In the modern world, numerous theories attempt to describe the most important sources of crime and the characteristics of potential criminals. Approaches to general and specific deterrence about violations of U.S. immigration laws vary depending on the theoretical principles that motivate them. In analyzing this problem, representatives of the classical school would emphasize the role of impartiality and the inevitability of punishment, while positivists would defend the ideas of individualized punishment, social change, and rehabilitation.
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Deterrence in Criminal Justice
Despite a large amount of research conducted in the field of criminal justice, many regions of the world can still be characterized as highly criminogenic. Because law enforcement agencies do not have methods that can reliably achieve a hundred percent prediction accuracy when it comes to potential crimes, the use of various deterrence mechanisms is an essential element of any system. Since the specific features of crime prevention in different populations may vary, there are both general and specific categories of deterrence.
Deterrence is among the central concepts studied in the field of criminal justice. As it is based on the use of different forms of punishment, deterrence presents an approach to crime prevention that reduces defiant and unwanted behaviors in people by appealing to their sense of fear. In other words, deterrence involves emphasizing the perceived negative consequences of illegal acts for actual or potential lawbreakers to make crime extremely unattractive (Chalfin and McCrary 2017). To some extent, the process runs counter to some trends (primarily cultural ones) that involve romanticizing crime.
Types of Deterrence
In the context of criminal justice, various types of deterrence are intended to fulfill a wide range of goals. Classical and modern theories of deterrence are based on the idea that all individuals “respond to changes in the certainty, severity, and celerity of punishment” (Chalfin and McCrary 2017:6). General deterrence involves manipulating individuals’ reactions to “the threat of punishment,” which makes it indirect and not aimed at particular people (Chalfin and McCrary 2017:6).
As for methods of specific deterrence, as is clear from the term, they are applied more directly and help prevent actual criminals from offending against the law in the future. For instance, illegal reentry into certain countries including the United States is regarded as a felony and involves stricter penalties (Gammeltoft-Hansen and Tan 2017). Consequently, within the framework of illegal immigration, specific deterrence involves adding greater punitive measures for those committing crimes for the second time or on multiple occasions.
Illegal Immigration and the Schools of Criminology
The most popular principles of crime prevention and the use of punishment have changed since the eighteenth century. The works by Beccaria and Bentham, the leading figures of the classical school, formed the basis of modern criminology and attempted to explain crime by using the notion of utility (Schram and Tibbetts 2018). The first theories of deterrence were created by the representatives of the classical school of thought. Their theoretical deliberations were motivated by the perception that the lack of adequate punishment options that would also be humane was a key issue for the legal system of that historical period. The aforementioned philosophers aimed to unite the notions of utility, the social contract, and crime, and their theoretical conclusions gave rise to a range of deterrence theories.
According to the representatives of the classical school, all people are rational and use their mental abilities to generalize the consequences of their actions. Taking that into account, they choose the most advantageous options in terms of outcomes (Schram and Tibbets 2018). Being logical and having an opportunity to evaluate risks, some people still find pleasure in committing various crimes, whether they are related to physical violence or other offenses. The theories proposed by these philosophers are still widely used in criminal justice systems all over the world due to a range of theoretical concepts that help make the approach to punishment selection more civilized.
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Several concepts need to be taken into consideration to hypothesize on how those belonging to the classical school would view deterrence about unlawful entry into the USA. These ideas include the need to eliminate the impact of any biases on court decisions, maximum objectivity in law and its interpretation, and freedom from physical violence as a form of punishment, especially for those crimes that involve no physical aggression (Schram and Tibbets 2018). The last principle remains extremely important because it involves finding the right balance between the amount of pleasure that criminals derive from illegal acts and the amount of suffering associated with a particular type of punishment.
Based on the aforementioned principles, the viewpoint of the classical school concerning the problem of illegal immigration would not be extremely different from the one that prevails today. This position would be based on the assumption that all illegal immigrants should be punished equally. In this regard, it would be assumed that all people know the law and commit this crime after evaluating the risks of being punished. Consequently, all people who enter the country illegally deserve punishment (as it should be evident that this decision is made by them), and ignorance of the law does not alter anything.
Representatives of the classical school accept that there are no radical differences between criminals and non-criminals (Schram and Tibbets 2018). Therefore, predicting crime can be quite difficult, and general deterrence measures such as the presence of fixed punishments for illegal immigrants are required. Significantly, it is accepted that more serious crimes should be punished more severely. Mass unlawful immigration and the negative consequences of illegal reentry into the country after deportation are especially important since they impact the lives of people in the United States. With that in mind, people who commit this crime on multiple occasions or who help transport people illegally (which sometimes results in their deaths) should receive appropriate, more severe punishments (Brabeck, Lykes, Sibley, and Kene 2015).
The second school of thought, positivism, belongs on the list of the most criticized movements in criminal justice. Common objections to positivists’ approach to studying illegal acts and offenders’ intentions usually include a range of unjustified assumptions about physical characteristics and propensity to commit the crime, as well as a lack of agreement between certain ideas (Schram and Tibbets 2018). Unlike the representatives of the classical school, when it comes to the sources of crime, positivists pay more attention to circumstances and social problems than to personal choices (Schram and Tibbets 2018). An approach to reducing crime centered on changing human society is supported in numerous studies by positivists.
At the same time, the idea of biological determinism about criminal propensity in individuals has been harshly criticized because of significant methodological mistakes (Vito and Maahs 2017). Positivism in criminology became popular due to classical theories’ low level of effectiveness in crime reduction and an oversimplified notion of crime (Vito and Maahs 2017). The key ideas that could shape positivists’ opinion on unlawful immigration to the USA are sometimes quite difficult to combine. They include the key role in the crime of social factors such as poverty, bad environment, or inequality and the inability of the fear of punishment to deter perpetrators from illegal acts, especially in people with low intelligence levels (Vito and Maahs 2017).
The approach of positivists to illegal immigration and deterrence would be quite different from that of the supporters of classical theories. First, positivists believe that people’s notions of right and wrong may vary depending on external factors impacting their life. Apart from the need to make punishment more individualized, positivists hold that it is necessary to focus on rehabilitation and crime prevention by improving the lives of potential offenders (Vito and Maahs 2017).
In other words, positivists would view traditional deterrence regarding unlawful immigration as less effective than the rehabilitation of criminals. The inability to apply this theoretical framework to the real-life situation is obvious since rehabilitation and prevention efforts would require the use of other countries’ resources and changes in their legal systems. The United States is not responsible for improving life conditions in less prosperous countries, which makes such prevention efforts difficult to implement.
In the end, general and specific deterrence use the threat of negative consequences for illegal acts to reduce crime rates. This principle is also applied to deter potential criminals from entering the United States illegally. The two schools of criminology, classical and positivist, defend different principles when it comes to crime deterrence. The representatives of the classical movement would be likely to push for fixed punishments for illegal immigrants, objective court decisions, and stricter penalties for more serious crimes such as international human trafficking or re-entry after deportation. Unlike them, positivists would shift the focus from deterrence to effective prevention, support a more individualized approach to punishment, and view the key to success as changing the social circumstances that encourage foreigners to commit this crime.
Brabeck, Kalina, Brinton M. Lykes, Erin Sibley, and Prachi Kene. 2015. “Ethical Ambiguities in Participatory Action Research with Unauthorized Migrants.” Ethics & Behavior 25:21-36.
Chalfin, Aaron, and Justin McCrary. 2017. “Criminal Deterrence: A Review of the Literature.” Journal of Economic Literature 55:5-48.
Gammeltoft-Hansen, Thomas, and Nikolas F. Tan. 2017. “The End of the Deterrence Paradigm-Future Directions for Global Refugee Policy.” Journal on Migration & Human Security 5:28-56.
Schram, Pamela J., and Stephen G. Tibbetts. 2018. Introduction to Criminology: Why do They do it? 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Vito, Gennaro F., and Jeffrey R. Maahs. 2017. Criminology. 4th ed. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.