• Alexis McGillivray

The Rational Choice of Minorities

Many criminology theories developed in the past came from a straight, white, cis-male perspective. A very limited perspective results and misses an entire population of unique data. These theories have a narrow scope incorporating only a small, specific portion of the population. These theories are created from the research of higher classed white societies. When applied to a different population, these theories are proven to be inadequate. The Rational Choice Theory is an example of a theory that can only apply to high-class white populations. When you apply Rational Choice Theory to oppressed groups, this theory is meager and shown that minorities are not free agents within society.

One of the major theories taught in criminology is known as Rational Choice Theory. This theory was created in the Classical School of Criminology by Cesare Beccaria. Rational Choice Theory proposes that criminal behavior is committed by free agents who have free choice and free will. These free choices are based on a cost-benefit analysis; the individual weighs out the odds of committing a crime, and not committing a crime, and decides which option is more favorable. This cost-benefit analysis is also known as a hedonistic calculus. Hedonistic calculus means that an individual avoids pain and seeks pleasure. If committing a crime provides more pleasure than pain, an individual will indulge in this choice. Vice versa, if committing the crime provides more pain, then the individual will decide not to commit the crime.

There are many faults within Rational Choice Theory. One of the main problems found within these theories is that the basis assumes humans are making decisions based on logical analysis. Humans make decisions based on their emotions and perspective; therefore, rational choices are unique to the individual's experiences and outlook on the situation (ANALYSIS: The reasons behind anti-racism protests | The Sprawl, 2020). For example, when an individual selects a career, they cannot make this decision through simple judgment and a cost-benefit analysis. To pick a career, one has limited free will as it becomes limited through their ability, experiences, skills, and resources. The factor of racism within society heightens this limitation of choices. When a minority person picks a career that is aversive to their race, they lose control over their decision-making ability.

Not committing a crime is almost always more pleasureful than committing a crime. By not committing a crime an individual is guaranteed no punishment. So why would someone choose the more painful route? Because the threat of being caught is better than their already life? Because they have no other option? Minorities have had their free will take from them and are left with only a few options. If an individual is born a minority, their choices in life are limited. From the start, they do not have options available to their white counterparts do. They are constantly facing pain and are hindered from seeking pleasure. No minority chooses to be lesser or not equal. According to Beccaria, this suggests they are not free agents and do not make their own rational choices. Oppressed groups face frustrations and misfortunes because of the inability to meet the standards put in place for society.

As a minority, crime is always a last resort for survival. When all other structures and standards have failed, they have nowhere to turn. However, always turning to crime and paying the consequences has caused stress among these communities. They are tired of not having their autonomy and not being able to make their own decisions. The only way they can survive is to oppose the law and meet their punishment. As a result, we see marches and protests; these people are tired of having no choices and demand to be free agents. These acts of protest represent minorities “rationally evaluate their choices in life, rooted in their emotion of past experiences of their own and others like them” (ANALYSIS: The reasons behind anti-racism protests | The Sprawl, 2020). They are fighting against their constraint and are fighting for the freedom Rational Choice Theory proposes they have.

Rational Choice Theory fails to take into account the effects of racism on decision-making. Not just how racism affects victims, but also how it can affect the perpetrator. There is a known problem in police forces across the world known as shooter bias. Police officers have unlawfully shot unarmed minorities. When applying Rational Choice Theory to racist acts such as shooter bias, it is apparent it does not make sense. In a cost-benefit scenario of whether an officer should shoot an individual or de-escalate the situation, it is discernible that not harming an individual will result in more pleasure than pain. The officer will not be under scrutiny or have the possibility of losing their job, and no one will get hurt (which is the purpose of policing). Shooter bias results from emotions and unconscious biases an individual has developed towards certain races. These factors are not accounted for in Rational Choice Theory. What does an individual gain from being cruel and unusual to another? What pleasure do they gain from racism? There is no benefit to racism and committed solely on emotion and unconscious bias.

Cesare Beccaria’s Rational Choice Theory has many flaws and it evident that only white populations are free agents with free will. Beccaria does not bear in mind the influence of emotion on decision-making or the constraint that populations are subject to due to racist ideologies ingrained within our societies. Minorities cannot make a cost-benefit analysis because they are not free agents with free will or free choices within society.


ANALYSIS: The reasons behind anti-racism protests | The Sprawl. (2020, September 11). The Sprawl. https://www.sprawlalberta.com/anti-racism-protests-calgary

Application Deadline: (2021). Kent.edu. https://onlinedegrees.kent.edu/sociology/criminal-justice/community/criminal-behavior-theories

Criminal Justice. (2015). Criminal Justice. http://criminal-justice.iresearchnet.com/criminology/theories/rational-choice-theory/2/

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