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Understanding Offense Specialization and Versatility: A Reapplication of the Rational Choice Perspective

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 33 Issue: 1 Dated: January/February 2005 Pages: 77-87
Rob T. Guerette; Vanja M. K. Stenius; Jean M. McGloin
Kent B. Joscelyn
Date Published
January 2005
11 pages
This article presents an overview of rational choice theory and tests its utility in explaining both offense specialization and versatility.
Since 1980, the question of whether or not offenders specialized in their choice of criminal behavior enjoyed considerable attention by researchers with only a few applying criminological theories to explain levels of crime specialization. Once such theory, rational choice theory (1985) was premised on the idea that the theory inherently predicted specialization in offending. In other words, the decision to commit crime served a specific purpose for the offender and that decisionmaking models varied by type. This article analyzed the relationship between offense types and future criminal involvement in an effort to reevaluate the viability of rational choice in explaining specialization and versatility in criminal offending. The analysis utilized data from a recidivism study of felons on probation sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice. The study included 12,369 cases from 81,927 probationers and utilized information from sentencing records, probation files, and criminal history files. The results extend the rational choice perspective toward understanding the nature of successive criminal offending. The results were consistent with the claim that as offenders’ needs structures remained constant, successive crime participation in crime types which fulfilled offenders’ needs was likely to be the crime of choice upon reoffending. This study contributed to theoretical understandings of why offenders may specialize or become versatile in their criminal participation. Tables, references


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