Specific Deterrence (What It Is And How It Works: All You Must Know)

What is Specific Deterrence?

What’s the difference with general deterrence?

What are some examples of specific deterrence?

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

Let’s look at specific deterrence and understand how it works!

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Let’s get started!

What Is Specific Deterrence

Specific deterrence refers to a type of punishment imposed by the criminal justice system aimed at discouraging criminal conduct.

In other words, specific deterrence refers to the use of punishment imposed on a person who has violated the law aimed at deterring the person from committing the same violation in the future.

For example, if a person is not punished for texting while driving, he or she is not deterred from adopting such behavior.

However, if the same person is apprehended by law enforcement for texting while driving and receives a hefty fine and possibly jail time, that person may be discouraged in the future to act in the same way and become a repeat offender.

In this example, the actual legal punishment for texting while driving has served the “specific deterrence” objective.

Specific deterrence is when a person who has violated the law receives punishment in such a way that he or she is deterred from repeating the same behavior in the future.

You also have general deterrence that refers to the impact of the threat of legal punishment for breaking the law as perceived by the general public.

Traffic laws achieve their deterrence objectives through specific and general deterrence techniques.

In other words, when a person is severely punished for violating the traffic laws (getting a large fine, losing a driver’s license, or getting jail time) other drivers will take that as a cue to refrain from acting in the same way.

To better understand specific deterrence, let’s look at the meaning of the term deterrence.

Deterrence Theory

Deterrence” in general refers to a method of punishment designed to discourage members of society to act or behave in a way that is socially unacceptable (to commit a crime).

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, deterrence is defined as follows:

The inhibition of criminal behavior by fear especially of punishment
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As you can see from this definition, deterrence means:

  • The prevention (or inhibition) of 
  • Criminal behavior 
  • By fear of
  • Punishment

In other words, when a person fears legal punishment for acting or behaving in a certain way, the fear of punishment has effectively “deterred” the individual from adopting the undesirable behavior.

Specific Deterrence Definition

“Specific” deterrence is a term used to refer to the actual effects of punishment imposed by law on individuals who were effectively punished.

The main objective of specific deterrence is to discourage individuals that were charged and punished for a crime to behave in the same manner in the future.

Typically, specific deterrence is achieved in various ways:

  • The imposition of a fine
  • The imposition of jail or prison sentence 
  • The imposition of probation
  • Community service
  • Or any combination of punishments 

Under the specific deterrence theory, it is considered that the severity of the punishment can have a direct impact on the effectiveness of the deterrence objective.

Types of Deterrence

There are different types of deterrence that can be classified into two categories:

  • Specific deterrence
  • General deterrence 

The overall objective of deterrence in criminology is to devise punishments and legal consequences that will dissuade the public to act in a certain way and for criminal offenders to fear punishment for repeating the same behavior.

When we are referring to the public modifying their behavior to avoid receiving a legal punishment, we refer to that as a “general deterrence”.

When a person was actually punished for acting unlawfully and who fears being punished again, we’ll refer to that as “specific deterrence”.

Specific Deterrence Examples 

What are some examples of specific deterrence to better illustrate the concept?

A good example of deterrence that is specific is with respect to traffic laws and our driving behavior.

Under the specific deterrence theory, the criminal justice system’s objective is to impose punishments that will effectively lead the criminal offender to learn a lesson and be dissuaded from repeating the same behavior in the future.

How would you deal with individuals driving while under the influence of alcohol? 

What type of punishment would be effective enough to dissuade drivers from drinking and driving?

As a society, we have become increasingly intolerant of drivers who put other drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, passengers, and children at risk.

Particularly, the criminal laws have been amended to increase the specific punishment for different types of motor vehicle offenses such as driving under the influence of alcohol.

As such, the laws have been designed to make the conviction of a charged offender easier and the sentences are stiffer which includes very large fines, suspension of the person’s driver’s license, criminal record, restriction on drinking alcohol, and potentially jail time.

A person who is effectively punished will see that the punishment is very severe and costly affecting many facets of his or her personal life and potentially professional advancement opportunities.

The severe punishments for driving under the influence of alcohol are great examples of deterrence in criminal justice not only at the individual level but also collectively.

When other drivers see how a person suffered grave legal punishment, they will also adapt their conduct and behavior to avoid getting punished the same way.

Specific Deterrence vs General Deterrence 

What is the difference between specific deterrence and general deterrence?

Specific deterrence can be considered as the consequence of being imposed a specific legal punishment for a specific crime committed by a person.

General deterrence refers to how the public at large may react to the possibility of legal punishment for adopting a certain behavior or conduct.

As you can see, the main difference between specific vs general deterrence is that specific deterrence is the consequence of receiving an actual legal punishment by those who were apprehended for a crime whereas general deterrence refers to the overall public perception of the law, its enforcement, and possible punishments.

One good example to illustrate the point here is to consider the traffic laws.

The law enforcement agency can influence the way people drive in two ways: through specific and general deterrence campaigns.

General deterrence is achieved by law enforcement by subjectively influencing the public to taken notice of the risks associated with the breaking of traffic laws.

The police can elevate the perceived subjective risks by deploying publicity campaigns, deploying unpredictable detection campaigns, use overt and covert techniques to apprehend offenders, pursue a particular campaign for an extended period of time, and more.

Specific deterrence can be achieved by effectively arresting, detaining, and successfully prosecuting traffic law offenders so they change their driving behavior going forward.

Meaning of Specific Deterrence Takeaways 

There you have it folks!

So what does Specific Deterrence mean?

What is the difference between specific and general deterrence?

To start with, deterrence is the act or method used to discourage people from violating the law.

Deterrence is generally achieved in two ways: 

  • Specific deterrence
  • General deterrence 

Specific deterrence is when a person is punished in a specific way for breaking the law or committing a crime.

General deterrence is how the public is deterred in acting a certain way by assessing the perceived risk of legal punishment in participating in illicit activity or adopting unlawful conduct.

In some cases, a specific punishment for an offender can serve as individual deterrence for the offender but also send a message to society at large to show what could happen to others who break the law the same way.

For example, if you know that by speeding, you may get a large fine and potentially lose your driver’s license, you may think twice before speeding.

It is considered that the certainty of punishment and the severity of the punishment can positively influence a person’s behavior and dissuade criminal conduct.

Although special deterrence methods do not always produce the intended results, in some cases a combination of specific and general deterrence may work best.

I hope that you were able to better understand the notion of specific deterrence, see the difference between specific vs general deterrence, and have found my examples of specific deterrence useful.

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

What Is Specific Deterrence?

  • Specific deterrence is considered to be the result of actual legal punishment for violating the law and an individual’s experience in being detected, detained, prosecuted, and punished
  • There are two types of deterrence, specific deterrence and general deterrence where the first is the actual impact of legal punishment for violating the law and the second is the public perception of the possible risks and punishment associated with violating the law 
  • General deterrence refers to when the public in general refrains from violating the law for fear of being imposed a legal punishment 
  • A real life example of deterrence is the imposition of severe punishments for excessive speeding, driving under the effect of alcohol or drugs, robbery, or other serious crimes
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