Deterrence theory is a theory found within criminology that states that policies that encourage fear, high risk, and punishment will discourage delinquent behavior. Without knowing it, many teachers support this view in their classroom management philosophy.
In this post, we will look at deterrence theory as defined in criminal justice while providing applications of this approach in the classroom with teachers. For our purpose, there is general deterrence, which is the heart of deterrence and then there are several variations of general deterrence.
General deterrence believes that harsh punishment will reduce crime in society or poor behavior in the classroom. Examples of general deterrence would be mandatory sentences, three-strike laws, etc. In schools, it is common to see zero-tolerance policies for specific behaviors such as drug use.
Despite the best efforts of advocates of general deterrence crime and poor behavior persists. This is due in part to the underlying assumption that delinquents and students are rational individuals who weigh the pros and cons of their actions before doing them. Frequently this is not the case students and people frequently do not think things throw before doing them and this is especially the case when emotions are involved or substance abuse.
In addition, people are often convinced that the odds of getting caught are low and thus they can get away with it. Statistical this is correct as the majority of crimes go unsolved. However, in the context of education, it is generally hard to get away with misbehavior because there are usually only 30-40 suspects when something happens in the classroom.
Lastly, general deterrence when it is working well can overwhelm the system as more and more people are arrested and or placed in a facility. As people are caught it simply strains the system rather than stops crime. In the school, if enough students are breaking strict rules it can strain the administration as they try to process all the kids who are causing problems. This simply moves the chaos from the classroom to the office.
Variations of Deterrence
There are several variations of the implementation of deterrence as well. Specific deterrence focuses on making punishment so horrible that the offenders change their behavior. As already mentioned this often does not work and can harden the youth to resist. In addition, if offenders or bad students are labeled because of their mistakes they may commit themselves to live up to the label or reputation that they have now.
Incapacitation is an implementation strategy that focuses on incarcerating delinquents. The thought is that if the youth is locked up they cannot terrorize the community. In schools, this strategy might manifest itself through suspending and or expelling rowdy students. Within the context of juvenile justice, this approach often does not work due to restrictions on resources and the problem that youth who are locked up are often corrupted within the facilities. For schools, students who are removed simply fall behind academically, and when this happens simply will continue to disrupt the learning experience.
Lastly, situational crime prevention involves removing opportunities and increasing the risk of committing a crime. For example, many homes now have cameras which naturally discourage crime because of the threat of being caught. Within schools, the use of cameras has become ubiquitous as well. This approach leads to the protection of potential victims, increases the effort to get away with delinquency, and prevents any excuses because of the silent witness of video recording.
Deterrence is a view that promotes a tough approach to dealing with disobedience. As with any approach, this style works in some cases and not in others. Since there is no single solution to the problem of delinquency deterrence should be viewed as one of many tools that can be used.