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Is the Effect of Perceived Deterrence on Juvenile Offending Contingent on the Level of Self-Control? Results from Three Countries

NCJ Number
British Journal of Criminology Volume: 54 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2014 Pages: 128-150
Helmut Hirtenlehner; Lieven J.R. Pauwels; Gorazd Mesko
Date Published
January 2014
23 pages
Based on three independent surveys of adolescents conducted in three European countries (Austria, Belgium, and Slovenia), this study examined the interaction of the fear of punishment (deterrence) and level of self-control in explaining individual differences in self-reported offending.
The focus was on whether juveniles with low self-control are more, equally, or less susceptible to the deterrent effect of legal sanctioning. The study concludes that all three studies provide evidence that the deterrent effect of formal intervention is greatest for adolescents with low self-control. Adolescents exposed to settings characterized by weak deterrence facilitate delinquent behavior, especially among youth with a high individual propensity to offend, i.e., those who lack self-control. People who lack internalized moral norms and the ability to control their behavior accordingly thus tend to govern their behavior by their perceptions of the likelihood that in a particular situation they will be detected and punished for a law violation. This finding is in line with Situational Action Theory (Per-Olof Wikstrom, 2010). The three investigations underlying this study were conducted autonomously, although all three were conceptualized to test Situational Action Theory. Similarities and differences existed both in terms of the sampling strategy and the survey methodology used. The Austrian study drew on data from a school-administered online survey of 2,911 students in the seventh and eighth grades. The Belgium data used in the current study were derived from a large-scale youth survey conducted in the city of Ostend, the largest city on the Belgian coast. The Slovenian study drew on data collected in the course of conducting the Slovenian Study of Parental Monitoring and Adolescent Delinquency in the spring of 2011 in Ljubljana. 3 tables, 1 figure, and 67 references