There are three main points that are reinforced in rational choice theory (Cornish and Clarke, 1986). First, it may work better or worse for different types of crime, yet it is thought that there are rational choices in every type of crime even impulsive and pathologic crimes. Second, the theory should be applied on a crime-specific basis. Hence, burglaries can’t be grouped together in among residential and commercial categories. Rather, they must be broken into smaller facets such as public housing burglaries or wealthy residential neighborhoods. Finally, a distinction is made between criminal involvement and criminal events. Criminal involvement describes how individuals get involved in crime and further continue or abstain from this lifestyle. Criminal events have unique underpinnings, which are often shorter processes than criminal involvement structures.
Among the goals of rational choice theory is to explain all types of crime (Cornish and Clarke, 1986). However, it does not propose that there is an underlying unity between different types of crime like other theories. Instead, these diverse elements are important in explaining why such events occur. Also, it incorporates factors that lead to crime, emphasizes the pattern of decisions throughout a criminal career, and accounts for situational variables of crime.
In comparison, the deterrence theory proposes that the fear of legal punishment diverts people away from crime, while rational choice theory advances that in the act of choosing whether or not to commit a crime the benefits are weighed (Stafford and Warr, 1993; Cornish and Clarke, 1986). Hence, in both theories pain is a cause for not committing crimes. Furthermore, the deterrence theory has two children: general deterrence and specific deterrence (Stafford and Warr, 1993). The former looks at the general population and how it is dissuaded from crime. The later occurs when a specific offender is deterred from crime through sanctions. Thus, the benefits and drawbacks of crime have sway with both deterrence and rational choice theories, but rational choice doesn’t make headway for a population as a whole or limit the individual to those previously punished.
The strengths of the rational choice theory are also seen when comparing it to the routine activity theory, which proposes that three elements are needed for crime: motivated offenders, suitable targets, and the absence of capable guardians (Cohen and Felson, 1979). Hence, environmental conditions must be right for crime to occur. This relates to one similarity of the rational choice theory, which is the account for situational variables such as the likelihood of punishment (Cornish and Clarke, 1986). In contrast, routine activity theory doesn’t look at why the individual commits crime (Cohen and Felson, 1979). Instead, this propensity is assumed, while the rational choice theory looks specifically at the reasons individuals commit offenses.