Toward More Rational Decision Making

  • Michael R. Gottfredson
  • Don M. Gottfredson
Part of the Law, Society, and Policy book series (LSPO, volume 3)


Before outlining our ideas about how rationality can be enhanced in the criminal justice system, we should first look back upon the preceding chapters to see what general statements may be made about the empirical work we have summarized. We have reviewed a large number of studies, united only by their focus on a decision point of interest to our analysis. Methods, analyses, and theoretical directions have varied considerably. The questions that the authors of these studies have asked of their data have been diverse. Can any general statements be made about the whole of the system on the basis of this impressive, yet quite heterogeneous, body of empirical research? Is there any consistency to be found in the ways in which these various actors in the system—citizens, police, judges, correctional officials—made their decisions?


Decision Maker Criminal Justice Criminal Justice System Rational Decision Correctional Official 


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  1. 1.
    The empirical support for the assertions that follow is to be found throughout the earlier chapters, to which the reader is referred.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    As discussed in Chapter 5, the prosecutor’s decision to charge may stand in contrast to the general finding that seriousness of offense is a persistent major criterion in decision making.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The influence of known prior criminal conduct has not been studied in relation to victims’ decisions to report a crime.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Several desert theorists, most notably von Hirsch, argue that prior criminal conduct does indeed make an offense more blameworthy and thus, from the point of view purely of desert, can be a factor legitimately used to increase penalties. This position has been criticized on the grounds that prior record is a characteristic of persons, not acts, and therefore is antithetical to the desert perspective. Also, it has been noted that von Hirsch’s position to let prior record enhance penalties could provide simply a rationalization for the use of the best predictive data while eschewing any role for prediction in sentencing.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For a comparable distinction predating our own, see Vorenberg (1976).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    We suspect that the controversy in the sociological literature that argues the relative importance of legal versus extralegal attributes in criminal justice decisions may be resolved by the distinction made here.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    C. Wylie, Jr., “Paradox,” Scientific Monthly, 67:63 (1948, July 1). Reprinted by permission.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael R. Gottfredson
    • 1
  • Don M. Gottfredson
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Management and PolicyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.School of Criminal JusticeRutgers UniversityNewarkUSA

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