Deterrence is an act of preventing or controlling actions or behavior through fear of punishment or retribution. It is the primary theory of criminology shaping the criminal justice system of the United States and various other countries.
Deterrence can be divided into two separate categories.
General deterrence manifests itself in policy whereby examples are made of deviants. The individual actor is not the focus of the attempt at behavioural change, but rather receives punishment in public view in order to deter other individuals from deviance in the future.
Specific deterrence focuses on the individual deviant and attempts to correct his or her behavior. Punishment is meant to discourage the individual from recitivating.
Both forms of deterrence assume rationality on the part of deviants and criminals, and that crime can ultimately be prevented through altering the cost benefit ratios of such behaviour.
At the military level, the principle is expressed in deterrence theory.
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