Theories of lawbreaking that come from criminology may be used to understand global risks, conservation, and criminology.
Many of these theories have been developed to address a wide range of crimes, not just those associated with the environment. The major premise of Deterrence Theory is compliance with the law. The focus of this premise is that certainty, severity, and swiftness of the application of sanctions will gain legal compliance with conservation/environmental laws. Deterrence theory offers one perspective on lawbreaking compared to, for example, Strain Theory, Social Learning Theory, or Social Bonding.
It seems to me that an overwhelming proportion of conservation crime-related interventions, particularly those related to wildlife crime, are based upon Deterrence Theory. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Not sure, but at a minimum, one observation is that there may be a lot of other ways of thinking about the problem (and thus solution).
There are two forms of deterrence theory. Classical deterrence holds that rational actors will perform behaviors they perceive as pleasurable and shy away from behaviors they perceive as painful. The threat of punishment is thought to be certain, severe, and swift and criminal behavior will be detected and punished. Yu and Liska (1993) and others have demonstrated that classical deterrence theory has problems explaining all criminal behavior. Contemporary theory offer additional measures including moral emotions (e.g., shame, guilt, embarrassment), social disapproval, and motivation.
There are two forms of deterrence: specific deterrence (e.g., aimed at the known offender) and general deterrence (e.g., aimed at the general population). Both carry with them a set of assumptions. The success of deterrence-based punishment approaches have been called into question; in addition to empirical doubts over efficacy, there are moral considerations. For example, individual deterrence can be used to justify punishing the innocent as what matters is the communication of the penalty, allows for punishment in excess of that deserved by the offense, and be primarily concerned with offenses that might be committed in the future than with the offenses that have actually been committed.