B. Deterrence and Compliance
Deterrence theory postulates that any human action is the result of a cost-benefit analysis and individuals are rational human beings that weigh the costs and benefits of their actions. Regarding offending, one way to shape a person’s behavior is to provide incentives or threaten with legal punishment. The cost of legal punishment is considered higher than the benefits of offending, resulting in desistance from crime. There are three factors that dominate this cost-benefit analysis: certainty, severity, and celerity. Certainty refers to the likelihood of legal punishment, severity refers to the punishment’s magnitude, and celerity refers to the swiftness of imposing the punishment. Therefore, the central hypothesis is: the greater the certainty, severity, and celerity of a legal punishment, the more individual rule-breaking will desist among those sanctioned (specific deterrence) and among those aware of the sanctions imposed (general deterrence). In this paper, the focus is on specific deterrence, as the sample includes individuals that were given suspended sentences with probation supervision. In line with this theory, judges hope to alter offenders’ behavior by threatening imprisonment in the case of non-compliance with the conditions of their probation supervision.
Although numerous studies have found that people are less likely to offend when they feel that they might get caught and punished, this relationship is considered very weak. According to Wodahl, Garland, Culhane, and McCarty, deterrent-based strategies are not effective as they focus solely on the threat of punishment to increase compliance. Only when some form of treatment is included can recidivism be reduced. However, in the study by Aarten, Denkers, Borger, and Van Der Laan, little support was found for this finding in a probation supervision setting. They examined offenders given suspended sentences in the Netherlands under probation supervision and found no difference in the risk of recidivating between probationers given solely control-orientated special conditions and probationers given a combination of control and behavior-orientated special conditions.
Research did find that deterrence more likely depends on the perceived certainty of punishment rather than on the severity of punishment. Specifically, individuals who view the threat of punishment as high commit fewer crimes. Individuals who perceive their chances of receiving punishment after committing a crime as low are more likely to have a long criminal history. Thus, there is evidence that certainty of perceived punishment can be considered a modest deterrent factor, but little evidence has been found for perceived severity and celerity as effective deterrents in reducing criminal behavior. Maxwell and Gray examined to what extent perceived certainty of punishment of offenders on intensive supervision probation deterred them from violating probation requirements. Their results support deterrence theory: controlling for a number of variables related to criminal behavior and program attrition, perceived certainty of punishment in the case of non-compliance significantly influenced program violation and length of time spent in the program. Offenders’ perception that a street smart offender will get caught in a case of non-compliance was a significant predictor of their completing their intensive supervision program.
While there is evidence that deterrence affects compliance, deterrence often leads to short-term compliance—complying only during the probation supervision period—since individuals are less motivated to comply when external environmental factors are absent. Instead, internal motivations are found to shape long-term compliance, in other words refraining from offending in the future. For this reason, it is expected that deterrence alone will not be enough for the probation supervision program to be effective and internal factors, through the alliance between probation officer and probationer, can be a useful addition in the formulation of a more integrated theoretical framework for strengthening probation supervision compliance.