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Focused Deterrence of High-Risk Individuals

NCJ Number
Michael S. Scott
Date Published
July 2017
38 pages
As one in a series of problem-oriented guides for the Smart Policing Initiative (SPI), this guide addresses "focused deterrence," which is a crime-reduction strategy in which selected high-risk offenders receive concentrated law enforcement attention while being offered concentrated social services through direct, persuasive communication and rigorous follow-up of offender commitments.
This focused-deterrence strategy stems from the deterrence theory of crime, which maintains that people are discouraged from committing crimes if they believe they are likely to be caught and punished certainly, severely, and swiftly. The evidence from assessments of the validity of this theory have determined that the certainty of punishment has a more powerful deterrent effect than the severity or swiftness of punishment. Focused deterrence intends to increase high-risk offenders' sense of the certainty of punishment by focusing official and community attention and resources on the relatively few individuals who commit a disproportionate number of crimes, particularly violent crimes. Predictably regular monitoring of such offenders by police tends to increase offenders' sense that any criminal behavior will be detected and punished. This monitoring effort by police is combined with the provision of resources and guidance needed to develop a non-criminal lifestyle. Helping them get a job and providing family assistance among other resources can give them a non-criminal, fulfilling life pattern they do not want to risk losing by engaging in crime they feel is certain to be detected. This guide focuses on the phases and core elements of a focused-deterrence initiative. The phases are planning and implementation, the selection of high-risk offenders, high-risk individual notification of their selection, enforcement/service delivery, follow-up communication, and assessment. The objectives for each of the phases are outlined, and guidance is provided on the performance of the objectives. 65 references and appended summaries of evaluated focused-deterrence initiatives