Classical deterrence theory revisited: an empirical analysis of Police Force Areas in England and Wales

Juste Abramovaite, Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, Samrat Bhattacharya, Nick Cowen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The severity, certainty and celerity (swiftness) of punishment are theorised to influence offending through deterrence. Yet celerity is rarely included in empirical studies of criminal activity and the three deterrence factors have never been analysed in one empirical model. We address this gap with an analysis using unique panel data of recorded theft, burglary and violence against the person for 41 Police Force Areas in England and Wales using variables that capture these three theorised factors of deterrence. We find that the three factors affect crime in different ways. Increased detection by the police (certainty) is associated with reduced theft and burglary but not violence. We find that variation in the celerity of sanction has a significant impact on theft offences but not on burglary or violence offences. Increased average prison sentences (severity) reduce burglary only. We account for these results in terms of data challenges and the likely different motivations underlying violent and acquisitive crime.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Criminology
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (grant number ES/J500057/1).

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.


  • celerity
  • certainty
  • detection
  • Deterrence
  • sentencing
  • severity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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