violence offences. Some people may make decisions that are not strictly rational, because they are impulsive (lacking foresight and planning) or compulsive, or because they have strong internal inhibitions against offending (e.g. a strong conscience). The challenge to rational choice theory is to predict actual behaviour in criminal opportunities from a knowledge of subjective probabilities, benefits, and costs, and of individual factors such as criminal potential.

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