According to the Defiance Theory, punishment can have three different effects.
- Punishment can have a deterrent effect and thus have the desired success.
- Punishment can be ineffective, i.e. have no influence on the subsequent committing of crimes.
- Punishment can cause a reaction of defiance. Thus punishment intensifies deviant behaviour.
Which of the reactions causes a punishment depends on various factors. Factors that make defiance more likely are perceived injustice, doubts about the legitimacy of the punisher, injured pride and a lack of social commitment to the punisher.
Lawrence W. Sherman
Sherman’s Defiance Theory is not a labeling theory in the true sense of the word. What it has in common with the labeling theories, however, is that it tries to explain the paradoxical effect that punishment can have. Unlike labeling theories, Sherman does not focus exclusively on the negative consequences of punishment. He assumes that punishment sometimes acts as a deterrent and sometimes as a reinforcer to the committing of further crimes.
According to Sherman, sanctions can have three different effects:
- Sanctions can provoke future defiance of the law. Thus punishment intensifies deviant behaviour. (Defiance)
- Sanctions can have a deterrent effect and thus have the desired effect. (Deterrence)
- Sanctions can be ineffective, i.e. have no influence on the further committing of criminal offences. (Irrelevance)
The Defiance Theory aims to uncover the patterns according to which the different modes of action occur. For Sherman, this includes correlations found in empirical studies, such as:
- that a connection can be established between personality type and mode of action of punishment,
- that punishment works better on working men than it does on the unemployed,
- or that it works better on older people than on younger people.
Sherman sees his theory as a ‘General Theory of Crime’, but he uses this term differently from Gottfredson and Hirschi. Sherman makes no claim that his theory alone could explain deviance. However, he assumes that it can be applied to any form of deviance.
If defiance occurs in response to punishment, this may lead to further and more severe acts being committed, with future acts directed against the sanctioning group and explained by a proud, shameless reaction to punishment. Defiance is therefore a state of angry pride.
Defiance is caused by the following factors:
- A sanction is perceived as unfair.
- The type of punishment is perceived as unfair. This can happen if the punishment is perceived as arbitrary, discriminatory or excessive, or if the offender has no respect for the punisher.
- The perpetrator is not integrated into or even alienated from the community.
- If bonds to the community and in particular to the sanctioning authorities are weak, the willingness to recognise the sanctions also decreases. (At this point, Sherman’s theory corresponds with Braithwaites’ Theory of Reintegrative Shaming.)
- The punishment has a stigmatizing effect.
- When the perpetrator feels rejected as a person.
- Shame is not recognized.
- When weakness is perceived in the punisher or for other reasons the shame normally caused by the sanction is rejected.
Critical Appraisal & Relevance
Sherman’s defiance theory is extremely well integrated. This means that it takes into account the findings of other theories and includes elements from various other theories. In particular, it is a continuation of John Braithwaite’s theory of reintegrative shaming.
Sherman himself extensively criticized, refined, and expanded his own theory in 1993. He particularly emphasized that defiance can lead to an interaction between police and perpetrators. Police officers, judges and other sanctioning actors themselves react harder when they perceive defiance in their counterparts. If someone appears insightful and respectful, he is more likely to be met with clemency than if someone obviously rejects the punishment. The same processes take place in courts when judging. A judge will impose a harsher punishment if he/ she perceives a defendant as being unreasonable. Someone who perceives that he/ she will receive harsher punishments than other people who have committed the same crime will in turn perceive this punishment as unfair, leading to further defiance. This can create a vicious circle.
Sherman also criticized his original theory for using the term ‘defiance’ with two different meanings. On the one hand, it stands for the emotion of injured pride, from which further crimes are committed. On the other hand, it is also used for the criminal acts themselves. This implies that whenever the emotion defiance occurs, other crimes follow.
Implications for Criminal Policy
Sherman and Braithwaite: Restorative Justice
Sherman and Braitwaite’s recognition that sanctions can both inhibit and reinforce criminal behaviour has clear implications for the design of an ‘ideal’ judicial system.
Sherman and Braithwaite are both advocates of restorative justice. This refers to forms of alternative conflict resolution that respond better to the needs of the individual participants than traditional criminal proceedings. Restorative Justice’ wants to impose more than just a one-sided punishment for a misdemeanour. Instead, a healing process should take place in which the needs of all those involved are heard. In addition, ‘Restorative Justice’ attaches particular importance to respect and communication between all participants, so that stigmatisation or disintegrative shaming can be avoided. This should be replaced by communication between all participants, in which both perpetrators and victims have the chance to explain themselves.
But Braithwaite’s and Sherman’s theories also provide many clues within the classical judicial systems on how to deal more effectively with (potential) perpetrators. It is important to avoid arbitrariness, humiliation and stigmatization, e.g. by the police or the courts.
- Sherman, Lawrence H. (1993) Deviance, Deterrence and Irrelevance: A Theory of Criminal Sanctions. In: Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 30(4), S. 445-473.
- Lawrence W. Sherman, Denise Gottfredson, Doris MacKenzie, John Eck, Peter Reuter, and Shawn Bushway: Preventing Crime: What works, what doesn’t, what’s promising
- “Restorative Justice Online” offers a variety of material on theories of restorative justice as well as examples of practical use: : http://www.restorativejustice.org/
- An overview of the different methods of Restorative Justice: http://www.transformingconflict.org/Restorative_Approaches_and_Practices.htm
- Article about John Braithwaite: http://www.realjustice.org/articles.html?articleId=534