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Rational Choice Theory and Youth Crime in Victoria

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By: Priscilla Prince

ATS1281 Understanding Crime: An Introduction

Tasha Gilbert

Monash University

Melbourne, Victoria

Word Count: 1978

4th of May 2018


There has been a highly prominent upwards trend in youth crime in Victoria. From the end of 2015 to late 2016, youth aged between 10 to 19 years old were charged with more than 12,000 offences in this state (Bucci & Mills 2017). More than two thirds of juvenile offenders were 16 years old or younger (Youth Crime 2017). The problematic behavior of juvenile delinquents is increasing every year because harsh action has yet to be taken by the government. Therefore, by critically examining the rational choice theory (RCT), the problem of youth crime in Victoria can be evaluated and understood. This theory is beneficial as it adopts the utilitarian concept that an individual measures the importance of their actions before they make a rational choice in proceeding it out (Cornish & Clarke 1987, p. 935). The rational choice theory highlights that the offenders weigh out the benefits and risks of committing a crime and it emphasises how offences by the youth can be inhibited through situational crime prevention (Newburn 2017, p. 299). However, the rational choice theory does have its downfalls and there are other perspectives such as positivist criminology and the social disorganization theory that can be implemented to understand the notion of youth crime in Victoria.

Fear struck the heart of Melbourne during the Moomba riots in 2016. Around one hundred youth, mostly young boys came into the city to fight and brawl with their peers. In two days 53 people were arrested for having weapons, riotous behavior, assault and robbery (Bowden, Preiss & Webb 2017). The goals achieved by these youths through causing havoc is still uncertain to the citizens of Victoria. According to Cornish and Clarkes RCT, people make rational choices out of self importance (Cornish & Clarke 1987, p. 934). Youth in particular can be heterogeneous with respects to how self centered they are and can be driven by their own curiosities. Therefore, the RCT can be implemented to critically analyze why many youths took part in the Moomba riot.

 Before committing a deviant act an individual will evaluate the risks and benefits of performing this action (Barry M 2013, p. 349). Specifically, the rioters during the Moomba festival, made the rational choice to commit various crime. The youth had a less probable chance of being convicted as many other young people were also rioting. Inappropriate behaviour such as damaging property was seen as acceptable by their peers, hence they will be adored by their friends. Additionally, many robberies also occurred that night because individuals could evade the consequences of being caught due to range of disruptions that were happening that specific night. On the contrary, the costs involved, were minute. The possibility of many youth getting caught was relatively high however, due to the weak police presence, individuals could walk away free. The decision making process in any criminal situation is diverse. For the Moomba Riot many youths made the indecent choice to act unlawfully because many of their peers were doing the same thing (Zeilinkski & Booker 2016), therefore they had a sense of unity while creating tension.

Moreover, the RCT shifts attention to the act of participating in criminal activity. This theory claims that crime prevention can be accomplished through policies that encourage youth to withdraw from criminal activity. According to Clarke and Cornish, the two main methods in preventing youth crime is to: change the situation to increase the perceived risks and reduce the observed benefits to the offender (Wortley 2001, p. 3). These two points emphasise that harsher laws must be implemented for young offenders. Currently, Victoria attempts to deal with juvenile delinquents by either giving them a fine or a supervision order. In the worst case scenario, they are placed in youth detention centers, where they serve custodial sentences. However, these detention centers are relatively normal and keep the youth busy by having them attend school (Sentencing Young People 2017). In 1999 in New South Wales alone, 2,600 juveniles who committed crimes, reoffended after being placed in detention centers (Haesler 2012). This ‘sentence’ does not allow for the youth to appropriately serve their time and reflect on the consequences of their actions. The rational choice theory stresses that to ensure that the problem of youth crime in Victoria is dealt with, harsher punishments must be kept in place, to outweigh the benefits of offending.

Furthermore, the crimes committed by Victorian youth, mainly compromise of theft and property damage (Youth Crime 2017). Little is being done, at this moment to stop the problem of youth being involved in these sorts of crime. One of the key ideas Clarke offered is the idea of situational crime prevention (SCP), this notion correlates with the main ideas of the rational choice theory. SCP focuses on providing a means for decreasing crime by diminishing crime opportunities and increasing the risks to offenders through modifying their immediate environment (Clarke 1980, p. 136). This idea creates a change in attention from most crime prevention theories that are largely concerned with the offender. SCP aims to not eradicate criminal predispositions through improvement of society, but to simply make criminal actions less appealing to offenders. Clarke indicates that the struggles to commit a crime must be increased, this can involve placing more secure locks and limitations on weapon use (Clarke 1980, p. 153). This will make it tougher for youth to be involved in situations of theft or assault as they will need to put in more energy into commit a crime.

Additionally, the risks associated with causing a crime should be increased (Beccaria 1764). Placing more surveillance cameras and reducing the anonymity of the youth can cause the possibilities of being caught to increase. Finally, the rewards must be reduced and the consequences must be greater (Smith 2011). Individuals under the age of 18 who have committed a crime, should have more severe punishments such as longer sentences, so that the perceived benefits are very low (Clarke 1980, p. 139). The problem of youth crimes in Victoria can be understood and dealt with correctly if the idea of SCP is used in the community.



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